One of the most powerful things you can do when you are stressed is to breathe deeply and slowly. In the heat of the moment you may not feel that you have time to slow down, but that’s probably the biggest sign that you need to relax and take a minute to regroup. Sit still for a moment and breathe deeply and calmly from your stomach. Pay attention to your breath as it fills up your stomach and lungs completely. Then follow it as it empties your stomach and lungs completely. Shut out all other thoughts for a couple of minutes and just feel your breath in your body. Try it now and see for yourself how powerful it is. Relax your body and breathe as deeply and slowly as you can.
There are many benefits of this technique. Equilibrium is restored in your body, your heart rate decreases, your lungs expand and your muscles loosen up. Deep breathing also calms the brain and releases endorphins into the system. These are natural painkillers in the body that help relax the muscles and nerves. In addition you will find that your emotional responses slow down, meaning that you are less likely to make knee-jerk decisions or react impulsively. Instead you are able to maintain your cool and make informed decisions. So remember to breathe deeply anytime you feel tense or use it to unwind after a long day.
2. Use visualization and relaxation techniques
There are many different types of relaxation techniques. Most of them serve to relax your muscles and to take your mind off the things that stress you. They will make you focus on a place of calm and stillness within in order to make external events seem less important. You will feel refreshed and calm as a result. Experiment and use the techniques that suit you best. Try meditation, yoga, guided visualizations or self-hypnosis. Sit quietly for 5 minutes every morning and every evening and focus on being calm and peaceful. Breathe deeply and slowly. Focus on how you want the day to unfold. Visualize yourself feeling confident, at ease and able to handle any situation. Imagine lots of tasks and issues being thrown at you while you calmly prioritize, delegate and decide on where to focus your attention. Try it now. Sit quietly for a moment and feel your internal source of power. Make it a habit to put yourself in a positive state before you begin your day.
3. Exercise and strengthen your physique
Regular exercise is one of the best techniques for reducing the physical effects of stress. It improves your health, loosens up your muscles and helps you slow down and go to sleep. When you exercise, the blood-flow in your body and to your brain increases and endorphins are released, which gives you a feeling of happiness and well-being. The most effective types of exercise are those that work the muscles in your upper body as that is where stress often builds up. If you exercise regularly you will have a healthier body and you will be able to better handle the long-term effects of stress. Not only will you be physically stronger; you will also be psychologically stronger. When you assume the physiology of someone who is strong and resourceful it is more difficult to be stressed. Try it now. Stand up tall and straighten your back. Be strong and feel the power of your being. Do you feel the immediate effect it’s having on your state of mind? Whenever you feel down or stressed, you should therefore change your physiology by stretching your body, moving around or going for walk.
4. Focus on your circle of influence
To reduce stress and make you feel more relaxed and confident, focus your attention on those factors that you can truly influence, and accept that some factors are outside of your control. As a manager your circle of influence is vast. You can influence your stakeholders, your team, the products and services you develop and how you develop them. You have the power to make decisions, delegate and resolve issues. And if you have been developing and nurturing the members of your team, they will be there to help you resolve the things you aren’t able to resolve on your own. These aspects are what you should be focusing on. But if instead you are constantly thinking about the things that you cannot control, you will feel powerless and frustrated. Examples could be worrying about the company’s lack of turnover or a new sponsor taking over the project. Put in place mitigating actions where you can, but if there is nothing you can do about a situation, let it be. Trust that if you do whatever you can, the rest will fall into place by itself.
5. Put things in perspective
When we are stressed we tend to blow things up and magnify issues. We get stressed over things that seem big, although in the grand scheme of things they may not be. Count to ten and observe the situation from another angle. To put the situation in perspective ask yourself how awful the stressing event is on a scale from 1 to 100 or how much it will matter in 12 months time? Compare your situation to other situations that are truly awful. If you assign it 20 points out of 100, make sure your stress response is aligned and not over exaggerated.
6. Slow down
If you have a tendency to get stressed, chances are that you have a type A personality. Type A personalities are typically high achievers who are full of energy and drive. They are competitive, critical and impatient and will often try to do more than one thing at the time. They operate at their maximum possible speed and feel that time is running out. People with a type A personality tend to interrupt and will often seek recognition from others. If this rings true for you, be conscious about slowing down. Actively make time for other people, relax and make an effort to focus on one thing at the time. You cannot operate at 100% capacity on an ongoing basis, so allow yourself to have lazy times, to laugh and to pursue your hobbies. When you spend time with people you love and doing whatever makes you feel good, it will take your mind off work, fuel your passion and energize you. So forget your to do lists for a while and what you “must” and “should” do. Even the best of warriors will save their energy for when they need it the most.
7. Identify unhelpful thinking patterns
Start to notice when you use unhelpful thinking patterns such as “It has to be 100% perfect”, or “I must/I should/I cannot”. Instead, think of preferences for how you want things to be. If you prefer things to be a certain way rather than need them to be a certain way, it will stress you less if they turn out to be different. Things do not have to perfect; they have to be good enough. Also watch out for negative thinking such as “I am not good enough” or “I am stupid”. Look at the situation from a rational perspective by asking if your viewpoint is reasonable and accurate. Think positively about yourself and your contributions. Imagine yourself as a positive and energetic individual and give yourself the best words of encouragement. Remember that there is no such thing as stupidity or failure. There are only opportunities to grow and learn. If you continue to have negative thoughts and put yourself down, work with a mentor or coach to help change the way you think and feel about yourself.
8. Shift your locus of control
People who have an external locus of control believe that most of what happens is controlled by fate or by other people and that they can do little to influence the situation. They tend to be more susceptible to nervous tension and stress and will often feel powerless in changing their own circumstances. Make an effort to shift your locus of control to be more internally focused. Remind yourself that events happen as a result of your own decisions and actions. You choose how you react to a situation and you have the power to change your circumstances. Realize that you always have a choice. Sometimes the only option may be to change your attitude, but you always have a choice. If you feel trapped, make a list of all possible courses of action. Brainstorm and write things down without evaluating them first. Ask yourself what you could do to change the situation and in which ways you could resolve the issue by changing your beliefs? When you have a list of all possible actions, evaluate each one and decide on the best one for you.
9. Prioritize and plan your time
Stress and time management are closely related as it is easy to feel overwhelmed by having too much on your plate. Learn to manage your workload so that you don’t get stressed by its volume and by upcoming deadlines. Keep a list of things you must do and prioritize it every evening before you leave the office. Resolve to always start the day with the most important tasks and resist the temptation to attend to the small and easy tasks first. Be proactive and work on important things well before they become urgent and stressful. Your task list will change many times during the day and urgent issues will almost always crop up, so make sure you are prepared for it. Before you start something new always check if it is the best use of your time right now and if it could be delegated to someone else.
10. Learn to say no
Sometimes we cause ourselves unnecessary stress by saying yes to things which we really want to say no to. This can be in all kinds of situations, from small favors to taking on an extra project even if we are already running one full time. Remember that there are only so many hours in the day. Whatever you choose to take on limits your ability to focus on the most important aspects of your current project and to produce the good results that you and your team will be measured against. Even if you somehow can fit in a new commitment, you really should not unless it is more important than what you are currently doing. If you are uncomfortable saying no, or are dealing with a pushy boss, just say, “Let me think about it and get back to you”. This gives you a chance to review your schedule and think about how you really want to respond. If you do want to say yes, but don't have the time, look at what you can fit in. Say “I cannot do this, but I can do…” and mention a lesser commitment that you can make. In this way you will still be partially involved, but on your terms.
You probably agree that whereas most of the above techniques are simple in concept, they aren’t necessarily easy to implement. We all have innate ways of thinking and reacting that get in our way, and it can take time to change them. Don’t give up however. If you find the journey challenging, seek help from a mentor, coach or buddy. Where there is will there is way!
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