This week’s article summary is How Successful People Squash Stress (in Forbes).
The article is timely for us personally: while we all look forward to the holidays, they can also be very stressful.
I also liked the article from a professional perspective: while a little stress is good and helps us learn and is good for the brain, we as teachers need to know ways to manage stress—whether in how to better work with colleagues, partner with parents, or help students be successful.
The article lists 11 tips for better managing stress. See how many you use—and for those you haven’t tried, try them over the holidays.
Thanks again for all you do for Trinity!
Thanks again for all you do for Trinity!
---------We all know that living under stressful conditions has serious physical and emotional consequences. So why do we have so much trouble taking action to reduce our stress levels and improve our lives?
Intense stress actually reduces the volume of gray matter in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control. As you lose self-control, you lose your ability to cope with stress. It becomes harder for you to keep yourself out of stressful situations, and you’re more likely to create them for yourself (such as by overreacting to people).
Dwindling self-control is particularly scary when you consider that stress affects physiological functions in the brain, contributing to chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes.
The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.
The tricky thing about stress is that it’s an absolutely necessary emotion. Our brains are wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel at least some level of this emotional state.
A UC Berkeley study reveals an upside to experiencing moderate levels of stress. But it also reinforces how important it is to keep stress under control. The study found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory. However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent. As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.
Intermittent stressful events actually increase your performance by keeping the brain more alert, and most top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ under stressful circumstances to lower their stress levels and ensure that the stress they experience is not prolonged. This keeps their performance up and the negative effects of stress to a minimum.
Implementing healthy stress-relieving techniques won’t just improve your performance—it can train your brain to handle stress more effectively and decrease the likelihood of ill effects.
As simple as some of these strategies may seem, they are difficult to implement when your mind is clouded with stress. Force yourself to attempt them the next time your head is spinning, and your efforts will pay dividends to your health and performance.
They Say No: Research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Saying no is indeed a major challenge for most people. When it’s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases like “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.
They Appreciate What They Have: Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy, and physical wellbeing.
They Avoid Asking “What If?”: “What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Successful people know that asking “what if? will only take them to a place they don’t want—or need—to go.
They Disconnect: Given the importance of keeping stress intermittent, it’s easy to see how taking regular time off the grid can help keep your stress under control. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even turning off your phone gives your body a break from a constant source of stress. If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then how about the weekend?
They Limit Their Caffeine Intake: Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyperaroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior.
They Sleep: Sleep is vital to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Stressful projects often make you feel as if you have no time to sleep, but taking the time to get a decent night’s sleep is often the one thing keeping you from getting things under control.
They Exercise: Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces stress by soothing you and helping you stay in control of your emotions. Exercise is one of the first things busy people let fall by the wayside when they are stressed and under a lot of pressure.
They Don’t Hold Grudges: The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event involved sends your body into fight-or-flight mode. When a threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when a threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs.
They Don’t Die in the Fight: Emotionally intelligent people know how important it is to live to fight another day. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged and stressed. When you read and respond to your emotions effectively, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.
They Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a simple, research-supported form of meditation that is an effective way to gain control of unruly thoughts and behaviors. People who practice mindfulness are more focused, even when they are not meditating. It is an excellent technique to help reduce stress because it allows you to reduce the feeling of being out of control. Essentially, mindfulness helps you stop jumping from one thought to the next, which gives you laser-sharp focus and keeps you from ruminating on negative thoughts.
They Squash Negative Self-Talk: A big, final step in managing stress involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.