Ten Ways to Reduce Stress

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

At a Christmas party last December I received a humorous calendar entitled “For Women Who Do Too Much”. We can all relate to that feeling of “doing too much” particularly when we’re late for an appointment, stuck in traffic, or trying to send an important fax just as the machine breaks down. That feeling of “doing too much” contributes to psychological and physiological stress. Stress often provokes angry reactions in ourselves and others, taxing our patience and anger management skills.

Often feelings of stress are related more to how we perceive a situation, than the reality of the situation. If we change our perception of an event, we can change the way we experience the event both physically and psychologically. For example, if we are running late for work and we perceive this event as something which will threaten our employment, ruin our reputation, and cost us a great deal of money we will feel a lot more stress. However if we perceive being late for work as requiring us to leave work a little later to make up the few minutes we were late then our stress level will be lower. Our mood is improved, and we stay calm when we perceive stressful events as temporary events that we can handle. Here are ten terrific tips for stress reduction guaranteed to soothe during the most savage times.

1. Take a walk. Physical activity in an outdoor setting literally changes what we see. Fresh air, increased heart rate, and visual stimulation help reduce stress by releasing endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals which relieve pain, and produce feelings of pleasure.
2. Stimulate your senses with something pleasant. Keep a beautiful vacation photo on your desk. Studies show remembering a happy event produces the same positive sensations as experiencing the event. Scented candles, air fresheners or incense create a restful atmosphere. Listen to soothing music, or something which energizes you. Change the stimuli every month or so to keep your senses from becoming habituated to it.
3. Learn to meditate, then DO IT! At the Deepak Chopra Center for Mind Body Medicine they teach Primordial Sound Meditation which produces a deep state of restful awareness. Steve Alper, Ph.D. teaches a form of meditation called “Mindfulness” in San Diego. Yoga classes are offered in most cities in America. Yoga can produce feelings of deep relaxation and serenity.
4. Stretch. Take a break and stretch your muscles. Shoulder rolls, neck rolls, lower back stretches and waist stretches soothe muscles tense from repetitive motion, or a lack of motion.
5. Learn the fine art of leaving things unfinished. A professional writer once told me he would leave a sentence unfinished at the end of each day. When he began writing the next day, he felt like he had already started. People who manage stress well can leave work unfinished, and begin again refreshed.
6. Plan NOT to do everything well. Natasha Josephowitz, Ph.D., once said, “Not everything worth doing is worth doing well”. Giving up the need for perfection in everything frees you up for excellence at something.
7. Prioritize. If we don’t prioritize we can feel pressure to react to demands immediately. Prioritizing frees us to focus on important things first, letting go of the rest until later.
8. Connect and Commit. People who are resilient to stress are deeply connected emotionally to family, religion, and/or a cause. They commit to caring behaviors which require action over time.
9. Laugh. Humor, in even the most tragic situations, is a wonderful relief. When I worked in a mental health clinic we had a graffiti board where we wrote jokes and drew cartoons. Everyone looked forward to contributing to the office humor. I’ll never forget the “Six Mad Moms” cartoon. It inspired “Six Mad Dads”, “Six Mad Teens,” “Six Mad Jackie Gleasons (to the moon Alice!)”, and much more.
10. Balance. Strive for balance between work and play; self-care and relationships with others; activity and rest. We can recover from many stresses when we maintain balance.

Finally, don’t get too stressed out about stress. Studies show a little bit of stress is actually good for you. Experiences which are Novel, Interesting, Challenging and Exciting produce healthy stress which enhances immune system functioning. Now that’s N.I.C.E.