Stress Awareness Day is April 16th this year. It's got me thinking of 10 ways we can create more awareness around stress.
1. Create a culture that promotes stress management.
This could be achieved by promoting activities like napping at work, getting 7-8 hours sleep a night, taking meditation breaks, walking during lunch and standing at your desk instead of sitting, engaging in chair yoga during breaks, having fun at work, etc.
2. Manage the mindset that says I don't have time to manage stress.
We spend our days putting out fires and tending to urgent matters that SEEM more important than managing our stress. But the less we manage our stress, the more scattered and inefficient we become. In order to manage this mindset we need to SET ASIDE time to do the important things like exercising, yoga, meditation, reading and connecting with friends and family every day. We need to stick to this schedule no matter how many other urgent matters seem like they are more pressing.
Type A behavior is often nick-named "hurry-sickness."
3. Manage your stress while it's happening.
This means managing your stress on the fly AND with no time taken out of your busy schedule, either. The two best techniques for doing this are cognitive restructuring and mindfulness. Cognitive restructuring teaches you how to recognize your irrational thinking (aka, negative self-talk which causes you boatloads of stress), and teaches you how to change it. Mindfulness teaches you how to find refuge in the present moment and thus liberate you from lots of anxiety (future-oriented thinking) and lots of anger (holding onto events that happened in the past).
4. Train doctors to recognize and treat stress-related illness and allow health practitioners to spread the word.
Doctors need to receive more training in medical school on how to treat stress-related illness and be able to prescribe alternative solutions other than the pharmaceutical solutions that are usually offered. Health practitioners (like therapists and nurses) need to learn how to teach stress management to their patients.
5. Make the message of stress management simpler.
Think of a bridge. The strength of a bridge determines how much load it can bear. This load is referred to as stress. The stronger the bridge the more stress it can take without buckling under the strain. In order to avoid strain, we can either lighten our load, or strengthen our bridge by learning coping strategies that make us stronger.
6. Stress science needs to include the new brain science.
Stress management has always been about maintaining an internal locus of control (AKA feeling like you are in the driver's seat of your own life). We now know that our locus of control may actually reside in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the brain. Knowing how to access and nurture the PFC ultimately leads to greater control over our emotions, our fears and our stress.
7. Make stress management proactive.
We need to elevate stress management practices like exercise, yoga, and meditation to the same status as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. It doesn't take any will power to brush your teeth or take a shower every morning, you just do it. In the future, the same will be true of stress management.
8. Acknowledge stress sensitivity.
Some people are wired differently. The best way to deal with a wiring problem is by rewiring. You rewire your brain through affirmations, skill-building and habit formation. In addition, meditation practice can facilitate the whole process and literally change the structure of your brain.
9. Embrace the European model.
In Europe the employer takes responsibility for the stress levels of its employees and makes an effort to both lower these levels AND teach the employee better methods for coping with the stress that can't be lowered by changing certain aspects of the job itself. (BTW, In Europe the average worker takes 5 weeks of vacation annually. In the US it's about a week.)
10. Address the underlying sources of stress in your life like time pressure, relationship problems, disorganization and financial stress.
In order to address time pressure, build in extra time for things to go wrong or that take longer than you think. For relationship problems spend time every day connecting with the most important people (friends and family members) in your life. In order to address disorganization set aside time every day for planning and getting organized. In order to address financial stress, resolve to eliminate debt and put aside savings for a rainy day. Addressing these MAJOR underlying causes of stress will bring about a growing sense of inner peace that is quite simply more valuable than gold.
Living a hectic, deadline driven, high octane life is not a requirement for living in the 21st century it's an option. We don't have to continue these stressful working habits that we've learned from our parents and our over-caffeinated peers and also from a culture that values material goods and profits way more than it values resilience, inner peace and personal growth. In order to survive the expansion and exponential growth of the age we live in, we can and MUST adopt new strategies like those mentioned above, to help us change ourselves, our habits, our working conditions and ultimately the stressed out world that causes us to be this way.