’Tis the season when rain is interspersed with falling snow, tiny tots have their eyes all aglow, and Santas are heard bellowing “Ho Ho Ho.”
For too many of us, though, December becomes the month we engage in the sports of competitive parking, racing for diminished time, and watching passively as our waistlines increase and our wallets decrease in size.
It is often no different at work. In addition to our customary responsibilities we frequently load ourselves up with lofty end-of-the-year goals before we can retire the year and bring in the next.
Have you ever had the thought that you could be enjoying this season more? Do you find that the stress of it all seems to get in the way of just being — enjoying your family, friends, and the sights, sounds and smells of the season?
Stress is something that plagues most of us both at home and at work, and yet we need some stress. Some stress is good — and motivating. It’s what helps us to feel alive when we challenge ourselves with a new task or adventure. This stress is known as eustress — defined as “moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer” — and you want a generous helping of it to keep life exciting.
Distress is what most of us are familiar with and is what we mean when we lament that we are “stressed out.” Distress can be acute or chronic. We are designed to handle acute distress as well, exemplified by our ancestors who made split-second decisions upon encountering tigers in the jungle, culminating in a fight or flight response. When this happens, stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol go careening through your body like a dam that just broke loose. Just as it was with our ancestors, so it is today. What has changed are the “tigers.”
Chronic distress — the kind that comes from ongoing relationship difficulties, health problems, business decline, or ongoing conflict in the workplace — is the enemy of modern humans. Though we no longer face tigers in the jungle as a regular threat, we encounter other “tigers” — both real and imagined — at home, in the workplace, in our communities, and globally that threaten our well being daily.
Chronic distress contributes to nearly every sickness, ailment and disease. We see the effects in the form of breakdown in relationships, obesity, depression, anxiety, lifestyle diseases, fatigue and malaise.
Are you curious, if not convinced, that dealing with your distress is essential? When you embrace how far reaching the consequences are of stress run amok and the impact it has on your life, health, business and relationships, you may be motivated to do something proactive to take control of your stress load not only in December, but all year long.
Here are some ideas to get you going in the quest to manage your distress.
1. Create a Stress Management Plan, or SMP. Start with looking at your present habits in the realm of your physical, emotional, mental health as well as your social and spiritual life. Add in categories of family, relationships, work/business, and community.
Think about what is going well. Focus on the good habits you already have in place and build on them. Consider how each habit serves to relieve you of feeling stressed yet also rejuvenates. You might find, for example, you are already in the habit of hitting the gym two times a week. Build on that by adding one more day into your week.
2. Set a realistic goal, one at a time. Make it SMART. Want to eat healthier? Hone in: “I will eat only vegetables at night after 6 p.m.” Make each goal Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Write down your detailed plan and find someone to encourage and hold you accountable. Celebrate your victories.
3.Build intentional stress management habits into each day. A tool I created for clients is called +5/-5. Create a list of stress-relieving activities that take five minutes or less, and another list that take longer than five minutes. You might have sipping hot tea or deep breathing for example in your -5. Journaling, getting a massage, walking or knitting might appear on your + 5. Add to your schedule.
If you have a pulse, you have some stress. The goal isn’t to be completely stress free. Create and practice healthy habits to manage your stress daily. Spend some time formulating your SMP so that your tiger’s roar will be reduced to a gentle purr even on the most stress-provoking days.
— Lesli Dullum-Tutterrow is chief wellness officer and executive consultant/trainer for The Wellspring Company. email@example.com.