written by: Kosjenka Muk
Long-term stress has several main causes:
- Difficult external situation;
Being overburdened with obligations and tasks;
Habitual way of thinking and emotional functioning;
When a person is under stress for a long time, tension becomes an automatic habit which can become difficult to get rid of. However, by investing a little effort, you can change your habits and ways of thinking which cause stress. Here are the most important tips:
1. Do not procrastinate. Procrastination is a powerful cause of stress since it creates an awareness of unfulfilled obligations and an ever greater time pressure. Often, while we delay our demanding and long lasting tasks for “just a bit later”, we spend our time in worthless and aimless activities which we might not even really enjoy, especially as the feeling of pressure is still there. Thus we can waste much more time than we need for the task itself. But how to stop procrastinating? Persuade yourself to perform your obligations immediately, motivating yourself with the feeling of freedom and relief that you will enjoy for the rest of the day (or even week). Perhaps your procrastination is motivated by fear of criticism or rebellion against discipline…? You might need some focused work on dissolving those feelings.
Maybe you are in habit of putting off small tasks,
that would take you only a few minutes or even seconds: I’ll answer
this email…, put that thing where it belongs…, make that phone
call…later. All these small tasks become a part of the obligations list
which echoes in your head. Later you may forget them
and thus contribute to the decrease of your efficiency (even to the
impairment of the quality of your relationships, if these little “to
do” things are related to your relationships with other people), or
forget some parts of the context (e.g. where you saved the enclosure
that you should send along with your email…) due to which you will
waste your time looking for the details needed. Create a habit to do
such small things at once, as soon as they come up.
Make at least one small step towards starting the work that awaits you: prepare what is needed, prepare your working table, start with one small thing… once you’ve started, you might find motivation and discover that it’s now easy to proceed!
2. Get organized. Mess and disorganisation cause you to waste your time looking for displaced objects. While you do this, you feel stress due to the waste of time, especially if you also tend to procrastinate. Organise your PC data in easy-to-survey folders (and pay attention to save new data immediately where they belong). You can buy several different and well marked folders for paper notes. Organise your drawers and tables. A simple, but efficient extra advice: write down tasks which you cannot perform immediately, phone numbers etc. in an appointment book. This relieves you from the pressure of storing everything in your head and of the danger to forget these data.
3. If it is fair and realistic, delegate tasks to other people. Do you tend to take on too many obligations and responsibilities? Learn to say “no” and, whenever it’s appropriate, share your tasks with other people. Do you take over “small tasks” from your colleagues at work? Do you do all the household chores while your spouse and children have all the fun? Maybe you don’t dare to ask them to join in – you might be afraid of being criticized or rejected, or asking things would make you feel guilty, or you don’t believe they can do it as well as you? In the long run this doesn’t only harm you, but them as well, in several ways: they may become irresponsible, lack compassion, or may not feel capable to take care of themselves. Also, the lack of a good relationship – with you – can have numerous negative consequences. Likewise, by avoiding communication, you teach your children to act in the same manner in similar situations (or to expect other people to treat them the way you do). If the feelings of guilt or fear of rejection are strong, you might want to find a coach to help you dissolve those feelings.
I recommend asking your family to do daily chores all together, rather than giving them separate tasks at separate times. This increases the feeling of connectedness and reduces resistance and boredom. If you can include music and fun, even better!
4. Plan your relaxation. If you feel pressure and think about obligations most of the time, it’s probably difficult for you to truly relax, even when you finally manage to find time for it. Our brains tend to make our usual thinking and feeling habits automatic, even if they cause stress. Avoid planning longer periods of relaxation before you’ve finished your important obligations, because your mind will constantly get back to them. Plan your relaxation time after you have carried out important tasks. It is also good to determine in advance how much time you will dedicate to relaxation (so to avoid guilt and thinking of when should you go back to work) and to set an alarm clock to warn you when that time has passed (to avoid checking your watch every few minutes). Plan activities which you enjoy, or simply plan to do “nothing”. You may wish to plan a whole day, e.g. to dedicate one day in the week, only for relaxation. However, remember again to perform all important tasks first.
5. Invest effort in the quality of your relationships. There is no greater stress than when your most significant relationships are unpleasant and tense; neither there is a better source of relaxation than love and warmth with your family and friends. Learn about quality communication and how to express love, and put it to practice. Feeling that there are people in your life who you can share love with, who can give you a hug, support, advice and understanding, is priceless. However, to create such relationships one has to invest active effort and practice communication skills, which many people are not used to.
As relationships at work are often one of the greatest causes of stress, it is good to avoid work related stress by bulding good relationships with colleagues from the moment you first get to know them. Act responsibly, friendly, show appreciation. This does not mean accepting unfair behavior, but finding your boundaries and the wisest possible way to express yourself.
Perhaps your very preoccupation with work and obligations decreases the quality of your relationships? It’s wise to share as many activities and tasks as possible with all of your family. Apart from the opportunity to create a fun atmosphere and closeness with your family members when working together, this will also give you an opportunity to teach your children to develop work habits AND you will avoid feelings of anger, resentment, irritability, fits of rage or passive aggression, which can happen when you feel that the work is unfairly distributed.
6. Take care of your body. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep, exercise and avoid unhealthy habits. A healthy body, apart from having many other advantages, will bear more easily both short and long-term stress, and it will also have more energy for your everyday tasks. People very often use stimulants and sedatives, not only medicinal drugs, but particularly products such as coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, sugar etc. as a substitute for resting and relaxation. They cause a short-term relief or appear to provide more energy. However, as soon as the effect of the substance on the brain weakens, we feel even more exhausted and out of balance. In such situations, many people reach for yet another dose of such substance, creating addictions which damage and weaken their bodies.
Physical exercise might be the last thing a scared, nervous and tense person may desire. However, physical activity raises the level of serotonin in the brain and, what is even more important, reduces the production of stress hormones. It also helps relax the muscles and release the accumulated frustration, helping a person sleep better as a result of healthy tiredness.
Insufficient and irregular sleep is by itself stressful for the body, while mental stress can make falling asleep and getting a good night’s rest even more difficult. In stressful situations, under the influence of stress hormones, the body remains in the state of alertness for longer periods, and the unused energy accumulates. Your way of thinking about a particular situation can contribute to this process. Even if we are exhausted from stress, the mental, emotional and physiological level of activity can still be high enough to stop us from falling asleep or from sleeping long or well enough. If you cannot fall asleep in the evenings, or if you wake up during the night without being able to fall asleep again, because you keep thinking about the current stressful events, try to apply some of the relaxation techniques, which can help you fall asleep again if you are perseverant.
7. Take care about your spiritual life.
Remind yourself that you are a spiritual being and that all external
situations present a chance to grow; if your external circumstances are
difficult, you might have to remind yourself regularly about this.
Meditation, visualization, positive thinking and similar activities are
not only a source of relaxation, but help you feel strong and resourceful.
8. Create a relaxing environment. There are
many easy, simple ways of shaping your environment so that it promotes
relaxation instead of being neutral, or even stress inducing:
As much as possible, make your work surroundings pleasant.
In rare cases, you will be able to participate in the decision making
regarding the colour of the walls, furniture and similar major
changes. However, even if you cannot take part in such decisions, small details can make a big difference:
a) One or more living plants;
b) Relaxing pictures or photographs with natural motifs, inspirational pictures of happy people or anything that makes you feel good;
c) Little things such as photographs of the people you love, toys or room fountains.
- The same approach applies when decorating your home. Here you have much more freedom to invest your time and imagination in order to make your home as pleasant a place as possible, with many enjoyable stimuli. Carefully choose the colours, furniture and decorative objects which you will truly enjoy. Music. For many people, music has a profound influence on their emotional state: it relaxes, calms, comforts or helps us get in touch with our feelings. Gentle, slow and pleasant music prevents or alleviates stress, while fast and stimulating music raises our energy and encourages feelings of optimism and strength. Use music whenever you can, at home, in the car, if possible also at work. However, pay attention not to surrender yourself to the choice of radio stations; surround yourself with music which has a strong positive impact on you. (Also, avoid creating stress for your neighbours; if you like loud music or penetrating beat, use headphones.) Aromas. For many people, aromas can be one more way of creating sensation of bodily and emotional comfort. Choose smells which you find especially pleasant and relaxing and use them in essential oil burners and diffusers.