Elizabeth Scott, a blogger and wellness coach, blends ancient tradition and modern science with practical advice in 8 Keys to Stress Management (W. W. Norton). Her stated goal is “to help you shift your whole experience of stress in your life.” She begins with a detailed discussion of different types of stress (including the good kind!) and the toll they take on your digestive system, heart, psychological state, and immune system.
Scott, who survived a devastating car crash, shares the most useful information and techniques that she put together in the years since the accident:
Key 1: Become Aware of Your Stressors. Of course you know when you have a looming deadline or a neighborhood dog that barks all night, but the more stress you experience from multiple sources, the less you tend to be aware of it. Until you understand where it’s coming from and what it’s doing to you, you’ll never have it under control. Scott describes these hidden stressors and includes activities to heighten your awareness of them and then learn to relieve them by keeping a stress log, doing a “lifestyle scan” meditation, and talking to others.
Key 2: Learn to Quickly Reverse Your Stress Response. When the fight-or-flight response is triggered frequently—as it can be even from the perception of threat—you can remain in a state of chronic stress. Learn to bring yourself to a relaxed state instead, through meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises, visualizations, progressive muscle relaxation, and self-hypnosis.
Key 3: Take Care of Your Body. The importance of self-care can’t be overemphasized when you are trying to reduce stress in your life. This may be one of the hardest and most important changes you can make to keep your stress from spiraling out of control. So keep your kitchen stocked with healthy fare rather than grabbing a salty or sugary snack as a false pick-me-up, get moving to keep lethargy at bay and ward off health issues, and be vigilant about getting enough sleep—regardless of your busy schedule and entrenched habits.
Key 4: Get into the Right Frame of Mind. How you experience stress is tightly woven into how you think about your stressors. Where we stand with regard to the Big Five personality factors—openness to new experiences, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, and neuroticism—predisposes us to react in certain ways. But psychologists suggest that we can alter our level of these factors by up to 50%. Pessimist or optimist? Clear or distorted thinking? Learn to shift your view (how does a “chocolate meditation” sound?) and you just may shift the stress off your back.
Key 5: Cut Down on Stressors When Possible. Though you probably can’t relocate to Tahiti or hire a live-in butler and cook, there are things you can do to eliminate smaller stressors—the “tolerations” we endure because we feel we have to. You do not have unlimited energy, so make a decision about where it can be best put to use. Find your least stressed place, and operate from there. This often involves setting boundaries with co-workers and friends, keeping your environment orderly, managing your time well, and asking for help when you need it. Think these approaches are too small to make a difference? They’re not.
Key 6: Cultivate Healthy Relationships. The supportive relationships in our lives promote not only stress relief but physical health and even longevity. There’s no doubt about it: Healthy relationships are good for your health. And you know how bad toxic relationships are for you. Learn to develop your communication and empathy skills so that your most important relationships remain strong. And don’t forget that joining a group—anything from a book club to a religious or political group—can give you a great source of social support, access to activities, and a sense of belonging.
Key 7: Put Positive Psychology into Action. Our wellness, resilience, and happiness are a direct result of the positive feelings we cultivate toward our pleasures and gratifications, which includes everything from taking a walk to having a favorite meal to writing, gardening, or other hobbies. Figuring out how to work more pleasure into your life will not only reduce stress but improve cognitive functioning, physical health, and ability to recover from anxiety.
Key 8: Practice Long-Term Resilience-Forming Habits. The regular practice of three key stress-relief techniques will actually build your resistance to stress. The motherlode of stress reduction lies in meditation, exercise (yes, even yoga or walking), and journaling. The effort you put into these practices will come back to you many times over.
Stress management shouldn’t be stressful! 8 Keys to Stress Management walks you through some powerful techniques that may make a world of difference for you. August is host to both National Lazy Day and National Relaxation Day. I feel better already…