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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

7 Effective Ways to Cope with Stress

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7 Effective Ways to Cope with Stress

We all experience stress, but how we handle it affects our lives to various extents. Maybe you’ve tried to be less stressed, but you haven’t found many effective ways to cope with stress.

Before getting into how to reduce stress, let me give you an introduction to what stress is.

There’s no medical definition of stress, and health care professionals often disagree over whether stress is the cause of problems or the result of them. This can make it difficult for you to work out what causes your feelings of stress or how to deal with them. Stress affects us in a number of ways, both physically and emotionally, and in varying intensities.

During my career, I’ve helped many people that had an extremely demanding lifestyle (mainly due to their job) to manage and reduce stress. The core of my practice is to help busy people feel good (both physically and mentally), and managing stress is often the most important component of every program I write.

Over the years, I came up with a set of practices that, when done consistently, can help even the busiest executive to keep his/her stress levels under control and generally be healthier and more productive.

Did you try to be less stressed but with poor results?

To fully understand why these practices are so effective, we first need to understand that stress can actually be divided into two different categories that are tightly intertwined:

Emotional Stress

Emotional stress is a feeling of being under abnormal pressure. This pressure can come from different aspects of your day to day life; such as an increased workload, a transitional period, an argument you have with your family or new and existing financial worries. You may find that it has a cumulative effect, with each stressor building on top of one another.

During these situations, you may feel threatened or upset, and your body might create a stress response. Your body’s reaction to your emotional state is the release of a multitude of stress hormones that, in turn, affect the way your body feels, moves, and responds to external stimuli. This can cause a variety of physical symptoms, change the way you behave, and lead you to experience more intense emotions.

You can see that emotional stress has a tangible physical repercussion on your body. This is due to your body’s reaction to your thoughts and not to physical activities or external sensory inputs.

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In simple words, when you’re thinking “stressful thoughts,” and you are unable to stop thinking about them (especially if you are worried about something that is outside of your control), you experience what I call emotional stress.

Physical Stress

Physical stress is your body’s reaction to external stimuli that trigger a “fight or flight” response and also, your body’s metabolic reaction to what you breathe, drink, and eat.

Physical stress is not intrinsically bad; in fact, it can be very helpful. For example, exercising causes physical stress, but it relieves emotional stress.[1] Also, having a stress response because a car is about to hit you while you’re crossing the road may turn out to be life-saving.

On the contrary, eating processed food, drinking alcohol or sugary beverages, and smoking or using recreational drugs are all negative physical stressors.

Physical stressors like exercising are something that we want our body to experience often, but they are still a form of stress that, when added to a lot of other stressors, may actually have a detrimental effect on our health.

For example, trying to run a 10k fasted when you had a four-hour sleep and an emotionally stressful week may not be optimal for your health. You would probably be better off doing a 5k after a good meal and a 20-minute long meditation.

At this point, it’s easy to see that everyone experiences stress to various degrees. However, when it is affecting your life, health, and wellbeing, it is important to tackle it as soon as possible.

7 Effective Ways to Reduce Stress

If you had looked online for “ways to reduce stress,” you probably found a bunch of generic advice like “try to sleep more” or “exercise regularly” and “eat healthily.” While these are all great things that we all should do every day, I found that, when trying to help a very busy client to reduce his/her stress levels, this simple advice wasn’t really helping them. In fact, it only made things worse.

For this reason, instead of giving you generic advice, I am going to give you 7 practical strategies that instantly reduce stress, and can be implemented in your daily routine without taking too much of your precious time.

Reducing Physical Stress

1. Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels

When we ingest foods or drinks that contain sugars (20g or more) or high glycemic carbohydrates (like white rice, bread, or potatoes), we quickly experience a burst in energy. This is due to our blood sugar levels rising. When this happens, our pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which, in turn, lowers blood sugar levels by storing the nutrients we have in our bloodstream either in our fat cells, muscles, or liver. This process causes an “up and down” in our energy levels and, also, when the blood sugar levels become low, we experience hunger and cravings.[2]

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These ups and downs in blood sugar have been linked to an increase in stress. It’s easy to see that, when we are having a stressful day, being all of a sudden tired and hungry won’t really make our stress levels go away. Quite the opposite, in fact, fatigue, and eating disorders are clear symptoms of stress.

In the book 12 Rules For Life, Dr Jordan B. Peterson explains how, when treating patients suffering from stress and depression, he always prescribes them to swap their breakfasts and lunches with low carb options like eggs, meat or fish. Dr Peterson says that this little trick is often as effective as prescription drugs. In fact, most patients won’t need any prescription drugs and simply get better because they have stabilized their blood sugar levels throughout the most stressful part of the day.

If you are used to having a high-carb breakfast like yoghurt, cereals, Caffe-lattes, or fruit smoothies, try to swap them with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese, or sliced meat. You can do the same for your lunch by having meat or fish with some vegetables. This little bio-hack will allow you to have a more stable level of energy throughout the working day and, also, give you a feeling of satiety. Reducing hunger and fatigue will inevitably help you reduce stress too.

2. Drink More Water

Drinking water has a multitude of health benefits, but when it comes to reducing stress, the most noticeable are:

A well-hydrated body allows you to think clearer and faster and get more things done because you won’t feel as tired. Most biochemical processes that happen inside the brain require water and minerals. Staying constantly hydrated will optimize your brain function and help you to perform better at your job.

Having too many things to do and, yet, feeling unproductive, is a huge cause of stress amongst busy people. Something as simple as having a refillable water bottle always with you and sipping every five minutes or so can have a positive impact on your stress levels, health, and performance.

3. Working out on the Same Day/Time Each Week

I already said that physical exercise had been proven to reduce stress levels (despite being metabolic stress itself). I also said that working out when you are already stressed and short on time may actually have the opposite effect and increase your stress levels even further.

Having a fixed day and time each week dedicated to exercise (preferably in the morning, before meetings, and calls start to disrupt your day) is essential if you want to reduce stress.

A very useful trick is to book the time blocks you want to dedicate to exercise a week or two in advance, before booking work meetings and social events. By doing this, you accomplish two very important things that will lower your stress levels:

  • Be more consistent with exercise (since you will be less likely to skip your sessions once they’re pre-booked in the early mornings)
  • Remove the thought that “you still have to exercise” from your head, so that you won’t have to think about ways to squeeze that hour-long workout within an already packed working day. The less stressful thoughts you have in your head, the lower your stress levels are.

4. Sleep Following Your Circadian Rhythm

We all know that sleep is paramount when it comes to managing stress. What you might not know is that each individual may benefit from sleeping and waking up at different times.

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In the book Why We Sleep, Dr. Matthew Walkers observes that some individuals benefit from a regular sleeping pattern (the typical 10 pm to 6 am) while other individuals have a better quality of sleep when they can sleep late at night and wake up late in the morning ( 1-2 am to 10 am). This phenomenon is due to the body’s tendency to follow the circadian rhythms (basically our natural clock that is affected by the movement of the Earth).

Dr. Walkers noticed that, when the latter group of people had a typical 9-5 job, they were much more prone to stress, and they were also more likely to develop conditions like depression and neurodegenerative diseases.

If you are a fan of early mornings, waking up as early as 5 am and going to bed as early as 9 pm is probably a good thing for your health and will definitely lower your stress levels, since you will have some extra time in the morning to either exercise or to get ahead with your to-do list.

If you are a nocturnal animal and you struggle to get to bed before midnight, you should try to get at least three lay-ins (when you wake up later than 9 am) each week. This could be done by taking some late shifts at work and not booking early activities during the weekend.

Reducing Emotional Stress

Before exploring my favourite ways to reduce emotional stress, I need to stress the fact that physical stress should be addressed first. This is because emotional stress is often due to interaction with other people or situations that are outside of our control zone.

You might be emotionally stressed because you’re being pressured by your boss or because you’re experiencing some tension in your relationship. You also might be stressed because you’re worried about things that you can’t do much about (like someone else’s health or the economy).

Emotional stress is often outside of your control zone, while physical stress is nearly always a conscious choice that you have total control over. Put simply, you can’t change the economy, but you can definitely exercise, eat well, and sleep more.

Now that I’ve made this clear let’s move on to my favourite ways to reduce emotional stress.

5. Carefully Plan Your Week on a Sunday Evening

The one thing that will help you manage and reduce stress after taking care of your health is “improving productivity.”

Being able to get more done in less time can help you stop feeling overwhelmed and allow you to find some extra time to do activities that reduce stress like meditation, being in nature, or reading a book. For this reason, spending a whole hour on a Sunday evening to carefully plan your working week, hour-by-hour is a must-do. Use this system to maximize the efficacy of this exercise:

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  • Start by booking exercise, grocery shopping, and time alone (to do whatever non-work-related activity you desire). Give those activities the same priority you would give to a work meeting.
  • Once you booked those, go through your to-do list and prioritize the different voices from most important to least important. Book them accordingly.
  • Make sure to book the least important activities later in the week, so that you can reduce the stress load caused by the most demanding tasks before it starts to build upon you.
  • Last but not least, book your sleeping time. This might sound funny to you, but you probably check your calendar more than 20 times each day. Seeing a time-block called “sleep” at a precise time in your calendar will automatically instruct your brain to prepare for sleep around that time.

6. Book Big Chunks of Alone-Time for Your Most Demanding Projects

Another crucial factor in reducing stress is avoiding distractions. Phone notifications, emails, phone calls, and interactions with people can totally disrupt your flow when you’re working on a demanding task.

Multiple studies confirm this. Distractions don’t just eat up time during the distraction; they derail your mental progress for up to a half-hour afterwards (that’s assuming another distraction doesn’t show up in that half-hour). In other words, that “30 seconds to check Twitter” isn’t just 30 seconds down the drain; it’s 25 minutes and 30 seconds.

And all these distractions not only hurt productivity, but they also have negative emotional effects. Research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood, and lower productivity.

In the book Deep Work, Cal Newport explains how the greatest thinkers in history had the habit of isolating themselves for hours (or even days) to fully focus on their most meaningful work. While you don’t need to move on alternate weeks on a medieval tower with no electricity (like Carl Jung used to do), you can definitely find a quiet space where you can immerse yourself in your most stressful tasks.

When you do that, make sure to turn off all phone notifications and ask not to be disturbed. You will be surprised by how big of an impact this practice has on your overall stress levels.

7. Delegate the Least Important Tasks

Last but not least, spending time on doing tasks that you don’t deem important or could/should be done by someone else can cause stress. This is due to the fact that you won’t dedicate time to the most important voices of your to-do list and, consequently, build up emotional stress.

When you plan your week, spend some time thinking about how you could delegate those annoying tasks to either a paid professional or someone that would be eager to help you. Don’t be afraid to open your wallet and hire someone like a cleaner or an online assistant. If you fall ill because of stress or you end up in need of a therapist, your bill will turn out much higher.

Here’s a guide to help you learn to delegate: How to Delegate Work Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

Bottom Line

These seven tricks I’ve just listed are extremely effective and very easy to implement in your day-to-day life. Feel free to experiment with them and find the perfect mix that works best for you.

Note that I didn’t mention any strategy to deal with your own negative thoughts, I actually wrote a whole book about it — Stress-Free in 7 Simple Steps: A practical guide to mindfulness for beginners. When your negative thoughts are the main cause of stress, you should always seek the support of your loved ones and also the help of a skilled therapist.

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More About Stress Relief

Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

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Davide Alfonsi

Online Weight Loss And Exercise Specialist

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Published on September 22, 2021

Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

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Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

Sadly, being overwhelmed at work has become commonplace in many industries in the United States, with an astounding 83% of US workers reporting that they are suffering from work-related stress. The US has been deemed the most overworked developed nation on the planet.[1]

Some of you are nodding your head knowingly, while others might be doing a questioning head tilt right now. Here’s the deal—data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the average productivity of American workers has increased since 1950.[2] Unfortunately, since that time real wages have remained largely unchanged (adjusted for cost of living and inflation), meaning that to earn the same amount that we did in 1950, we have to work approximately an extra 11 hours each week—and an unthinkable 572 hours a year. Sounds a little bit stressful, isn’t it?

To put things into perspective, here are a few statistics to chew on:[3]

  • People are so overwhelmed at work that it’s costing American companies over 300 billion dollars a year and over $190 billion in healthcare costs.[4] This is partly because feeling overwhelmed at work manifests itself in increased sick days, decreased productivity, poor mental and physical health, more errors on the job, and increased turnover.
  • Moreover, stress at work is not just costing us money but also our lives. With a staggering 120,000 deaths annually attributed to work stress, something needs to change.

If the external demands are not enough to raise your blood pressure, we are also unwittingly making our situations more challenging by perpetuating an ideology that would stress out even the coolest cucumber. Let me explain.

The idea that’s been drilled into us for most of our American lives has been this: hard work and working hard is to be admired while admitting something is too much is being a lazy wimp. This underlying attitude we’ve all been spoon-fed with is called Internalized Capitalism. According to Anders Hayden, a political science professor at Dal Housie University in Nova Scotia,[5]

“Internalized capitalism is this idea that our self-worth is directly linked to our productivity.”

Someone struggling with internalized capitalism might look like any or all of the following:

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  • Putting work before their health and well-being
  • Feeling guilty when resting or participating in a leisure activity
  • Feeling lazy and/or anxious when sick, hurt, or otherwise dealing with personal or physical adversity that delays them from doing their job
  • Feeling that whatever they do it’s never enough.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is admirable to be a hard worker. But here’s the caveat—when our self-worth and lives suffer because of the overwhelming and relentless demand for productivity, profit, and performance, we need to start reconsidering what’s going on. And here’s the real kicker: this attitude plays right into the hands of the few who are profiting from the many. It’s almost like we have been brainwashed to police ourselves against our self-interest.

Now that we are all on the same page about how we got here, the question is this: How can we overcome a difficult system and dysfunctional thinking?

Honestly, we didn’t get here overnight, and there is not a magic wand to wave that will change things for the better instantly. True change will occur with a blend of systemic and individual tweaks—or overhauls. Okay, it’s really “overhauls” that we need, but I didn’t want to scare anyone so I said “tweaks.”

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the solutions and changes we can make as individuals. Let’s just be frank and put it out there that these problems won’t be fixed only by reminding people to take better care of themselves. Taking personal responsibility for your self-care is part of it, yes, but this runs much deeper than that. We are talking about undoing deeply held beliefs that govern our self-esteem and self-worth.

1. Process Your Emotions

“So, if you’re mad, get mad!” Isn’t that how the song goes? (I’ll Stand by You by the Pretenders.) Finding healthy outlets for our emotions is a key aspect of processing and being able to truly move on.

“Name it to tame it,” is a phrase coined by Dr. Dan Siegel about the power of labeling an emotion to reduce its impact. Examples of this could be journaling or talking things out with someone. Honestly, this step really needs to come first as it is extremely difficult to think clearly when we are feeling very emotional.[6]

2. Be Aware of Negative and Judgmental Self-Talk

Are you staying late at the office and missing time with friends (or your dog) because your internal critic is telling you that if you don’t get this project done, you are a lazy, underperforming blob of an employee? This type of self-talk is not productive or healthy.

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You can overcome this by becoming aware of the story you are telling yourself and the judgment that accompanies it. This is the most important step by far. These stories and criticisms we tell ourselves that keep us working crazy hours and provoke toxic anxiety are the same cockamamie stories that prevent us from taking the time we need to take care of ourselves.

3. Question Your Beliefs

Once you notice the narrative you are telling yourself, take a step back and try to see it for what it is. “Is this really true? Why do I believe that? Is there any evidence to the contrary?”

4. Make New Beliefs

Rewrite your story with what feels right to you. Luckily, we are our own authors, and we get to choose the things we tell ourselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but the power of perspective and authentic positive thinking can be monumental. It’s healthy to evaluate our internal beliefs and self-talk from time to time.

5. Be Clear on What You Want

Be clear on what you want and how you’d like things to be different. Do I want to work a zillion hours a week and then be too tired/anxious/grumpy to do anything else in my life? What are my priorities and does my situation now reflect that?

6. Talk to Your Supervisor

Talk to your supervisor to clarify expectations. Are you holding yourself to implied or self-imposed expectations? Or have they explicitly been set by your employer?

7. Have a Solid Support System

Having a solid support system helps prevent you from being overwhelmed by work anxiety. They can be your friends, family, life coach, psychologist, teammates, social groups—whoever feels supportive, positive, and encouraging.

8. Brutally Assess What You Can and Can’t Control.

This step is important as it dictates the actions you have to choose to move forward. I used to wish I would win the lottery, but the time and energy spent on that didn’t get me anywhere. Changing my work hours, taking some classes, and cutting back some expenses did.

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9. Develop an Action Plan

Develop an action plan based on your findings in #8. It’s not all going to change at once. Start with one small thing, and keep chipping away until you get wherever you want to go.

10. Talk to Your Supervisor

Talk to your supervisor or someone from HR about your concerns and struggles. Find out about your options and any assistance they may be able to offer.

11. Set Boundaries and Limitations.

Just because you can work from home and check your email at 2 am doesn’t mean that you should. Learn to set your boundaries. Limit digital contact. Limit work to work hours and stick to it.

12. Complete One Thing at a Time

We are only neurologically capable of doing one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth and, when attempted, has been shown to take up to 40% longer to complete a task.[7] Don’t waste your precious time and energy doing many things at once. Instead, focus on one task at a time.

13. Be Organized and Timely But Also Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for increased stress and overwhelming work anxiety by putting an unreasonable amount of things on your “to-do” list over a short period of time. Prioritize what needs to be done, and set realistic time frames for completion.

14. Good Enough Is Sometimes Good Enough

Don’t get bogged down in the minutia and cost yourself hours of needless work by re-reading an email 14 times before sending it. Read through it twice and hit send.

15. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

There is a saying I like: “Comparison is the thief of happiness.” I have no idea who originally said it, but they are brilliant, and most of all, correct. Wasting time and energy comparing ourselves never leads us to a good place. Instead, ask yourself if you are doing the best you can given your own set of circumstances.

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16. Take Time to Fill Your Tank

Meditation, yoga, quiet time, exercise, breaks, breathing, quality sleep, good nutrition, and hydration—just to name a few—are all scientifically proven ways to reduce our internal stress and better manage our energy.[8] On top of good self-care habits, taking the time to do whatever it is that fills your individual tank is crucial to feeling less overwhelmed with work anxiety. I frequently ask my clients which car will make it on a cross-country trip: the car you stop and put gas in, checking the oil and tires intermittently, or the car that you just keep driving?

17. Reframing/Changing Perspective

We all get caught in the habit of seeing things from only one perspective. A friend of mine used to always tell me, “there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and something in the middle.” She was right, and honestly, there are many more sides than that.

Critical coaching moment here: Take a step back and try to think outside the box to see the vast expanse of options available to you. Try not to discount them right off the bat as they might not readily fit into the narrow view or expectation that you previously held. Allow your mind to run free, be creative, and find solutions.

What Organizations Can Do About It

As we mentioned earlier, this problem of being overwhelmed with work anxiety is not one-dimensional. Much of the onus falls on the system itself. Not ready to make the full commitment necessary, many organizations encourage their employees to “take care of themselves” or “prioritize work-life balance” while, at the same time, covertly/overtly making unrealistic demands in workload and time.

The positive side is that there are companies who have truly taken the task of supporting their employees as people with personal and professional lives to heart.[9] These organizations stand at the forefront with fair wages, employing enough staff, and setting realistic work expectations, boundaries, and goals. Some top organizations employ life coaches, psychologists, and other support staff, offer employee wellness programs, encourage good nutrition through free healthy meals at work, provide access to fitness and game rooms, and provide unlimited paid time off, flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, as well as resources to assist with daycare, legal issues, and in-home care to name a few.

Lastly, solid training for managers and HR in addressing employees as “whole” people and taking some of the onus off of the employee to find their own solutions to problems that stem from the workplace is another critical component to successfully supporting employees.[10]

Final Thoughts

Improving support for people in the workplace is good for everyone. It’s better for people’s health and well-being, it’s better for productivity and making fewer errors, it’s more cost-effective for companies and our healthcare system, and it increases the bottom line for companies.

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As we discussed earlier, the big picture will not change overnight. For now, take control of what you can and evaluate ways to better manage your end of things. If these changes are not enough to make the difference you are looking for, then a change of environment or to a company that holds the same beliefs that you do may be in order.

More Tips on How to Manage Work Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Elisa Ventur via unsplash.com

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