Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Whilst stress is not always bad, the impact that stress has on your life can be significant. The good news is that the levels of stress you feel can be moderated by the way you respond to it. This brief program aims to provide some information on the impacts of stress at an individual level. Throughout we will discuss four evidence-based strategies to help manage stress in order to enhance your well-being.
Mindfulness is a state of intentional, non-judgmental focus on the present moment, which has been identified as a particularly useful tool for managing stress. When we are stressed or worried we tend to be in our heads, distracted from the present moment, even a brief mindfulness intervention can help us to focus, feel less stressed and more productive. While not the goal of mindfulness, relaxation tends to be a welcome by-product which can be beneficial during times of stress.
One Mindfulness Transcript:
Settle into a comfortable sitting position, either on a straight-backed chair or on a soft surface on the floor.
Allow your back to adopt an upright, dignified, and comfortable posture. If sitting on a chair, place your feel flat on the floor, with your legs uncrossed. Gently close your eyes.
Now bring your awareness to physical sensations of breathing. Maybe you notice a gentle rise and fall in your shoulders or chest as you breathe… Perhaps you can notice the rise and fall of your stomach as your breath moves in and out of your body.
Focus your awareness on the flow of your breathing, in and out of your nose or mouth. Notice the way that the breath feels cooler as it enters your body and warmer as you breathe out again…
Try to trace the path of each breath fully…
There is no need to try to control the breathing in any way – simply let this process happen by itself. As best as you can, also bring this attitude of allowing to the rest of your experience. There is nothing to be fixed, no particular state to be achieved. As best as you can, simply allow your experience to be your experience, without needing it to be other than it is.
People who are high in self-compassion tend to treat themselves with kindness and concern when they experience negative events making them better able to cope with day-to-day stressors. Self-compassion provides a helpful lens or approach for overcoming setbacks and building self-confidence.
Compassionate people are more likely to have the emotional resilience to combat suffering, anxiety, burnout or stress. Self-compassion has also been studied in the workplace, with research suggesting that self-compassionate teams are more likely to approach mistakes or setbacks with a curiosity to learn and improve— rather than to exacerbate the issue with criticism and shame. Such an approach is also likely to decrease feelings of work-related stress.
Supporting a friend
1. First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about themselves or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation?
2. Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations?
3. Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
4. Consider how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.
Routinely sleeping less than 6 or 7 hours a night impacts your body’s ability to rest and repair. However, having regular 8 hours of sleep per night is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our mind and body. This goes a long way to helping us manage the physical activities and mental stressors that we may face the following day.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
1. Get regular. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and get up at more or less the same time everyday, even on weekends and days off. This regular rhyme will make you feel better and will give your body something to work from.
2. Sleep when sleepy. Only try to sleep when you actually feel tired or sleepy, rather than spending too much time awake in bed.
3. Get up & try again. If you haven’t been able to get to sleep after about 20 minutes or more, get up and do something calming and boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed and try again. Sit quietly on the couch with the lights off (bright light will tell your brain that it is time to wake up), or read something boring. Avoid doing anything that is too stimulating or interesting, as this will wake you up even more.
4. Avoid caffeine & nicotine. It is best to avoid consuming any caffeine (in coffee, tea, soft drinks) or nicotine (cigarettes) for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed. These substances act as stimulants and interfere with the ability to fall asleep.
5. Avoid alcohol. It is also best to avoid alcohol for at least 4-6 hours before going to bed. Many people believe that alcohol is relaxing and helps them to get to sleep at first, but it actually interrupts the quality of sleep.
6. Bed is for sleeping. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and sex, so that your body comes to associate bed with sleep. If you use bed as a place to watch TV, eat, read, work on your laptop, pay bills, and other things, your body will not learn this connection.
7. No naps. It is best to avoid taking naps during the day, to make sure that you are tired at bedtime. If you can’t make it through the day without a nap, make sure it is for less than an hour and before 3pm.
8. Sleep rituals. You can develop your own rituals of things to remind your body that it is time to sleep – some people find it useful to do relaxing stretches or breathing exercises for 15 minutes before bed each night or sit calmly with a cup of caffeinefree tea.
9. Bath-time. Having a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime can be useful, as it will raise your body temperature, which then drops again. Research shows that sleepiness is associated with a drop in body temperature.
10. No clock-watching. Many people who struggle with sleep tend to watch the clock too much. Frequently checking the clock during the night can wake you up (especially if you turn on the light to read the time) and reinforces negative thoughts such as “Oh no, look how late it is, I’ll never get to sleep” or “it’s so early, I have only slept for 5 hours, this is terrible.”
11. Exercise. Regular exercise is a good idea to help with good sleep but try not to do strenuous exercise in the 4 hours before bedtime. Morning walks are a great way to start the day feeling refreshed!
12. Eat right. A healthy, balanced diet will help you to sleep well, but timing is important. Some people find that a very empty stomach at bedtime is distracting, so it can be useful to have a light snack, but a heavy meal soon before bed can also interrupt sleep.
14. The right space. It is very important that your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable for sleeping. A cooler room with enough blankets to stay warm is best, and make sure you have curtains or an eye mask to block out early morning light and earplugs if there is noise outside your room.
15. Keep daytime routine the same. Even if you have a bad night sleep and are tired it is important that that you try to keep your daytime activities the same as you had planned. That is, don’t avoid activities because you feel tired, as this can reinforce poor sleep hygiene.
Many people approach the topic of time management with the question “How can I get more done in less time?” Multitasking is not the answer. When people do two tasks at once, research shows that their attention is divided over these two tasks with neither being performed at their optimum. This can often lead to a further increase in our stress levels.
So how do we find balance in an age where we juggle multiple tasks to get more done? The key to time management is setting priorities and focusing on what needs to be accomplished in the moment. This can be enhanced by having an improved understanding of how you work as an individual and structuring tasks around the times when your energy level and focus is higher.
Focus on your priorities – let the little things slide. Every time you do something unimportant, you are trading it for something that is important.
Stop being reactive with your time – be proactive. You have enough time to accomplish what you want to if you set goals and manage your time instead of letting it manage you. We have more respect for other people’s time than we do our own.
Plan your day. Plans are the handrails which guide you through the day’s distractions and keep you on course. Set objectives for the day to ensure that you are working towards results.
Schedule your tasks. If you keep a “To Do” list, then you are ahead of the game, but that isn’t enough. To create commitment to the task, make sure that you schedule the time into your calendar to make it a priority. Schedule your tasks in line with when you have the most energy and the least energy in the day. For example, return phone calls and check emails when you have less energy and complete project work when your energy is high. This will allow you to be more productive in your peak times.
Schedule appropriate tasks to the time you have allotted. Use smaller chunks of time to take care of short, easily completed tasks like returning telephone calls, opening the mail, filing, email, etc. Use larger chunks of time for important projects so that you can make significant progress. If you experience more interruptions in the morning, then use this time for more routine tasks and the scheduling of meetings. Save the more important projects for other times of the day when you experience fewer interruptions.
Don’t procrastinate. The major reasons that we procrastinate are either we really don’t want to do something, or we don’t know where to start. Breaking a large project into small, manageable pieces, will make it much less formidable and easier to accomplish. Identify why you are procrastinating and eliminate the cause.
Don’t be a perfectionist. Be careful not to spend excessive time on tasks which do not require it. Understand why you are doing something and do what is required to do a good job, but be realistic about it.