Counterbalancing Chronic Stress

I have been having a rough week. My minor ankle injury has not only contributed to my already steady stream of small stress sources, but it’s taken away from my chronic stress relieving habit – physical activity.

Everyone I know falls victim to at least some degree of chronic stress. Most people don’t wake up in the morning as joyful as my puppies, bouncing around like ping pong balls, licking everything in sight, only worried about whether or not it’s time to go for their daily woods walk.

Instead, we wake up and immediately start tending to our internal chore chart… pee, coffee, email, mentally preparing ourselves for our barrage of tasks at hand (I try to get my GED via online GED lessons), and physically readying ourselves for another work day via hygiene and clothing.

Most days of the week, I am stressed out before I get out of bed. I love my career, but with constant unpredictability comes a non stop need to be on “high alert.” A good portion of my head space is taken up by “worst case scenarios.”

Sometimes I use this stress to thrive – it puts me in a zone of heightened hyperactivity where I can solve problems, be witty, charming, and adorable, and shoot from the hip while balancing trays of teacups on my head.

But most of the time, this chronically stressful outlook turns me into what I like to call noodle brain. When I put my clothes in the dishwasher, send faxes in the drier, and park my car in the house… I know it’s about boom time for me, and I’m really glad I competed my GED, how would all of this otherwise be possible…

A really interesting concept I’ve been learning about in the online course Inspiring Leadership Through Intellectual Intelligence is that a good way to manage chronic stress is through dedication to “renewal” or basically taking the time to do an activity that purges each stressful situation we endure throughout the course of the day.

Professor Richard Boyatzis has dedicated a lot of his research through the course of his professional career to understanding how the brain, emotions, and stress affect our lives. An exercise in class this week involved writing down every time anything caused you minor stress – from a phone call to even just negative thoughts seeping in, you were to write it down.

On the other hand, every time you did something to “renew” these stressful events, you were to write that down as well. A renewal, as referred to in this Ivey Business Journal involves compassion, hope, and mindfulness, and helps break the cycle of “power stress,” or chronic nagging stressful situations.

These can involve physical activity that brings you joy, meditation, spending time with someone you love, playing a game – whatever takes your mind off of your daily stresses. Ideally, the number of renewals you perform should be equal to every stressful hash you have on your list.

Obviously, this requires a bit of time management, creativity, and dedication. I am definitely trying to integrate more renewal tactics into my daily routine to keep from having those major blowout explosions I’m prone to in the future.

The more I think about acts of renewal to balance situations of stress, the more examples of it I see in real life. Trees for example, shedding their unneeded leaves when the seasons change to save their resources. We take vinyasas during our yoga practice to balance asanas and clear our energy channels. Stress is mitigated with a renewal.

Although I am still learning how to keep my sheet balanced, here are a few suggestions that might help you find some balance, too.

Partake in regular physical activity: Starting a new fitness routine is actually a stressful act. Once it becomes a habit, however, it takes on the form of a renewal. Being injured this past week has made me really open to the fact that this is my go to. Not having it available is rough.

Do Something To Improve Your Living Space: Not because you feel obligated to, but because you want to. The simple act of changing the bed sheets and cleaning out the fridge every Sunday tames my tension because I know I improved my home. Redecorate, hang a picture, make a pillow, clean a closet.

Have mental recess: Read a chapter in a book, do a puzzle, do what I do and lock yourself in the bathroom for 15 minutes so you can play Scrabble on your iPhone. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, just a way to shut your mind down from work mode and tap into a different set of brain cells.

Have meaningful communications with others: Stop and chat with a friend, reminisce with a loved one, play with a pet. Leave work out of it and enjoy the company of others.

Just sit and be peaceful: Meditate if it feels natural, or light a delicious candle and close your eyes. Park your car and sit with the windows open. Put your head down on your desk and breathe with purpose.

When all else fails, turn to nature: This is my big thing. I go to the woods for answers. I go to the woods for peace. I go to the woods and I stay in the woods until I feel better. I’m sure a beach, the lake, a park – whatever I had at my disposal would do the same trick, but I go there.

I am definitely striving towards purging minor stresses in my life as they come my way, and to be honest, even making myself aware of their existence is helping me be more in tune with how to solve little problems.

Do you do anything to counteract your stress regularly? Do you believe a renewal for every stress is a good tool for stress management? How do you renew?