Although Deborah is a librarian, stress is no stranger to her. Each of Deborah’s days in the reference section of her city library is a constant juggling act. She deals with questions from library patrons, telephone reference calls, organizing and managing workshops in the library, as well as general administrative duties. At one time stressful days were more associated with certain jobs in our society–firefighter, police officer, neurosurgeon, or emergency room nurse.
However, the truth is that stress seems to be at an almost epidemic level–touching all levels of society. Business leaders feel the pressure as do parents, clergy, secretaries, lawyers, politicians, parking lot attendants, and practically everyone else. Chronic stress and the accompanying exhaustion seem to be a way of life for most people. Yet it is possible and desirable to turn the tide on this pervasive problem. It is not necessary to live life feeling as though you are shell-shocked. Often just a few lifestyle adjustments go a long way toward reducing stress while boosting energy. Here are 15 ways to destress your life.
1. Don’t pathologize life.
That advice comes from psychologist Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D., author of Finding Joy. “Life is often messy, uncertain, and unpredictable,” she writes. “Sometimes it’s a string of troubles that never seem to end. That’s normal. Ups and downs are normal. Being ill on occasion is normal. Feeling peaceful and happy is normal. Occasional low-energy days are normal.” Davis Kasl notes, “Peace of mind comes from not attaching a great deal of significance to either state. We simply note our moods and physical state and gently move toward balance as best we can, accepting it as part of the flow of life.”
2. Claim the promises of Scripture.
When feeling the burdens and stresses of life, tap into the power of the Bible to reduce anxiety and increase serenity. Read, review, and recite to yourself peace-inducing passages such as these:
- “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3, NLT).*
- “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart” (John 14:27, NLT).
- “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength” (Psalm 23:1-3, NLT).
3. Practice unattachment.
“Unattachment is the release of need or expectation associated with a specific outcome,” notes Cherie Carter-Scott, Ph.D., in her book If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules. “We become attached to the way we envision something working out, and struggle to make circumstances bend to our desires. Life, however, often has its own agenda, and we are destined to suffer unless we give up our attachment to things working out exactly as we would like.” Being unattached does not mean being disinterested or emotionally removed. Rather, it means suspending judgment and responding more neutrally to circumstances. A parent can practice unattachment by letting go of tightly focused wishes for their children. Likewise, spouses can practice unattachment by being more flexible and tolerant of personality differences between themselves.
4. Don’t contaminate the good times.
Telling yourself “I really shouldn’t be doing this” as you relax at your favorite bookstore with a recently published book doesn’t do you any good. Enjoy the moment. Relish the time. Remind yourself this brief respite will make you more effective later.
5. Avoid bringing work home on the weekend.
An astounding three out of four people who work in a large office (defined as 100 people or more) work on the weekend, according to the Steelcase Workplace Index, a semiannual survey of workplace trends in the United States. Plan to be a little more efficient on your Fridays so that you can leave work without a briefcase. This may mean going in a little earlier to finish up the week’s tasks, but the “free and clear” weekend will more than make up for those extra work minutes.
6. Deal with your past to have peace in the present.
A great deal of current stress is the result of past baggage that we lug around. Deal with it. “It is so much easier to walk away from a hurtful past than to confront the issues,” notes Stephen Arterburn, author of The Power Book. “But we cannot remove the past from our hearts; it is there to stay. And the only hope for true peace with the past is to face it at its worst, to seek to forgive, to be forgiven, to make amends and to be reconciled.”
7. Engage yourself in good, noble, creative activities.
At one time or another life brings everyone some problems and pains, sufferings and severities. These are all stressful. Yet even that stress can be minimized greatly by moving forward and continuing to develop ourselves in spite of the hardships.
Although Henri Matisse was nearly 28 years younger than Auguste Renoir, the two great artists were dear friends and frequent companions. When Renoir was confined to his home during the last decade of his life, Matisse visited him daily. Renoir, almost paralyzed by arthritis, continued to paint in spite of his infirmities. One day as Matisse watched his dear friend working in his studio, fighting torturous pain with each brushstroke, he asked: “Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?” Renoir answered simply: “The beauty remains; the pain passes.” And so, almost to his dying day, Renoir put paint to canvas. One of his most famous paintings, The Bathers, was completed just two years before his passing, 14 years after he was stricken by this disabling disease.
8. Create some quiet time.
Do this even if it means getting up a few minutes earlier or staying up a few minutes later. “You need at least 15 minutes a day to yourself,” says Stephan Rechtschaffen, M.D., president of the Omega Institute of Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York, and author of Time Shifting. Use those precious minutes to pray, read Scripture and other inspirational writing, or simply listen to a quiet house, look out a window, walk the dog. Time spent regrouping this way will help you cope better than the extra sleep will, he says.
9. Stretch stress away.
“If you’re feeling very uptight during the course of a work day, stretching can help to relieve that tightness,” notes Nancy Ford Norton, president of N2 Qualitative in Allendale, New Jersey. “People are staying planted in front of their computers and they’re not taking the breaks they need to get their bodies moving. This causes fatigue so that we’re not working or thinking at peak capacity. Stretching can be a quick, destressing activity that can be done throughout the day.”
10. Share concerns.
Don’t go it alone. Don’t keep your fears and hopes, anxieties and anticipations to yourself. Open up to a trusted friend or family member. Talk about your work project with a colleague; share your worry with your spouse; verbalize your frustration with a good friend. Talking things over always helps put issues into perspective, and you won’t feel so alone with the problem.
11. Write it out.
If you are hesitant to burden a family member or friend with your problem, put the matter down on paper. When under considerable stress, give yourself 15 or 20 minutes of writing time over three or four days. Without worrying about spelling, style, or grammar, just write and get it all “off your chest.” Many find this exercise highly effective in unburdening both mind and body. You will feel the stress lighten, and when that happens you can tear up your jottings and toss them out.
12. Plan time for yourself.
If you are in a constant state of motion and interaction with others, sooner or later you will feel incredible stress. “Set up an appointment with yourself–even if you have to put it on your calendar and promise yourself you’re going to do something or go somewhere to unwind and relax,” advises Nancy Ford Norton. “Whether it’s listening to music, working in your garden, or taking a hot bubble bath, do whatever gives you an inner sense of calm. If you don’t know how to relax, you won’t ever get to a destressed state,” she adds.
13. downsize your activities.
Here’s a simple example. Entertain just one or two couples for dinner. Remind yourself that you don’t have to host a huge party in order to have satisfying social interactions. Instead of planning a major event, consider a smaller, more casual meal with a few people whose company you truly enjoy.
14. Avoid the quick fix.
“What you don’t want to do is resort to quick fixes that have no staying power,” says stress psychologist Robert Epstein, Ph.D. “Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, bringing on food–these are surefire stress failures,” he declares. “They may give the impression they are relieving tension, but they will not work over time, and sooner or later you will be right back where you started.” Eptstein also advises those who feel stressed to avoid drinks that contain caffeine and high-fat foods.
15. Just say no.
Don’t get caught in the trap of constantly trying to please others and win approval from everyone. Much of our stress is the result of trying to do it all and be everything to everyone. Some effective ways to say no include a simple statement of fact: “I can’t take that on right now because I’m overextended.” Another strategy for declining a request is to ask for time to think about whether you really want or need to participate. Or offer a compromise–“Sure, I can make cookies for the bake sale, but I can’t help at the sale itself.”
* Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.