When do you decide you're under too much stress? When do you call in sick and take a mental health day? When do you put you at the top of your to-do list? Not often enough, I say -- and when we do, it's usually because our body has given us no choice in the matter.
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Perhaps we need to monitor our body's warning signs more closely so we can recognize when our body is saying "slow down!"
Ask yourself the following questions and identify whether anything here is "new" for you -- a new symptom (as opposed to being just the person you are)?
- Do you wake up many times during the night unable to get back to sleep? Are you trying to solve the world's problems at 3 a.m.?
- Do you sleep better on the weekend?
- Are you working in your sleep? Do you dream about work, about what you have to do, about what is outstanding, about upcoming meetings?
- Do you need to regularly go to the chiropractor or a massage therapist because you don't feel aligned? (If this is a new feeling) does the massage therapist tell you that your muscles are tight?
- Are you gaining weight around the middle at a faster rate than normal?
- Do you find that you can't relax in the evenings? That nothing on television entertains you, that you can't focus on anything once you arrive at home?
- Are the kids/dog/spouse getting on your nerves more than usual?
- Are you avoiding family gatherings, parties, social events because it is too much bother?
Each of the above is a symptom of stress and burnout. Your body is telling you that it is unable to handle the current stress load you are putting on it.
It's time to listen to your body and what it's trying to tell you.
It is not selfish to occasionally put yourself first.
You should be proactive and take care of your needs before you have to. Make sure that every once in a while the first item on your to-do list is you. Not at the exclusion of everyone else at work or at home, but take care of others only after you do what you need to do for you first. It is not selfish to occasionally put yourself first.
Here are some ideas that you should apply over the next month to take care of you first:
Take one morning to sleep for as long as your body needs to.
If you have children, arrange for someone else to take them for the night, for someone else to get up with them in the morning, or for them to take care of themselves until you get enough sleep. You may end up sleeping until noon, but don't feel guilty about it. If you are sleeping, the body is healing itself and that is necessary to deal with stress. Remember, if you weren't so exhausted, you wouldn't sleep that long.
If sleeping in isn't your thing, a better option is to go to bed very early one evening.
If the kids go down at 7:30 p.m., go with them. Go to bed even if the sun is still shining. So what if you wake up at 4 a.m.? You'll feel better in the morning (remember that healing effect that sleeping has on stress)!
Surround yourself with the things that make you happy.
Maybe it's a photograph, a scented candle, a small fountain. Put something beside your bed, on your bathroom counter, on your kitchen table, on your desk, in your car or even in a closet; something small and special that makes you smile every time you see it.
I have a fuzzy heart that I hang on the rear-view mirror in my car. It annoys everyone who is travelling with me, so when others are in the car, I take it down. When I'm alone, I hang it up to remind me that somebody loves me.
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Make yourself feel better by helping others feel better.
When I used to make my kids a lunch (or for my dad when I was a teenager), I would sometimes put a little note inside just for them, to let them know I loved them or was thinking about them. Make cookies (if baking relaxes you) and bring them into the office, with a note that says "I made these to make your day brighter" or something equally as corny (if baking isn't your thing, buy donuts or even flowers).
If you have the ability, tell a co-worker to leave half an hour earlier and you will cover the phones (and don't make it part of the deal that she will do that for you next week). When you see a homeless person, give them $10, or buy them lunch.
Allow yourself time to do something you want to do.
Play a round of golf on Saturday, even if you have the grass to cut. Walk around the mall (if you are trying to save money, leave your wallet at home). Soak in the bathtub, enjoy a glass of wine (or two), or visit someone you haven't seen in a while. Give yourself permission to make time to do something you haven't had time to do in a long while.
Create a sign for your desk/computer that says "I'm very happy."
Put one of those bright yellow happy faces on it. We have too many notes and reminders in our office about how busy we are, and we need to be reminded that we are happy.
It takes effort to not give in to stress. It takes planning to make sure we aren't burning out.
We all have stresses, we all have too much work to do and we all have only 24 hours in a day. The difference between those who are successful and those who are not is how they use those 24 hours.
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Stressors can be internal feelings, external behaviors or external influences. Dr. Betty Burrows notes that stressors can come in many forms, such as changes in your relationships, chemical influences such as alcohol or nicotine, noise pollution or physical deprivations including not enough sleep. Pinpoint the thing or things in your life that start to lead you down the road to no return and increase physical aliments such as headaches or sleeplessness.
Now that you know what you're dealing with, it is easier to take small quick actions to break the stress and tension cycle. Walk away from an angry co-worker or a crying baby by taking a walk around the block. This allows you to step away from the scene of your stress and not give into someone else's anxiety. If stepping outside isn't available to you, go into another room to grab a glass of water or hightail it into the bathroom and count to 100.
Deciding to be realistic and turn your negative thoughts into positive ones will take some time, but the power of positive thinking has proven benefits, according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic. Start simply by checking in with yourself throughout the day and spinning your negative thoughts into positive ones. Spill coffee on your desk? At least it missed your computer. Didn't make it to the bank before closing? Another walk to the bank tomorrow will give you some fresh air. If all else fails, laugh at yourself. It's not the end of the world.
e it exercise, meditation, getting more sleep, or dancing around your apartment, it's time to get physical. While it makes sense that things like exercise are good for your body, Harvard Medical School links the neurochemical effects of physical activity to reduced levels of stress hormones. You can also use your mind to relax your body. The endorphins released by physical or positive mental activity generate feelings of relaxation and optimism, just what you need to counteract the stressors bringing you down.
Giving yourself time to recover from stressful situations is key. Find ways to counteract your daily activities that will recharge your batteries. If you have a sales job and you talk to people all day, then turn your phone off at home. If you're stuck in a boring job that doesn't mentally challenge you, find goal-oriented tasks to do at home or pick up a crossword puzzle. If you constantly travel for work, insist on a few days in between flights to relax at home.
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