Don't Joke About Stress – Do Something About It

Sign on gymnasium door: “Not afraid of heights — afraid of widths.”

Stress may be the common denominator of the 20th and 21st centuries. Everyone seems to have too much of it.

Unfortunately, I find people more willing to joke about stress than do something about it. Instead of eating and drinking correctly, one person said, “Booze is great stuff. It makes you see double and feel single.” And Ed Hearn, who was on the New York Mets World Series team, says, “A waist is a terrible thing to mind.”

Some people even joke about their unhealthy lifestyle. As my sister-in-law quips, “I read this article that said the typical symptoms of stress are eating too much, impulse buying, and driving too fast. Are they kidding? That’s my idea of a perfect day.”

Deep down, stress is not funny, however. It destroys your peace of mind. It hurts your health, endangers your relationships, and lowers your productivity.

And as I mentioned in last week’s “Tuesday Tip,” many companies offered workshops on “job stress” years ago. I applaud them for that. After all, when employees know how to manage stress, they work harder and achieve more. So stress management training pays off.

But the most recent research says you have to deal with all 8 aspects of stress… if you’re going to have an effective and balanced life. You have to do more than merely focus on one aspect of stress — such as “job stress”. You have to manage stress in all 8 aspects of life: Physical, Recreational, Financial, Occupational, Relational, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual.

Last week I addressed the Physical dimension, talking about a pivotal strategy to begin the process of work-life balance. I talked about the need to BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.

Let’s look at a second strategy in the Physical dimension today — to TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY. It’s the only one you’ll ever have. And whether you like it or not, that’s where you’ll be spending the rest of your life.

Now I realize there have been thousands of books written on the proper care and feeding of your body. And no one could be expected to read all the books. It would be an overwhelming and confusing task. But the good news is… most of the books agree on a few basic principles.

=> Exercise

Certainly exercise tops the list of traditional stress busters. Take a daily walk; explore the local park on your bike; sign up for tennis lessons, or go sledding. You could even dance around your house or shoot a few hoops in the driveway. Whatever you do, do it for at least 20 vigorous minutes three times a week.

And please don’t tell me you’re too tired to exercise. The number-one solution to fatigue is exercise. Somehow, when you exercise, instead of feeling more tired, you energize yourself. Better yet, some research shows that for every hour you spend in exercise after the age of 40, you get back two hours in longevity.

Personally, I “make” myself exercise at least three times a week. And “make” is the right word. With my travel schedule, I’ve found that I never “have” time; I’m too “busy.” So I “make” myself exercise whether or not I feel like it. And strangely enough, even though I may not have “felt” like exercising before I did it, I’ve never regretted the exercise once I did it.

Special tip: Get Lee Labrada’s book on “the Lean Body Promise.” It’s the best book on the market with regard to exercise.

=> Eat Right.

Watch what you put in your mouth. In fact, THINK about what you put in your mouth. Do you see food as a fuel or as a fix?

Choose your foods carefully. Remember, sometimes foods are for sometimes, and everyday foods are for everyday.

If you need to lose weight, do so. After all it’s amazing how you can hang something in your closet for a while and it shrinks two sizes!

If you are overweight, the sheer exertion of carrying around all those extra pounds can be a tremendous drain on your energy. And losing weight is one of the better ways to get rid of stress.

The basic rules for weight reduction are quite simple although never easy. The first is to eat less. Use a smaller plate. Discipline yourself to eat half portions rather than full portions, and wait patiently for 20 minutes until your appetite registers as full. And it’s better to eat four or five times a day, with lighter meals each time, than eat a huge breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Another rule is based on nutritionist Adelle Davis’ recommendation of eating “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” Nutritionists have found that if you consume 80% of your daily calories before two o’clock in the afternoon, you will actually lose weight… compared with another person who eats the identical amount… but eats most of this food after two o’clock in the afternoon.

Drinking lots of water also works. All the doctors seem to agree on its importance. So would Paige Brown’s 95-year old grandfather. When he was asked the secret to a long life, he said, “Drink six glasses of water at night before you go to bed. Then you HAVE to get up in the morning.”

If you’re overweight, please… don’t be offended. All I’m saying is if you want a lot more energy and a lot less stress, losing weight works. I know. I’ve been there. All through my grade school years I had to wear “Husky” clothing — which was a polite way of saying I was overweight.

A third strategy, proven to work, that lowers your stress and cares for your body is to…

=> Stop Smoking.

Smoking lowers the absorption of oxygen into your bloodstream by about 8%. Smoking also reduces the efficiency of your breathing. The result: you expend more energy to get less oxygen to your cells. So if you’re a smoker, it’s no wonder you’re more prone to fatigue.

Of course it will be stressful to stop smoking if you’re already addicted. But once you stop, you’ll get an unbelievable boost in your energy as well as your self-esteem.

=> Get Adequate Rest.

Most people need 7 to 8 hours of good sleep every night. And if you cheat on sleep too much, you will literally cheat yourself, your relationships, and your job out of your very best. You can’t run at top speed on an empty tank forever.

Dr. Rosalind Cartwright, director of the Sleep Disorder Research Center at Rosh Presbyterian – St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago notes: “Disturbed sleep or insomnia, whatever the cause, is bound to leave a person fatigued, with no zest for life.”

One employee talked about his sleep problems. After having great difficulty in getting to sleep at night, he went to see his doctor. The doctor prescribed some sleeping pills, and that night he took a pill and fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. He woke feeling completely refreshed, bright and alive, and went off to work with a spring in his step.

Walking into the office he said to his boss, “You’ll be glad to know I had no trouble getting to sleep last night, and I woke up this morning even before the alarm west off.”

“That’s great,” said the boss. “But where were you yesterday?”

If you can’t get to sleep, relax yourself first. Some people find deep breathing exercises, a warm bath, and a glass of warm milk to work quite well. Some people even recommend eating a banana before bed. The magnesium and potassium in the banana may help you fall asleep faster. And the carbohydrates stimulate the production of serotonin, which makes you drowsy.

There’s an old adage that says “You only go around once.” True, but I would add, “So you had better make it a good ride”. And eliminating, reducing, or managing your stress will go a long way towards making that happen.

Action:  Which one of these four strategies do you MOST need to improve… 1) your exercise program, 2) your eating habits, 3) your smoking, or 4) your sleeping?

I challenge you to focus on one of the four areas this week and to do at least one thing to make an improvement in that area.