Friday, May 4, 2012

7 tips to send stress packing! (Hack your brain post #3)

Social media and digital PR are glamorous! Right?


Well … yes. But PR is also notoriously stressful. As social media expert Glenn Raines (@socialmoves) said at a presentation at Northwestern University last week, “you almost have to sleep with one eye open” with all the ongoing developments in the field. No surprise then that PR professionals are in particular danger of pooping out.

Stress and fatigue can give you more than just a headache. Stress and fatigue can hurt your productivity, ruin your peace of mind and ultimately shorten your lifespan. Luckily, there are ways to deal with stress, some involving mind over matter and some involving ... well ... matter over mind. These techniques all revolve around clearing the mind of clutter through better use of time, more exercise, embracing healthy eating and periodically unplugging from the internet.

As always, these are my opinions and do not replace the advice of trained medical professional. Always check with your doctor before engaging in new physical activity! My lawyer thanks you. :)

1. Breathe

Controlling our breathing is one of the best ways to defuse tension, stress and anger.

When we take a deep breath and exhale slowly, we slow down our heart rate. It is physically impossible to stay stressed when we control our breathing in this way, according to a friend who is a medical student.

My friend, who asked to remain anonymous, suggested taking a deep breath in and slowly exhaling. The breath in and breath out should be the same length of time. Even better is to focus on a boring distant object, such as a dot on a wall, and just thinking about it.

With time and practice, controlled breathing can be a quick ticket out of a stressful situation.

2. Work-life balance

Do you know what is the second-most regret the dying think of, as witnessed by a nurse who counsels those on their death beds? “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

The number one reason for having stress and fatigue is poor work-life balance. 120 hours for working, 5 hours for sleeping, 20 hours for coffee, etc. Sound familiar?

This is not healthy behavior for our bodies and spirits.

It is important to realize that we should not be consumed by our work. We need to try giving equal time for play and rejuvenation that we do for being on the job. Of particular importance is spending time with family and friends.

The fourth-most regret heard by the nurse mentioned above? “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Two out of five regrets should tell us something. If we have any choice in how much time we devote to work, we need to give more time for other activities also.

Try this: aim to divide your time into eight-hour chunks. One chunk for work, one chunk for time with family and friends, one chunk for sleep. We may not be able to keep this schedule all the time, which means that we need to make up for lost time later. If you have heavy projects that eat up family time, try to make up for that later.

Quantity of time spent unwinding is part and parcel of quality.  

3. Chunk your time

Much time is wasted in frantic multitasking. Just check your browser window. How many windows do you have open? And how many of those do you really need?

It’s common that we clutter our minds with too much activity, because we are taught that such activity is a sign of productivity. But in fact, there is only so much activity our brains can handle at one time. We cannot do 10 different things simultaneously without a direct loss of focus. Worse, multi-tasking can be tremendously stressful, raising the likelihood that mistakes will be made.

Here’s what to do. Prioritize your tasks. Which ones are really important and require immediate attention? Which ones can wait? Write down the list of items and stick to your schedule!

For me, email is a huge time suck. At the same time, it’s rare that email requires immediate attention. So I set up two small chunks of time early in the morning and late at night for replying and writing. I hold myself to my time limits.

However, I first make sure that I have taken care of priority tasks: my daily quota of reading, homework, spirituality, errands and housework, family time, applying for jobs, getting exercise and social media time, including blogging. At times I move items around if something is getting neglected.

It might sound like I have a lot on my plate, but because I prioritize tasks and limit how much time I spend for each chore I end up being able to do everything, almost everyday. 

Because I am keeping my mind on one task at a time, rather than trying to do 50 things at once, the quality of my work is higher.

5. Work out stress and fatigue

The number one thing we can do to end stress and fatigue is exercise. Doctors and psychologists agree that regular exercise is vital for a healthy body and mind.

Just think about it: our ancestors were hunting and gathering for thousands of years. They spent the day moving and foraging. We may have advanced as a species, but the benefits of exercise are still literally in our blood.

Exercise helps us lose weight, make us look better, improve our mood, prevent diseases, promotes better sleep, and boosts energy. In fact, there is much research emerging that exercise can even treat mild and moderate depression! My medical student friend told me that climbing a floor of stairs can pick up a person’s energy for as much as half an hour.

The best workouts involve both strength-building and aerobic benefits. I have a workout plan that you can do several days a week for as little as half an hour at a time – all weight-bearing exercises are done as 3 sets of 8 repetitions with 90 seconds rest between sets. 

You should lift enough weight that by the end of each exercise you can’t do any more. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, always check with your doctor before beginning new exercises.

If strength-building and cardio are boring for you, you might want to take up a sport. Sports involve competition, and are a fun way to judge our athletic progress.

6. Eat right, drink right

Eating right means staying away from junk food and having a balanced diet, but it also means avoiding alcoholic and caffeine-loaded drinks. Both of these drinks can interfere with our peace of mind.

While pretty much everyone understands that showing up at work inebriated is a bad idea, at least in word if not in practice, caffeine is widely consumed as a lubricant for alertness and increased energy.

Caffeine tends to stay in the body for long after it is consumed. The Mayo Clinic reports that even a little bit of caffeine can make you jittery, and that increased drinking can increase the risk of insomnia, irregular heartbeat, irritability, restlessness, and upset stomach. Not to mention those awful caffeine crashes where energy levels bottom out.

Sound like Caffeine is a drug? That’s because it is. Cut caffeine out of your diet, increase how much you exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. You might have some withdrawal symptoms, but after a while you’ll notice that your energy level is smoother, higher, and longer lasting.

7. Make sure to periodically unplug

Remember, the internet never forgets, and a single thoughtlessmoment can undo months or even years of hard work. Better to unplug and give our minds a rest, if necessary, than post and live to regret it.

Keeping perspective on personal boundaries can be tricky when we spend so much time online. Unplugging occasionally can help us remember that the individuals we interact with online are real people, and that face-to-face contact is always going to be more important than digital relationships.

I think that unplugging can take on different forms. It can involve just taking a 10-second breather to collect our thoughts and think about what we are doing or going to do. You may feel that unplugging for vacation or even longer might be in order.

I unplugged from Facebook once for an entire year. The reasons why require another post, but basically it was because I felt that my social media experience was becoming my primary focus, rather than face-to-face interactions. Unplugging unexpectedly was one of the best experiences I have had. 

When I returned to Facebook, I felt that my social media performance was more focused, not to mention that my posts became more about providing quality content. Although I have always posted regularly, I now post less often on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn than I used to. Paradoxically, my Klout score has risenAlthough Klout is by no means a perfect way of measuring online engagement, I do think that my numbers reflect that my break has helped me connect with people better.

What do you think of these ideas and what do you do to relieve stress and fatigue? What things stress you out the most? I'd love to hear your ideas!

1 comment:

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