7 Science-Backed Stress Management Tips That’ll Help You Keep It Together (Part I)

 

This is Part I of a two-part series on stress management techniques. Read part II here. 

Why are we so tired all the time? Forget just being tired after coming home from work. We’re also tired on the weekends when we’re trying to kick back at home, or even when we’re on vacation, despite literally doing nothing all day long. What gives?

Here’s the thing. We’ve gotten so used to being stressed 24/7 that we don’t even realise how mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted it makes us feel. At work, you’re busy all day; there’s no time to waste, let alone even think about how stressed you are. Once you leave the office, though, you feel how stiff your shoulders are, how tight your chest feels, and how clouded your mind is.

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Constant stress puts you in a jittery state, detracts from your ability to focus, increases your chances for depression, and lowers your immunity levels. Learning to manage your stress levels isn’t an option; it’s a necessity.

There’s no need to fork out vast amounts of money for spa retreats or far-flung vacations, though. Cultivating good stress management habits is a far more cost-effective, practical, and effective strategy. Here are seven you can start incorporating into your life ASAP.

P.S. You can’t totally eliminate stress, but you can learn to use it to your advantage; find out how with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on developing personal effectiveness!

 

1. Start your day right

What you want isn’t always what you need; as tempting as it is to stay in bed for just five more minutes in the morning, it isn’t actually good for you. How you spend the first hour of your day sets the tone for the rest of it. It can even affect your productivity levels, especially if you get up in a foul mood.

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So stop abusing the snooze button and start getting accustomed to a fruitful, regular, morning ritual.

Try waking up an hour or two earlier than usual. Use the time to prepare your mind, body, and soul for the day and get properly into the right mindset. You can try:

Prepping your body: Working out

Research from the University of North Carolina has shown that morning workouts boost cortisol production (the hormone that your body naturally produces to get you to wake up.) In other words, exercise helps you feel more awake and pumped up to start your day.

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Prepping your soul: Meditating

Science has shown that having a regular meditation practice can reduce your stress levels. Sitting still allows you to be more aware of your thoughts and helps you feel calmer and more relaxed.

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Prepping your mind: Re-connecting with your purpose

Knowing your “why” is a proven source of intrinsic motivation. The problem is, we tend to get lost in the daily hustle and lose touch with our purpose. Spending a little time in the morning to remind yourself of why you started on your path helps you get in the right frame of mind to face any challenges your day will present to you.

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2. Get at least 7 hours of sleep

According to the U.S. National Sleep Foundation, adults between the age of 25 to 65 need seven to nine hours of sleep a day (those above 65 need seven to eight hours.)

When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more irritable and easily distractable, both of which can cause a spike in your stress levels. Media mogul Ariana Huffington, for one, has evangelised extensively on the indispensability of sleep for success in life. In the past, being overworked and under-rested may have been a badge of honour indicating sheer dedication to the job.

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Today, though, we’re starting to realise that getting enough sleep is necessary to be able to function at full capacity throughout the day.

In any case, numerous scientific studies have shown that getting enough sleep is critical in cell regeneration and lowers your susceptibility to life-threatening health problems like heart attacks and strokes.

 

3. Don’t mix work with play

There’s been a recent shift in the corporate world away from the notion of work-life balance. The popularity of the idea of “work-life integration” attests to the fact that people are finding increasingly harder to disconnect entirely from work thanks to technology. The purported solution: blend work and play.

Science, though, disagrees. According to research from Google’s People Analytics team, while most people are integrators in that they “blur the lines between work and home,” it’s the segmentors–those who enforce rigid boundaries between work and play–that reported significantly higher levels of well-being. Additionally, segmentors were also found to be able to disconnect themselves from work as and when they needed to.

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Cal Newport, computer scientist and NYT bestselling author of “Deep Work: Focused Rules For Success In A Distracted World” concurs. According to him, getting ahead at work necessitates deep focus. This also means that you need to respect your overall health by giving yourself sufficient time to rest and recharge every day.

Simply put: if you want to achieve peak performance, have clear boundaries between work and play. As Newport put it: “When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.”

 

4. Focus on one thing at a time

Multi-tasking has become so common; it’s almost as though it’s the only way to get lots of stuff done in the shortest amount of time. Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s highly counterproductive. Worse, it also keeps you highly stressed.

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The psychological phenomenon known as “The Ziegarnik Effect” holds that if we leave a task incomplete, it commands our attention. Even if you’ve switched to a different task, your mind’s attentional resources are still latched on to the previous one. Not only does it subtract from your focus, but as you can imagine, when you alternate between three or four tasks, it puts your brain into overdrive.

So when it’s time to get off work, you can’t disconnect because you’ve overstimulated your mind and left it completely frazzled. Is it any wonder, then, that you still feel stressed even though you’re not doing anything?

 

5. Have a daily shutdown ritual

One of the implications of the Ziegarnik Effect is that if you want to feel less stressed, you should make sure your tasks are complete before you stop working for the day. This is difficult; as long as you’re a knowledge worker, there’s always going to be work left undone, no matter how productive and efficient you are. It’s just the nature of work in the modern world.

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Fortunately, there is a way around this. Newport writes that it’s vital that we have what he calls a “shutdown ritual” each time we clock off work. He recommends taking 10 to 15 minutes at the end of your workday to review all your incomplete tasks. As you do this, ensure that for each item:

  • You have a plan in place for how you’re going to complete it
  • You’ve “captured [it] in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right.”

Once your brain recognises that you’ve committed to a plan of action to complete the task in the future, it can successfully let go of it. Thus, you can go about the rest of your evening stress-free and with peace of mind.

Read part II here.

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