Stress Less: Learn to Manage Stress in 4 Core Areas

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In a one-on-one interview with OfficePro, licensed psychological counselor Gayron Haywood mentioned an arrangement he has pending with a global corporation. If the terms and schedule are ironed out, Haywood will help the company’s employees learn how to relax. Or as he calls it, chill out.

“Workplace stress will never go away,” he said. “But we can learn to manage it and feel better throughout the day. Relaxation therapy is a technique that helps the body tell the mind it’s time to chill out.”

As a former counselor for a police department, the Midwestern-based Haywood witnessed first-hand the psychological stress of the crime-fighter's career. Stress registers at a different and less dangerous level for an office worker, he said, but there's still a need for stress management in four core areas: Physical, Intellectual, Social and Spiritual.

Focus On The Physical

Relaxation therapy teaches ways to reduce the body's response to stress, like muscles that tighten and clench or breathing that becomes shallow and thoughts that ramp up our worries.

Learning to develop a relaxation response turns off the negative and damaging effects of stress and gives us greater control. It minimizes the powerful impact of stress at times when we feel powerless.

"My big focus is on the physical element," Haywood said. "When I start working with people, I ask what kind of self-care are they giving themselves. First of all, are they exercising? Everyone needs to exercise. If you take care of the body, the body in turn helps take care of the mind. Your mind will fall right into place."

That means eating properly, following a fitness program, getting enough rest and, yes--learning how to relax.

There's An App For That

Nowhere is stress more likely to occur than in the modern workplace, according to a staff report from the Mayo Clinic. We know that job stress can negatively affect professional and personal relationships and overall health and wellness. Work overload is a big stressor and so are the snarls of the daily commute. Add to that a constant flood of sensory overload in the form of instant everything--internet, information, messages, texts and phones that repeatedly chirp to get our attention.

“We're not going to turn those things off, so what can we do?" Haywood said.

We can use technology for our benefit, not only for distractions like checking messages while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. Haywood said he carries his phone with him wherever he goes because there's a relaxation exercise on it. He recommends Relax Lite, an app that's available for both Android and Apple devices.

Feeling A Little Grumpy?

The symptoms of stress can be contagious, persistent and downright irritating or debilitating. This is not news. It might be bad news to you if others say you seem to be stressed. Translated, that means you appear to be too tightly-wrapped (or grumpy). Symptoms of chronic stress are noticeable, though often misdiagnosed, so listen up when those around you mention a change in your behavior. You could be suffering from a stress-related case of the blues.

"There are people who really struggle and need a counselor to help guide them through stressful situations and help them see things differently," Haywood said. Yet he has seen so many people (including children) who are able to help themselves with relaxation therapy, he said the results are "mind boggling."

Besides taking care of our physical selves, here from Haywood are easy ideas to help soothe body and mind: 

Intellectual

"We have to recognize the thoughts we're having and whether or not they are healthy," Haywood said. "We can stop distorted thinking that disqualifies the positive and causes worry about things that never come into place."

The clinical term he uses is "cognitive distortion." Cognitive refers to the mental action of thinking, understanding and reasoning; distortion means thoughts are pulled or twisted out of shape to the point where there's an imbalance. Negative thoughts crowd out the positives.

Social

Tap into the wisdom and psychological support of the crowd. Talk to trusted colleagues or friends in your professional circle. There's comfort in the insights, suggestions, encouragement and experience of others. Take advantage of a precious resource, IAAP's network of professionals, members and staff.

Are you a desktop diner? Break that habit. A University of Arizona study said 83 percent of office workers eat lunch and snacks at their desks, missing out on much-needed mental breaks.

Spiritual

Find peacefulness in whatever spiritual experience is meaningful to you: Play golf, get a massage, commune with nature, listen to music, meditate or pray. Take nice, deep breaths. The more you practice deep breathing, the quicker your mind can go to a peaceful place. Listen to your inner voice and know that you're special enough to deserve a special treat.

Reaching out to those in need, even in small ways, also helps improve our mental state, according to Haywood. Is it really that simple? "It's a good start," he said.

When To Chill Out

For many, there's a long, cold winter ahead. That may the perfect time to hunker down and learn to chill out. A professional clinician can teach relaxation techniques. Or type "relaxation therapy" into an internet search and tap into articles, information and videos. Stress-busting tools, including a free stress test and a relaxation video, are available at www.stressmarket.com.

(This post originally appeared as an article in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of OfficePro magazine. Martha McCarty is an author, journalist, columnist and contributing book critic.)

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