I’ve got some MAJOR pet peeves when I’m driving. Like those people who cut across three lanes at the last minute to get off at an exit. Or drivers who don’t signal their thanks when you allow them to merge ahead of you. I really, really wish driving through traffic was like the game Mario Kart, where you can throw turtle shells and other impediments at other cars so they get the heck off the road! Which leads me to the following million dollar question:
Question: When you’re under stress, how cathartic would it be to be able to tell an annoying person exactly what you think of her, allowing for every colorful swear word you can think of? Or to tell your boss exactly where he can stick his new stretch targets?
Answer: Amazingly cathartic…but incredibly tactless and likely to land you in trouble. Thankfully, there are better ways to bust stress without busting someone’s lip. Here are some great exercises to improve your coping skills:
Exercise 1: Small changes can make a big difference
Take a good look at your lifestyle and work approach. Is there anything you are currently doing that may be increasing your stress level? If so, try to implement some small modifications in your day-to-day habits. For example:
Exercise 2: Know your triggers
Stress acts like tendrils of a vine: if you don’t keep it under control, it will spread all over the place, affecting your work and your relationships. So it’s essential to nip stress in the bud. The first step: Uncover your stress triggers.
Without thinking about it too much, write down 10 things that stress you out at work or in your everyday life. Rank each stressor on a scale from 1 to 5 based on how often you are exposed to the stressor, and how much it impacts you in a negative way. When you’re done, multiply your frequency rating by impact rating. Then rank your triggers according to their score. Essentially, the higher the score, the more debilitating the stressor. Once you know what stresses you out the most, you can either take action to reduce the stressor’s impact or develop effective coping strategies. Here’s my table:
Exercise 3: Progressive Relaxation
Now that you’ve uncovered the stressors that make you want to curl up in a ball or punch everyone within the distance of your fist, the next step is to learn how to release that stress in a healthy way. Deep breathing, although seemingly basic, has a significant impact on your stress level. Why? Deep breathing is physiologically incompatible with the adrenaline-pumping aspect of stress. This exercise can be done during a break at work, outside, in your car, or, hey, even in the bathroom.
- Sit comfortably
- Focus your attention on the present. You can use a focal point, like the rise and fall of your diaphragm, a candle flame, a specific sound, etc.
- Clear your mind of thoughts. Easier said than done, I know, but I’m not saying you have to fight every thought that comes in. If a thought slips in, let it through without giving it too much energy or attention, and return your attention back to your focal point.
- Take deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose, slowly counting to 4, and then exhale through your nose slowly counting to 4.
- With each breath in and out, feel your body get heavier.
- Continue to breathe in an out, focusing on the rise and fall of your diaphragm. Do this for at least 5 minutes, 10 if possible.