We know that living under stressful conditions has emotional and often physical consequences. So why do we have so much trouble taking action to reduce our stress levels and improve our lives? How can we better manage stress and pressure and how it impacts how we make decisions and interact with others?
Researchers at Yale University have an answer. They found that stress reduces areas of the brain responsible for self-control. So experiencing stress actually makes it more difficult to deal with future stress because it diminishes our ability to take control of the situation, manage our stress, and keep things from getting out of control. A potentially vicious cycle!

However, don’t be discouraged. It is possible to reduce our stress levels; we just need to make managing stress a higher priority if we want to impact its effect. The sooner we start managing stress effectively, the more effective we will be to keep unexpected stress from causing damage in the future.
Fortunately, the plasticity of the brain allows it to mold, change, and rebuild damaged areas as we practice new behaviors. So implementing healthy stress-relieving techniques can help our brain to handle stress more effectively and decrease the likelihood of ill effects from stress in the future.
Here are eight strategies to manage our stress:

1. Say No and Be On Time
Saying no is indeed a major challenge for many people. “No” is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to use. When it’s time to say no, avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can or I’m not certain.” Say no to a new commitment that you don’t have time for, a meeting you do not need to attend, taking on responsibilities that belong to someone else, etc. Honor your existing commitments and give yourself the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.
Don’t overbook. “We are constantly trying to squeeze so many things into a day and a week; we are often scrambling to be on time and to get everything in.” Try to be more measured with your schedule and realistic on how quickly you can shift from one thing to another. Being on time and on schedule makes the world of difference.

2. Disconnect and Create Time for You
Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email or text, which can appear at any moment, will change your train of thought and get you thinking about work, an issue, problem and/or need.
Take time off the grid. It helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself off-line, and even turning off your phone, gives your body and mind a break. Studies have shown that something as simple as a weekend e-mail break can lower stress levels and create deeper REM sleep. Another option is to not have devices in the bedroom and have a device shut off an hour before bed.

If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then there is the weekend. Choose blocks of time when you go off-line. You’ll be amazed by how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your weekly schedule. These breaks often create valuable insights.

If you are worried about the negative repercussions of taking this step, try first doing it at times you are unlikely to be contacted, maybe a Sunday morning. As you grow more comfortable with this, and as your colleagues begin to accept the time you spend off-line, gradually expand the amount of time you spend away from technology.

Additionally, create time for yourself to engage in activities that you enjoy and find restorative.”Research shows that a brisk walk, or an intense 10-30 minutes of exercise, can be incredibly beneficial to relieving stress. We need to find venues to release stress and to decompress.
We are so busy with everything in our lives and what’s on our plate, but we do not create time to stop, reflect and pause.” Block time on your calendar for that time (why, it works!), and hold firm in keeping that time for you, each week.

3. Neutralize Difficult People
Dealing with difficult people can be frustrating, exhausting, and highly stressful. You can control your interactions with challenging people by keeping your feelings in check and by anticipating in advance the various scenarios of how that interaction will go. By preparing for this interaction, which puts you in the situation of being less surprised, you will have stronger emotional preparation and control, which will prevent you from becoming emotionally triggered.
When you need to confront a difficult person, approach the situation rationally and even-tempered. Identify your own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. Consider the difficult person’s standpoint and perspective so that you can find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, you can take the challenging person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring you down.

4. Don’t Hold Grudges
The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. When the threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when the threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your mind-set and body, and can have terrible health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress. Letting go is an amazing and exhilarating feeling. Burden is lifted off of your shoulders. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better but can improve your health. An ancient Buddhist technique is to visualize sending light/something positive to those that have created this grudge. You take a positive mental action towards something that is negative which allows you to control and not take in more stress.

5. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a simple, research-supported form of meditation or reflection, that is an effective way to gain control of disruptive thoughts and behaviors. People who practice mindfulness regularly are more focused, even when they are not meditating or reflecting. It is an excellent technique to help reduce stress because it allows you to reduce the feeling of being out of control and to gain closure with items that are bothering you, or that you have not fully addressed. Mindfulness helps you stop jumping from one thought to the next, which keeps you from pondering on negative thoughts. It allows you to process and think through all of your thoughts and emotions, to go through a decision making process to acknowledge, to accept, and to then move on and let go. It’s a great way to make it through your busy day and/or week in a calm and productive manner.

6. Our Experiences. Our & Other’s Persona
The experiences we’ve had in our lives leave a significant imprint on how we deal with pressure and stress. These significant experiences can shape who we are, define what is important to us, and be the source of how we deal with certain situations.
Our personality is also a significant factor in how we respond to stress. Our levels of dominance, extroversion, patience, detail orientation, skepticism, need for structure, how we deal with conflict and change, and our sense of urgency, etc. these are all measurable personality traits that impact how we internalize, react to, and externalize stress. Understanding this about ourselves and others is a critical component of dealing with stress, and understanding the scenarios of why we are a certain way and react to certain situations. We use the Predictive Index® (PI®) to help leaders, teams, professionals, organizations and cultures understand how they naturally deal and react to stress.

7. Put Things in Perspective
Our worries often come from our own skewed perception of events. So before you spend too much time dwelling on what your boss or colleague said during the last meeting, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. If you aren’t sure when you need to do this, try looking for clues that your anxiety may not be proportional to the stressor. If you are thinking in broad sweeping statements like “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out” then you need to reframe the situation. A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out. Most likely you will come up with just one or two things not everything. The key to keeping your cool is to remember that your feelings are exaggerating the situation and the scope of the stressor is much more limited than it might appear. Labeling is another effective technique to categorize the feeling you have from the situation and to put you back into control and as to how you react.

Be cognizant of making assumptions and drawing conclusions from these assumptions as they will lead you down a path of false interpretations and anxieties. Validate what you believe you know.

Also, be careful to not over-react to someone’s use of language, body language, or challenging you of your thoughts, ideas or recommendations. Recognize people have different styles, experiences, and views. The make-up of who they are is reflected in the lens of how they see things, which often is very different than how you may see the same exact thing.

8. Use Your Support System
It’s tempting yet entirely ineffective, to attempt to tackle everything by yourself. To be calm and productive you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed.
Everyone has someone at work and/or outside of work who is on their “team”, rooting for you, and ready to help you get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insights and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress and supply you with a new perspective on the situation. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation. Asking for help will mitigate your anxiety and strengthen your relationships with those you rely upon.

Bringing It All Together

As straight forward as these strategies may seem, they are difficult to implement when your mind and your day is clouded with stress. Add these action items to your daily routine. Stop and pause the next time your head begins to spin, and you’ll reap the benefits that come with disciplined and active stress management.

About MCG Partners

MCG Partners a woman-owned, Greater Boston-based consultancy specializing in executive coaching, leadership development, talent management, and organizational development solutions. We help businesses optimize success through the entire management life-cycle. MCG Partners is also a Predictive Index® (PI®) certified partner.

To learn more about MCG Partners’ services or The Predictive Index®, contact John Griffith at john.griffith@mcgpartners.com or visit mcgpartners.com.

Career Advisors, a subsidiary of MCG Partners, offers outplacement and career management services for organizations and individuals.