5 Ways To Keep Your Cool In Heated Times

Chronic stress can kill. Here's how to stay calm, even when you're ready to snap.

"Rule number one is don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule number two is, it’s all small stuff."

So says Dr. Robert S. Eliot, Cardiologist, in in a 1983 Time article dealing with stress.

While we think of stress in negative terms, not all stress is bad for us. Recent research by former UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby has shown that short-term periods of acute stress are actually good for us. In the study, Kirby found that short-term episodes of stress in rats caused their brains to develop new nerve cells which improved their mental performance. She concludes that short periods of stress keep our brains more alert and helps us adapt to new situations

On the other hand, chronic stress has been shown to be bad for us. Research has shown that long-term ongoing stress suppresses the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, or memory area of the brain, thereby decreasing our memory. It has also been shown to have damaging effects on our entire bodies resulting in increased risk for chronic obesity, heart disease, and depression.

High performers have found ways to manage their stress levels. Here are five ways that will help you do so as well:

1. Focus on the positive and develop your sense of self-worth

While we have little control over the things that happen to us on a daily basis, we have total control over what we think about. People who are able to manage their stress appropriately choose to focus on what is going well regardless of the circumstances they are experiencing. Focusing on the positive allows us to avoid becoming overwhelmed by stressful situations and not take on stress from events and points of view which we have little or no control over. People who are successful don’t spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what others think of them. They have a strong sense of self, purpose, and know where they are going in life. Knowing that security and confidence can only come from within themselves, they are constantly striving to expand and grow their own lives.

2. Develop an attitude of gratitude

Along with remaining positive, people who handle stress well are always cognizant of the real joys in their life they have to be grateful for. This helps keep them in an upbeat, positive mood and reduces the stress in their lives. From keeping a gratitude book to having quotes on their walls reminding them of the good aspects in their lives, successful people always find events to be thankful for and spend time thinking about those experiences whenever stress comes up in their lives.

3. Find ways to get away and re-energize

Technology can get us hooked into thinking we should be available 24/7. Successful people use technology but avoid becoming a slave to it by detaching themselves and taking a break to re-energize. They have set aside planned and scheduled time for themselves and their other interests outside of work, which they tenaciously guard. Others know this about them and respect their off time. Accomplished people have highly developed activities, interests, hobbies, and outlets that they are passionate about which takes them away from their everyday stressors in the workplace.

4. Develop strong support networks

Successful people who manage their stress well never put all their eggs in one basket. These folks have a well-developed support network that they can count on to support them through difficult times. Multi-faceted individuals have strong family ties, friendships, and community connections they can call upon in times of need. They are involved in helping others and in turn know that the support is there for them when they are in need. Knowing this support network is there for them gives the security and confidence to go out and attempt tasks which others may find too stressful.

5. Take the long-term view

Think back to a stressful situation from one, five, or 10 years ago. Do you remember how stressful it was back then? How about today? Do you remember the famous phrase, "This too shall pass?" If we are in a situation causing us a lot of stress, think about how it will seem in one year or five years down the road when the circumstance has been resolved and forgotten about. Having goals and passions to work towards helps us look beyond the present and get beyond the stress of current events. Knowing we have been in difficult situations before, survived, and carried on helps us calm ourselves today and manage our stress in difficult times.

[Image: Flickr user jar ()]

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3 Comments

  • Michelle Jones

    Good article, though I would add mindfulness/meditation as well. It will actually help you with several of your points, including 1, 2, 3, and 5. There is no better stress reliever in my experience. It also helps with focus and productivity, which is why so many companies are incorporating meditation into employee training and wellness programs (from Google to Target!).

    If you are looking for a good place to start, Google meditationSHIFT. They have a great blog with some insightful articles on your mind/thoughts, and an excellent 21-day course.

  • Joe Kazmierski

    Yep. Right on is correct. Too bad - most people who read Fast Company get this stuff already. We need to 'band together' to find out how to get the others on the smart side of life. Nice typeface/interface in Comments, btw. Anyway, the second thing - let's work on it.