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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: 8 Tips to Manage Stress

I have a lot of tips and links for you today. Last week we discussed stress. Today we will discuss how to manage stress. Notice that I used the word "manage" rather than "beat" or "eliminate." In the past few years, I have come to understand that stress may be inevitable in our lives.

When I consider how I might eliminate activities that cause undue stress in my life, my list appears ridiculous, because so many things that I do have the unpleasant potential to turn into unbearable stress. The flip side of looking to eliminate stressful activities is that many of these activities are things that I also enjoy doing. With every activity in my life that I enjoy comes the possibility of not enjoying it. Too much of a good thing, perhaps?

Here is an example. I love to teach. However, I do not love to teach in certain environments:
  • when students are unprepared
  • when parents seem to spend more energy making or looking for excuses not to ensure that the child is prepared for lessons
  • when parents cancel lessons because other activities have a higher priority (and do not think ahead to reschedule)
  • when parents frequently expect me to make schedule adjustments to accommodate the parents’ inability to schedule
  • when parents come late to lessons or group class (one parent brought the child to class one hour late, after I had already dismissed that child’s class level)
  • when parents come early to lessons (more than five minutes) and interrupt my break/lunch/phone/dinner time
  • when parents do not bring their child to lessons or group classes and I have to spend time in lessons making up the material the child would have learned in class
Teaching is a wonderful profession, but because it is a service profession, there are many opportunities for stress to pile up and lead to burnout.

So what about playing in the symphony or other music ensembles? I love to play my violin and piano and enjoy playing in large ensembles and the quartet. However, even these activities can lead to unbearable stress as the groups near a performance date. Other members of the group may be experiencing stress of various kinds at the same moment, and how we each handle our individual stress loads may adversely impact the others around us. I get very irritable when I experience too much stress. Others may become petulant, defensive, and unpleasant to work with.

Here are my 8 personal tips for combating stress. These are not hard and fast rules. Instead I use these items as a guideline to keep me sane during insane times. I may not always follow my own tips, but the fact that I have a list at all of helpful tips is a good step toward managing stress when it rears its ugly head.

#1 - White Space Day: Aim for one day per week that has nothing on the calendar. My husband calls this “white space.” Others may call it a “Sabbath.” The purpose of white space is to allow yourself one day per week to enjoy the fruits of whatever you do on the other six days of the week.

#2 - Plan Ahead: If you maintain a calendar (and you should, at least as a courtesy to others), make a plan to look at it once a week in order to plan ahead. For me, I tend to look at the calendar on Sunday or Monday. I look at the coming week and sometimes the week afterwards. Getting a general feel for what is to come gives me a greater sense of control over the crazy stuff when it hits. For example, this week I have three evenings free. The remaining evenings will involve a long drive to another city. By looking ahead at my schedule in this way, I am aware of the time that I have available for:
  • doing laundry
  • making meals (where is that crock pot?)
  • cleaning the house
  • running errands
  • scheduling makeup lessons
I maintain a small dry erase board in my bathroom, and while I brush my teeth before bed (2 minutes with electric toothbrush), I set out my clothes for the next day and write out the times that I need to wake up, feed the animals, get in the shower, and leave. The next morning, I follow my plan.

#3 - Alone Time: I need some time by myself when all is quiet around me and no one or no thing is competing for my attention. Usually I get a brief amount of time in the morning, when I write some “morning pages” and drink my coffee. The dogs have been taken care of and are snoozing nearby. I also find some time right before bedtime. My family has already gone to sleep, and the atmosphere is quiet again. I use this time for additional writing or for reading. Others may take bubble baths or do yoga. There are some individuals who need social time rather than alone time. Just do the reverse of what is discussed here. Make time to spend with friends.

#4 - Exercise: Physical exercise releases endorphins. It keeps the body functioning and is good for your overall health. I have read suggestions that we do a minimum of 30 minutes' aerobic exercise at least three times a week, but I think it is better if we do something every single day. Get a dog (I have three puppies to give away if you want a miniature long haired black and tan dachshund born March 23, 2012) and walk it every day. Find a buddy, an activity, a gym, and a routine that you can follow and make this important lifestyle change. Even during my most stressful life events, my exercise time has helped me to sleep better and to release a lot of ill-stored negative energy. My exercise time has also revealed some creative solutions to problems that would have consumed valuable time in the rest of my life. Exercise feels good and is good for you.

#5 - Nutrition: If I eat right, I feel better. If I take a few minutes at the beginning of the week and at the beginning or end of a day to plan ahead (see my calendar tip above), then I can plan appropriate meals. Because I teach all day and often have rehearsals at night, I need to have my meals planned and available to be eaten “on the go.” I have a list of usual suspects that I can grab quickly and go about my day. I eat a good breakfast too, which really helps to get my day off to a good start.

#6 - Breathing: Breathing is also good. It helps to relax tense muscles. I think we do not breathe deeply enough in general. When we experience stress, we generally tighten up muscles. When we take the time to practice deep breathing, we can relax knotted shoulders, tense  neck muscles, and a constricted diaphragm. Breathing will loosen all of that up. Breathing will also change your "angry" state, if you are feeling irritable due to stress. There are several good yoga breathing techniques that are useful to learn (Yoga Breathing Techniques, Breathing Techniques for Beginners, or Long Deep Breathing Techniques).

#7 - Writing: I believe that writing will go farther than anything else to combat stress. Even if it is just 10 minutes a day spent writing in a journal, I believe that we will sort out problems, create solutions, and anchor memories better with writing than with any other technique. There are wonderful books available to help us learn about journaling. Many of them are in Kindle Format, which makes it easy for me to carry my library with me wherever I go. Here is a list of my current favorites, and all are available in my Teach Suzuki Resource Store:
  • Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest by Christina Baldwin
  • Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth by Kathleen Adams, M.A.
  • Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner
  • Write it Down, Make it Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser
  • Put Your Heart on Paper: Staying Connected in a Loose Ends World by Henriette Anne Klauser
  • Journalution by Sandy Grason
  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  • With Pen in Hand: the Healing Power of Writing by Henriette Anne Klauser
#8 - Reading: Reading can be good for entertainment, but reading can also provide us with knowledge. Knowledge helps us to grow. Knowledge helps us to be prepared better for difficulties. I have a source list of books and materials that I regularly refer to in order to keep feeding my mind with information that I can use to strengthen my character, shore up my professional craft, and teach me how to improve all areas of my life. I am a big fan of John Maxwell and his numerous books about character and leadership development. I also read other websites and blogs, and I will make up a list for you of my favorite sites to visit. I have several Maxwell books and another book by Dr. Kevin Leman (Stopping Stress Before it Stops You: A Game Plan for Every Mom) in my Teach Suzuki Resource Store.

Along with my above suggestions, here are my top five websites that you may find useful on your journey to combat stress.

Helpguide.org is a non-profit organization designed to provide ad-free tools for making better choices that concern your mental health, your lifestyle, your family, and aging well. The site is dedicated to Morgan Leslie Segal by her parents, Robert Segal, MA., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Morgan committed suicide in 1996, and her parents believe that their daughter’s tragedy could have been prevented if their daughter had access to better information regarding antidepressants. The site collaborates with Harvard Health Publications, the consumer health publishing division of Harvard Medical School. Please visit the site’s managing stress toolkit and consider making a donation to keep the site ad-free.

The Mayo Clinic staff have put together a series of articles about stress and relaxation techniques. Visit this site to gather more information and ideas about ways to combat stress in your life.

#3 - WebMD
WebMD is a site that seeks to provide better information for better health. Part of its site is dedicated to stress management health with numerous articles about stress, its causes, and how to avoid it.

#4 - About.com
About.com is part of the New York Times Company and provides information about a variety of topics. One topic is stress management. The site provides articles related to managing stress overload, how stress affects your health, the causes of stress, how nutrition can help you manage stress, and stress effects.

The main purpose of this site is to combat aging by providing information to help you live longer and “stay young forever.” This link takes you to an article that provides 5 ways to combat stress, many of which are already included in my list above.

Please be sure to leave me a comment about your favorite methods to manage stress. Hang in there this week!

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