You've heard it many times, including in this column: Stress is bad. It can damage your brain, screw up your health, travel from person to person, and even kill you. Our modern workplaces are great at creating stress and anxiety. How do we turn that off?
Robert Allen Fahey, Ph.D., an academic dean at Computer Systems Institute in Boston, and also a noted psychic, has suggestions for a few very easy steps anyone can take during any workday. These will automatically reduce your stress levels, he says, and help you keep on an even keel whatever comes your way. They're all things you can do at your desk, and most take only a few seconds. Here's his list:
1. Take a few slow, deep breaths.
"So many do not breathe correctly it can take your breath away," Fahey says. Taking a few slow, deep breaths will absolutely reduce your stress levels, especially if you do it at the moment that you start feeling anxious or angry. Stop, close your eyes, and count to four on the inhale and then again on the exhale. It's nearly impossible to stay stressed while doing this brief exercise.
This will work, Fahey says, even if you don't feel particularly cheerful. "It will change the body and produce happy chemicals," he says. "I tell people, if they want to lose stress, just smile. It takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown."
3. Start the day with positive thoughts.
At the beginning of your workday, or better yet when you first wake up in the morning, focus on the things that are going well in your life and that you are grateful for. Indeed, listing three things that you're grateful for before you get out of bed in the morning can put you in a better mood for the whole day.
Learning to focus on the positive puts you in the mindset of finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems, Fahey adds. "When this happens, we are glad problems exist because they are no longer a stress factor."
4. Drink water.
Do you need to follow the old dictum to drink eight glasses of water a day? That's debatable, but it's certain that drinking plenty of water has many healthful effects, including reducing stress. So when you feel yourself getting frustrated, agitated, or impatient, that's your signal to get up and get a glass of water--ideally distilled water, Fahey says. Not only will drinking water literally cool you down, you'll also get a brief break from whatever is irritating you. That in itself may help put it into perspective.
5. Slow your blinking.
Several studies have shown that as people experience stress, their blinking frequency increases. In one famous example, Richard Nixon can be seen blinking at a furious rate during his 1974 speech resigning the presidency. Fahey believes that the opposite is also true--if you can control your blinking and keep it at an even pace, that will send a message to your body and your subconscious that all is well and will keep your stress levels low. It's certainly worth a try.
Yes, you read that right. I'll never forget, more than 20 years ago, sitting in my lawyer's office making plans to divorce my first husband and drawing the biggest and most elaborate doodles of my life. Turns out there was a good reason. Doodling engages the right side of your brain, liberating your creativity and allowing for greater concentration.
"Doodling is a form of unconscious cerebration," Fahey says. Thus if you're doodling while listening, you may be concentrating more than others who are not doodling, he adds. Furthermore doodling will kill stress. "Doodling changes brain dynamics allowing the brain to express itself better," he says. "That causes new self-mapping to take place, followed by feeling more relaxed."