Working on the front-line all day can be draining. Take the example of the customer service professional who doesn’t know what the next question might be, what mood the next customer might be in, or whether the organization will be able to satisfy the customer’s need. Answering telephones, responding to queries, finding solutions to problems, and keeping people satisfied can be rewarding but also quite challenging. When we are at it all day long, week in and week out we can become stressed out. Consider the following six energizing saving strategies as a way to meet this challenge. (Note this post is a further elaboration of the post dated 2.1.17)
Set achievable personal and work goals.
When people set goals, conventional research shows that they live longer. However, if those goals are to be meaningful we should write them out in a way that shows action and measurement. Action means we are going to do something to achieve something; and measurement allows us to track progress along the way. So, when we write goals they should be SMART, that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable. If goals are not SMART they usually fall into the category of a wish list.
Let's take a couple of examples. At work we can write something like "complete the policy on the wellness program." A laudable goal, but not fully measurable or trackable. There is no time line for completion, so I can say "I'll get to it when I can, and it will be completed sometime, maybe." A great incentive to procrastinate. The goal may be attainable, sometime, and may be relevant to our work. We need to ask, "How does it relate to our work?” And, “what is the level of priority?" If it is not relevant than why are we doing it; if it is, how important is it? Is it: necessary and urgent? urgent and necessary? necessary but not urgent? or urgent but not necessary?
Once these questions are answered we can write a SMART goal such as: "I will complete a draft policy statement on wellness and present it to management for approval by September 30, 2018." Once the goal is stated we can then break it down to achievable monthly tasks, such as: complete the research for the wellness policy by February 8; ask for input from colleagues and receive their comments by March 31; write the first draft of the of the wellness policy by May 31; circulate to colleagues for first review and receive their comments by June 31; make adjustments to the policy statement by July 31; circulate final draft to colleagues and receive their comments, by August 20; prepare a draft policy statement for approval by September 20,2018. Once we know where we are going, ambiguity is lessened, we can measure progress along the way, and we have a comfort level about its attainability. In the end our stress level is reduced.
We can use the same goal setting strategy for our personal life as well. Rather than saying "I'm going to lose weight this year," be more specific: "I'm going to lose 30 pounds/kilos by June 31, 2018." Then set out the tasks to achieve that goal.
Accept the givens.
Often, our anxiety level increases because we worry about things outside are control. Worry doesn't accomplish anything but personal grief, and sometimes grief for others. For instance, we can't control time, but we can control what we do within the time we have; we can't control the weather, but we can control how we plan for poor weather; we can't control how people will relate to us, but we can control how we relate to others. We will have less anxiety if we control those things that are in our control and accept those things that are outside our control.
Thinking positively means approaching our challenges with a positive outlook. It doesn't necessarily mean avoiding those things that make us uncomfortable or ignoring negative situations; instead it means approaching those situations in a positive light, or making the best of a bad situation.(a) We can improve our ability to think positively by affirming or actuating the positive for ourselves and others. Rather than thinking "I can't do this," affirm to yourself that "I can do this;" rather than thinking "I can't get along with this person," think about the positive aspects of the person and affirm those within your mind's eye; rather than thinking "this place is a lousy place to work," think about what I can do to make it a better place to work. Thinking positively is not Pollyanna, pie in the sky thinking. It is thinking that is realistic but tempered with a positive approach to life rather than a negative one.
Thinking positively works. According to the Mayo Clinic positive thinking can lead to a longer life span, less stress, lower rates of depression, increased resistance to the common cold, better coping skills, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, increased physical al well-being and overall better psychological health.
If your approach to life is more on the negative side, and you would like to change your approach take heart, because positive thinking can be learned. In essence you are learning a new habit and as is the case of any change in habit we need to develop habit changing strategies. In this case, identify what needs to change, name it and make a firm commitment to change; throughout the day take a time out and review how you are moving towards greater optimism; whenever you find yourself becoming negative, take pause, and rephrase your thinking or how you are verbalizing your thoughts; start the day with an affirmative or positive thought and reinforce it by verbalizing throughout the day; and, surround yourself with positive people.
Take energy breaks.
One of the hard lessons busy people learn is that their energy drains when they don't fuel up. They skip meals or skimp on meals, gobble down food while working the phone or their computer, and eat junk food rather than nutritious meals. They also learn that when they are at their computer long hours without ergonomic seating or the monitor is too close, they experience strain and pain from their eyes, backs, shoulders and wrists. When these things, happen their body is yelling out, "Take a break!" (For more information on the importance of an energy break for personal wellbeing and business read this Globe and Mail article)
Here are a few suggestions: Work in 90-minute sprints and take a five or ten minute break – in some instances work in fifteen and thirty-minute sprints and take a couple minutes out. Consider: standing up and stretching; taking a short walk down the hall; shifting your eyes from the computer to something else; moving away from your desk to eat properly; going for a walk over the noon hour; or taking five deep breaths, slowing down the mind, and after three minutes coming back to the work at hand. (Read more about 3 minute break}
Drink plenty of fluids.
Walk through any office or observe the reception area and you will find beverages in hand or on the desk – and not the right kind of beverage. We see soda beverages with high sugar content; lattes with high fat content, or coffees with high caffeine content. What's wrong with this picture? It's true our bodies need fluids, but they need the right kind of fluids. Too much of these types of fluids clog the arteries, add an inch or more to the waste and make us jittery. The health hazards are well known – well ok, maybe not so for coffee, but more than four cups of the stuff begin to take its toll. 1. 2.
Water should be at the top of the fluid list. An average adult body is 57%-60% water, lack of water drains our energy and leads to dehydration. Nearly all systems in our body depend on water. Water moistens tissues such as those in the eyes, mouth and nose; regulates body temperature; lubricates joints, helps prevent constipation, lessens the strain on the kidneys and liver and carries nutrients and oxygen to cells. Drinking water after waking helps activate internal organs, one glass before meals helps digestion, and one glass before bed time helps reduce strokes and heart attack. Make sure water is a major part of your fluid diet. 1
Our body is built to move, so move it regularly. We can be quite sedentary on the front line such as standing or sitting for long periods. Overtime this takes its toll on our bodies and we find fat rolls creeping around our stomach, back-end, and other places too numerous to mention. The antidote to this is exercise. Get up from the chair and walk around, take a walk over the noon hour, take ten-minute walks in the morning, afternoon and evening, take the stairs, if sitting, stand up and read or walk about while reading; join a gym; seek a life style coach or trainer. Do something, just don't sit and stand for hours on end. One more thing, reduce television time, get off the couch and do something in the yard, in the garage or in the park. Do one or two of these activities a day and you will find a change in your energy level.
These re-energizing strategies are not difficult, they just take a bit a self-discipline, and that just might be the hard part. Try one of the strategies each month and find out the difference in: your outlook on life, the strength of your body, the calmness of your mind, and the wholeness of your spirit.
Author Richard Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Working on the front-line all day long can be draining. Take the example of the customer service professional who doesn’t know what the next question might be, what mood the next customer might be in, or whether the organization will be able to satisfy the customer’s need. Answering telephones, responding to queries, finding solutions to problems, and keeping people satisfied can be rewarding but also quite challenging. When we are at it all day long, week in and week out we can become stressed out.
What to do: In order to be “up” to the challenge consider the following 15 tips:
Want to Learn More? Spend 10 minutes a day reading books by Eckhart Tolle author of "The Power of Now" and "Stillness Speaks"; or Peter G. Hanson, M.D. author of "The Joy of Stress" and "Stress for Success."
From the archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.
This is the third part of a three part series on reducing stress in today's hectic world. The first part covered the topics about the need to embrace change, be open to learning, getting back in control, focusing on the important and finding joy in one's work. The second part outlined a further five strategies about accepting the givens, taking time to exercise, breaking away mentally, finding one's quiet spot and connecting with ones spirit. Today we deal with the final five strategies that will enable you to reduce stress today.
Change Your Thinking: Do you see your cup half full or half empty? Individuals who approach life from a positive perspective live with less stress. The Mayo Clinic points out that those who have more positive thoughts than negative thoughts approach life optimistically; and, when we live with an optimistic frame of mind we reap the benefits of improved health and are in a better position to cope with negative stress. We can change our negative thought processes to positive ones by: 1) replacing them with positive self-talk; and 2) surrounding ourselves with positive friends and associates. Positive people encourage us to remain optimistic and that in turn helps us reduce stress. Approaching life optimistically and surrounding yourself with positive influences reduce stress.
Eat, Pray and Relax
Reach Out to Others: This three part series on reducing stress today outlines some of the effects of positive and negative stress on our body, mind and emotions.It also identifies a number of strategies to reduce negative stress. But can negative stress really be positive? Is there a different approach to how we view positive and negative stress? Recent research indicates that negative stress may have a positive outcome. This turns our present thinking about negative stress upside down. It suggests that stress may only be bad for us if we believe that to be the case. Is this another way of saying that people who think optimistically have less stress than those that don’t? Listen to this TED Talk wherein Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to view negative stress as a positive and introduces us to another strategy for stress reduction: reaching out to others. Reaching out to others reduces stress.(Thanks to Dr.Treena Swantson, for alerting me to Kelly McGonigal's presentation).
What to do: If you feel stressed out as you go through your day-to-day activities review the fifteen strategies incorporated in this three part series and pick one strategy to begin working towards a less stressful life. Working on one strategy which reduces stress is better than nurturing anxiety that just leads to more stress. If you have a stress reducing strategy that works for you, let me know in the comments below.
From the archives Fontanie Learning Solutions
Image: A quiet spot in my backyard.
Reduce Stress Part: Part One, outlined five strategies for reducting stress: embrace change; be open to learning; get back in control; focus on the important; and, find joy in your work. Here are five more strategies to help you reduce your stress today.
Accept The Givens: In life and in work there are certain givens - things we cannot change but learn to accept. Those that accept them inspire others and push forward without rancour and animosity. I look to individuals who have accepted their physical limitations but didn’t allow them to limit them (Terry Fox, and Rick Hansen, come to mind). At times we are placed in situations where we are unable to influence change either because the organization isn’t ready for change or an individual doesn’t feel any tension to change. Here the alternatives may be limited. We can either remove ourselves from those situations or adjust our expectations about them, or on balance, we can choose to accept what we cannot change without limiting our personal growth. I like the title and lyrics of “Bloom Where You're Planted" (Carey Landry version). It reminds me to bloom and grow wherever I am even when there are limits within and around me. Accepting the givens when your alternatives are shut down, reduces stress.
Take Time To Exercise: When we are stressed we experience physical and mental energy drain. Physical exercise has proven to be effective in reducing mental stress as well as lowering physical symptoms caused by stress. There is scientific evidence to show that exercise is effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness, enhancing overall cognitive functioning, and is particularly helpful when stress has reduced our energy level to concentrate. A ten minute walk three times a day or five minutes of active exercise can begin to encourage the endorphins that reduce stress. Routinely exercising reduces stress.
Break Away Mentally: In a previous post I outlined several quick ways to take a mental break. Breaking away from a stressful situation, even if it is for three minutes, refreshes the mind and body. Here is a reminder of the Three Minute Break Away exercise: Minute One - turn down what you have been working on and wind down; Minute Two - in a restful state empty the mind of distractions; Minute Three - rev up the mind and body with a few simple head and body shakes and stretches. Taking a three minute mental break reduces stress.
Find Your Quiet Spot: Dr. Joseph Mercola points out that we need to find a way to unplug from the demands of work, school, family and everything else if we want to remain healthy and productive. Locating a "quiet spot" is key to his recommendation. This does not mean isolating ourselves on an island in the South Pacific (although sometimes I think that would be nice). There may be a spot in your home or back yard, a near-by park or chapel, an exercise room, a reading room, or on your deck or balcony. We can usually find a quiet spot in every situation . The trick is to be alone and unplug whatever is turned on including the IPod, TV, computer, radio and any other noise maker. Finding your quiet spot is a peaceful way to reduce stress.
Connect With Your Spirit: Getting in touch with our inner spirit through meditation has lasting effects on improving our well-being. There are hundreds of scientific studies that show the impact of meditation as a antidote to stress and stress-related illnesses. As much as 20 minutes a day or as little as 5 minutes a day has a lasting affect on our well-being. The beauty of connecting to our inner self through meditation is that we receive the benefits of reduced high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease without the high cost of drugs. (A note of caution – meditation does not take the place of medical attention and medication but is a preventive measure as well as a supplement to prescribed medication).
Up-dated from the archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.
In previous posts, I suggested my readers consider meditation as a way to relieve stress. I recommended that they set aside 20 minutes in the morning and evening to go deep within themselves and find a spiritual connection. But what if you need a quick mental break during a busy day and you don’t have 20 minutes to spare? Well there are several things you can do without interrupting others. You can:
Here is another I found particularly helpful and one I use regularly – The Three Minute Mental Break.
Pull away from what you are doing for three minutes. If you are at your desk and working on your computer, hibernate it or put it to sleep. If this is not possible, turn away from the computer and face the other way. If you don't have a desk job but you are busy serving customers on the floor, or working in a manufacturing plant or on a construction site find the three minutes when you take a company break.
Minute One: Sit up straight. Close your eyes. Relax your shoulders. Place your hands on your lap. Take several deep breaths and relax your whole body. Quickly go from head to toe and relax the muscles.
Minute Two: In this relaxed state, free your mind about what you have been working on. Concentrate on your breathing and listen to the breaths coming in and out of your body. Keep relaxed.
Minute Three: Slowly open your eyes. Let your mind take in what is around you. Take three deep breathes and then stretch out your arms, move your head two and fro and in a circular motion. Stretch out your legs or stand up and give yourself a shake. Go onto your next task.
If at the end of the three minutes new ideas or breakthrough thoughts come to you jot them down in a safe place. I have opened an Outlook Contact called Ideas for these fleeting thoughts. From time to time I go to the Ideas Contact and review them. Some I discard, others I set a time to work on them – as an example this post came from one of my three minute breaks. A few notes went onto my Ideas Contact, and now I have turned it into a post to share with others.
The Three Minute Mental Break is actually an introduction to meditation. Minute two brings you into a type of mindful rest and begins to rejuvenate your positive self. Studies on brain wave activity now show that just one minute of meditation has many of the benefits as a prolonged meditation, such as reduced anxiety and stress as well as improved productivity. When I present the concept of The Three Minute Mental Break to busy people I always get a positive response like: “This I can do.”
Tip: Set your Smart phone alarm for three minutes. If you are seeking other ways to improve productivity using Microsoft Outlook, consider this program by Priority Management.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSw FCMC, Updated from the Archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions
Are you feeling stressed out? Did you know people react differently to stress and consequently it is hard to define? It is tied up in psychological, physiological and emotional bundles and depending on an individual’s coping mechanism it can be viewed as positive or negative. Check out these strategies to living a less stressful life.
Embrace Change: One thing is for certain, change has been with us, change is with us and change will come again. I look back at my parents who experienced three world wars, watched in awe as the horse and buggy gave away to the automobile, the automobile to air travel and air travel to space travel, and the industrial economy to the dawning of the knowledge economy. I look around today and find the emergence of the third world countries, the global approach to economic strength, climate change, the re-ordering of business structures, the decline in religious institutions, the increase in the speed by which we can connect to others, and our instant access to global events. I look ahead and foresee a smaller world but access to a bigger universe, space travel, building my own artefacts through 3D printing, face time giving way to holographic imaging, improved democratic institutions, advanced medical breakthroughs, unique niches gone global, greater tolerance among religious institutions and the rise of a shared spirituality among all cultures. Not all change is positive and we need to be vigilant as we go forward; but those that embrace change as a constant in life will have greater stress coping mechanisms than those who war against every change that happens- whether it is big or small. Embracing change reduces stress.
Be Open to Learning: Learning is change’s best friend. Can we accept change and not learn from it? The short answer is yes. We may view change as inevitable but not change the way we act or our approach to life in general. Some individuals stop learning once they receive a formal education, forgetting that an education is just the door opener to life-long learning. Other individuals keep themselves current on technical matters but avoid changing personal behaviors. The former is easier because it is an intellectual exercise, the latter is harder because we need to integrate intellectual awareness with emotional acceptance. Opening ourselves to learning from life experiences reduces stress as it gives us permission to positively make changes for a better life. Being open to life’s lessons through learning reduces stress.
Get Back in Control: Individuals often attempt to do too much within the time that they have and consequently they are always behind the proverbial eight ball. Most of us have a time piece of some sort. It indicates that we only have 24 hours in a day. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in those 24 hours and plan accordingly. Forget about thinking vertically – how much you can do in a day – and think horizontally – how much you can accomplish in a week. Break down your tasks and spread them out over the week, allowing time for the other important values you hold for family, friends, and community. One of the best programs to help you get back in control is offered worldwide by Priority Management. Getting back in control reduces stress.
Focus On the Important: There are two areas in our work and personal life where we need to focus our priorities. Those things that are important and urgent – if we don’t get them done, we are in deep trouble; and those things that are important and not so urgent – if we don’t get them done, we will soon be in deep trouble. If we are constantly beating the important and urgent drum, we are usually stressed out; if we procrastinate on the important and not so urgent we will add to our stress because soon those things will become important and urgent. Block out some time each day to work on both areas. At the end of the day check off the tasks that relate to each, and identify three priorities you intend to work on tomorrow. This way you will always focus on the important and reduce your stress about those less important matters. Focusing on the important reduces stress.
Find Joy In Your Work: A recent Gallop poll found that 70% of Americans are disengaged from their work. This is a sad situation. Too many people stay in positions where they no longer fit, are unhappy, or lack the energy to fully contribute. This affects their well-being at work and at home. When you don’t enjoy what you do you add unnecessary stress to your life. Those who do find joy in their work are successful and happy. People who are happy in their work share their joy with others, are easier to work with and are sought out by others. This is all about finding your true calling and connecting the dots between who you are with what you do. Finding joy in your work reduces stress.
From the Archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions