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Manage your stress before it manages you

June 1, 2009
by Yael Sara Zofi and Susan Meltzer
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The long-term care business-or the continuing care profession, as it is increasingly known-operates in a demanding environment. It could hardly be otherwise since our clients often present sensitive issues, both mental and physical, on a daily basis. A strong resolve is required to keep our energy focused on the tasks at hand.

Do any of these scenarios seem familiar?

  • “My valuable time is eaten up in too many meetings.”

  • “I'm endlessly managing crises and putting out fires.”

  • “Interruptions throw me off track.”

  • “There are too many priorities for me to take care of.”

With stressful situations common in our work environment, we must develop a personal approach that allows us to function in spite of the stress.

Fortunately, there are many strategies for doing this, and you can determine which one(s) fit you best. We have included a few recommendations below, some of them are thought-provoking, while others require you to unhook your mind. We are confident that one or more of these activities will give you some relief:

Understand yourself

Take a good, hard look in the mirror to determine what and whom you really value. It will then be easier to recognize what outside forces, situations, and people you have allowed to get “under your skin.” By understanding your own core, you can create an appropriate balance of what is important to you and, by implication, what is appropriate for you to stress over. Be honest with yourself as you name which outside forces, frustrations, and fears you are allowing to shape your thoughts and actions-even though they conflict with your own well-being. You can then strive to reduce the power that these situations have over you, especially since work situations are often ones we cannot control or change. The key is to create a balanced perspective and to constantly adjust your reaction to outside forces to coincide with your own priorities.

Stay focused

Don't invest major energy in minor issues. Ask yourself if the problem is worth your focusing on within the context of your workday. Chances are that as annoying as something-for example, an ad hoc report that requires you to postpone a long-planned meeting-can be put in perspective and remove the emotion from the situation.

Confront stressful activity

Identify the repetitive situation or factor that causes you the most stress each day. Chances are you will not be able to eliminate it. However, it's worth the effort to figure out if it is possible to alleviate any aspect of the situation. If you can't change the hours you are required to participate in your facility's day care program, for example, perhaps you can work with a partner to relieve each other's tasks.

Ask for help

If you are really struggling with a major problem, even after you have examined it from every angle, speak with friends and family for ideas. If necessary, seek help from a professional counselor.

Control your breathing

Here's an easy mechanism to relieve stress that can be done anywhere for a minute or two. It quickly relaxes your muscles and quiets the mind. Take a deep breath, expand your belly, and keep your shoulders relaxed, holding it in as you count to six. Exhale, and repeat twice. Then breathe normally and focus on your breathing. As you breathe, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, still expanding your belly rather than moving your shoulders up and down. If your thoughts drift, gently refocus on your breathing and remain in the present moment. Do this for as little or as long as you like, and you should notice that your body is more relaxed and your mind is more centered.

Relax your muscles

Another quick and easy way to ease stress, anytime, anywhere, is to tense and relax certain muscle groups in your body. For example, tense all the muscles in your neck for 10 seconds, then completely relax them for 10 seconds. Do this tensing/relaxing activity with your face, shoulders and back, legs, and so on.

Take mental vacations

A “visualization” technique, which requires no more than two or three minutes, is perfect for a 10- to 15-minute break. A piece of advice: The more you do this, the better you get at it. We know from personal experience. Find a quiet spot (if you can) and get into a relaxed position in the most comfortable chair you can find. As noted, breathe deeply and close your eyes, focus only on your breathing as you block every other thought out of your mind. When you feel you are getting to a relaxed state, think of the most relaxing environment you can imagine-walking on a beach at sunset or sitting by a fire in a secluded cabin. When you find yourself there, involve all of your senses to make this vision as real as possible. Concentrate on this and this alone, and stay here for as long as you like. When other thoughts intrude, and they surely will, gently shut them out by saying, “tranquillo.” When you're ready to come back to reality, count back from 10 or 20, and tell yourself that when you get to “one,” this serenity will stay with you as you reenter the fray.

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