The holidays.  The economy.  The job hunt.

Stress may be unavoidable this time of year.  Being stressed-out, however, is not!

Admittedly, you can’t always control what life throws your way – especially when the holidays hit.  That doesn’t mean you have to react to challenging circumstances by becoming frazzled or distraught.  If you feel like a “victim” of stress, know that, in reality, you can control your anxiety levels by acquiring a few simple skills.

Managing your response to stress is critical – for the health of your body, mind, social relationships and career.  So take charge.  The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try these techniques.  They are guaranteed to help you re-charge, re-focus and beat stress – before it beats you up!

Learn to recognize the signs.  How do you respond to stress?  Do you grit your teeth, lose your temper easily or feel nauseous?  Each of us responds to stress in a unique way.  To manage it properly, you must first recognize stress when it occurs.  Make note of your physical and emotional reactions to stress, and ask others to help you identify your symptoms when you’re feeling tense.

Own it.  When your body starts sending you stress signals, admit it.  Simply acknowledging that you’re feeling stressed helps slow the buildup of negativity and anxiety.

Get moving.  If your job is sedentary, it can cause muscles to ache and blood to pool.  Combat fatigue and stress by stepping away from your desk for a few minutes every so often.  While you’re standing, stretch your arms out from your sides, shake your hands vigorously for about 10 seconds and take a quick walk around the office.  Just a few minutes of light exercise can lift your mood, increase your energy and relax both your mind and body.

Breathe from your diaphragm.  When you’re distraught, you’re prone to breathing more rapidly and shallowly.  This can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up – exacerbating feelings of stress.  When anxiety hits, practice breathing deeply.  Put your hand on your navel, inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands.  Hold your breath for a few seconds and then exhale slowly.  Repeat this several times.  Your blood will be better oxygenated, your pulse will slow and your anxiety will likely recede.

Connect with nature.  Office lights, phones, industrial carpet, computers – the stuff of the modern office is about as disconnected from nature as you can get.  Break the tedium and stress you feel by stepping outside for a breath of fresh air.  If you work in an urban area, bring a little bit of the outdoors into your office space.  A house plant, special shell or geode – even a poster of your favorite natural scene – can balance your space and provide a focal point for relaxation.

Inject a little humor.  When it comes to busting stress, nothing beats a good laugh.  When tensions are at their highest, find a way to break through with laughter by sharing a funny joke or story (as long as you’re not laughing at someone else’s expense).  Laughing transmits nerve impulses from your facial muscles to your brain, tilting your neurochemical balance toward calm.  A chuckle may not change your situation, but it can definitely improve your attitude.

Make better food and drink choices.  Are you the type who skips lunch or drinks cup after cup of coffee?  If so, try creating a few new habits.  First, limit your caffeine intake gradually.  If you have to drink coffee or caffeinated soda, try alternating between regular and decaf throughout the day.  Additionally, try to eat smaller quantities of food more frequently.  Fresh fruit, whole grain snacks, protein drinks and nutritional bars offer balanced options to supplement smaller meals.  They also help maintain even blood sugar levels in your body, keeping your mood and energy more stable throughout the day.

Set aside time to worry.  If you can’t get nagging worries out of your head, try scheduling “worry time.”  Though it may sound strange, formally setting aside time to address low-grade stressors actually frees your brain to lay worries down for awhile and focus more on tasks at hand.  If you struggle to “file your worries away” until a more convenient time, write them down in a journal.  The exercise may help you gain better perspective on your problems and determine which worries you may be able to resolve and which you can’t.

Wield your task management skills.  When you find that you simply have too much on your plate, start by prioritizing your to-do list.  Tackle the highest priority and/or unpleasant tasks first – when your energy level and focus are the best.  Next, break large projects into smaller steps and focus on one manageable task at a time.  Finally, delegate what you can.  By letting go of the desire to control everything in your bailiwick, you’ll also be letting go of stress.

Shorten your to-do list.  If you’re normally a busy person, you can feel downright overwhelmed when the holidays hit.  Shopping, decorating and entertaining can eat up your free time and add to your financial strain.  If it’s too much, take control.  Make a list of what really matters to you.  You may find out that you’re devoting too much time to activities that aren’t real priorities.  If at all possible, drop commitments and pursuits that don’t make the top five on your list of priorities.  Doing so will greatly focus your efforts and simplify your life.

No matter which of these techniques you try, remember that you alone have the power to manage stress in your life.  So be proactive.  Instead of waiting for your stress levels to surge out of control, address anxiety as soon as it occurs.  Beat stress – before it has the chance to beat you up.

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