It's not your imagination: People are feeling more stress these days. High performers, in particular tend to live packed lives and often work in dynamic, demanding environments. As you may have personally experienced, too much stress can hurt both your job performance and your health. And when you're overwhelmed, it can be hard to identify a first step toward finding a way out of your stress – especially if it feels like you have to make big changes to get there.
That's why I wanted to share three simple ideas to try the next time you are stressed. Choose any one of these to help you start getting centered again.
1. Just breathe.
This is one of the simplest, most effective strategies you can use. Under stress, we tend to take shallow breaths or even hold our breath more often. But by practicing diaphragmatic breathing (in other words, taking breaths that make your stomach rise instead of your chest) you can avoid "fight or flight" mode and trigger your body's relaxation response. Try this exercise when you're feeling stressed: Breathe in to a count of 3, exhale to a count of 6.
You can also practice this exercise proactively a few times a day to help keep your stress levels manageable. You can even do it in the middle of a meeting. And don't worry — you won't sound like Darth Vader!
2. Check in.
Schedule reminders on your calendar to check in with yourself regularly about how you are doing and what you need in that particular moment — whether it's to grab some lunch, drink water, stretch your stiff muscles, or to put on a sweater to be more comfortable in your chilly office. When our schedules are packed, it's easy to ignore to basic physical needs like these. Noticing and tending to them will help keep stress in check.
3. Get a boost.
Do a quick activity that will energize you. Maybe that's taking a walk outside, listening to your favorite music, stopping by the desk of the co-worker who always makes you laugh, or just being in a different environment for five minutes. Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, advocates taking "renewal breaks" not only to be happier, but also to do your best work. Research shows that the quality of the renewal, matters more than the length of it, and it can dramatically impact your engagement and results.
This week, try one or more of these strategies the next time your stress levels rise. Or even better, proactively build these strategies into how you work. When things seem overwhelming, taking one of these small steps will help you stay calm and grounded. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.