How do you manage stress?
By Alison Zeleznik, PT, DPT
As physical therapists, students, business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs, and let’s face it . . . humans, we all face one common struggle in daily life: stress.
Now I wish I could say I am an expert at managing stress and that is why I am writing this article, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. I recently entered a new chapter of my life, which brought along new stressors and challenges, and before I knew it, I was engulfed in an overwhelming amount of stress at work. It didn’t take long before my work stress pushed over into my personal life and in several short months, I was just trying to stay emotionally and physically afloat. This made me realize that I needed to find a better solution in how to manage all of this stress and emotion. So like the classic Millennial that I am, I Googled it.
“Hey Google, How do you manage stress?”
After a lot of research and list upon list, I eventually felt overwhelmed and—stressed. Wasn’t this what I was trying to avoid? I realized I needed to narrow my search. I decided to look into what many of my role models, successful business owners, and top business professionals had to say about the topic.
So I read, took a lot of notes, made a plan, scrapped that plan, reworked it, and started all over. But these work-throughs didn’t feel like stress; it actually was fun diving into the minds of some of my idols and looking for inspiration. My mind tends to go a million miles per minute and is pulled in different directions. Because of this, I have found that in order to incorporate stress management strategies into my daily life consistently I needed accountability. I work best with something tangible; therefore, I resorted to my Post-it notes. I began leaving Post-its all over my apartment, as simple reminders to keep my mind (and my schedule) in check. After several months of this I can proudly and confidently say that I have learned how to manage the stress in my life.
Below are my top 5 “Post-It” notes that helped shape my individualized plan to manage stress. I encourage you to picture your own daily stressors while navigating through this article and relate each topic to your personal life.
This Post-it Note leads into the very first lesson I learned. As I started this journey, I desperately wanted to get rid of the stress in my life. I soon realized that this was impossible and if I continued to try to do so, I wouldn’t get anywhere. I realized that stress will always come, and my real focus needed to be to learn how to deal with it and not let it affect my productivity.
Many of you may thrive on stress, and while you are reading this, I bet you’re probably thinking this isn’t really for you. While you may succeed in high-stress situations, are you facing it head on or are you “efficiently avoiding” your problems? Let that stress motivate you; as soon as you are confronted with it, face it. My eyes really opened to this thought when I read a quote by Tony Robbins. He said it perfectly: “Be proactive, not reactive. Identify which factors in a stressful situation are under your control. Let go of what isn’t, and excel at what is.”1
Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, said in an interview, “Stress primarily comes from not taking action over something that you can have some control over. I find as soon as I identify it, and make the first phone call, or send off the first e-mail message, or whatever it is that we’re going to do to start to address that situation—even if it’s not solved—the mere fact that we’re addressing it dramatically reduces any stress that might come from it.”2
Call to Action: Come up with a plan on how you are going to address each bit of stress that comes your way, even if you’re going to procrastinate until the last minute. That way you will be ready when it is time to execute.
Of course, we are physical therapists; we know the outstanding benefits of exercise on both mental and physical health. We tell our patients this every single day. But the question I had to ask myself was, “Am I practicing what I preach?” I soon began to ditch the excuses and kept this Post-it note in my car. That means that I will at minimum see this simple reminder at least twice each day (during my commute to and from work). This may work for you or you may need to find your own motivation to work out and be active. Whatever it is, prioritize it, because let me tell you, there’s nothing like having a stressful day and taking it out on the treadmill.
On top of learning how to manage stress, I also solved the mystery of how Michelle Obama got those extremely toned arms. She said, “Exercise is really important to me—it’s therapeutic. If I’m ever feeling tense or stressed or like I’m about to have a meltdown, I’ll put on my iPod and head to the gym or out on a bike ride along Lake Michigan with the girls.”2
One can imagine the different levels of stress that would be on the First Lady of the United States; however, Michelle was able to deal with her stress through the physical release of exercise.
Call to Action: Set a daily reminder to get out there and move! (I mean, we are movement specialists, right?) Also, remember, staying active doesn’t necessarily mean going to the local gym or CrossFit facility. It can be as simple as going for a walk or taking a bike ride.
I’ll be the first to admit that I likely overdo this one in the form of laziness. But as I started to make large lifestyle changes to decrease my stress, I realized that I was losing some of the enjoyable things in my life. If I was going to survive this giant change, I’d have to keep some of my personal habits/hobbies a constant.
When I came across an article that discussed multiple ways small business owners can de-stress, one of their main points precisely substantiated this idea, simply saying “Prioritize You-Time.”3
This thought really makes you step back and think about if we are living in the moment or for the future. If it’s the latter, will we be happy when we get there? Of course, we have goals and aspirations, but we can’t forget that we are working for our families, our communities, and ultimately ourselves.
Call to Action: At the end of each workday/workweek, pencil in some specific kind of “you-time” to unwind and focus your attention toward something important in your life. After a good “treat yourself” session, you should feel motivated, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle the responsibilities that await you in your professional life.
When should I disconnect? What should I disconnect from? How long should I disconnect for?
A lot of questions ran through my mind as I was trying to tackle this strategy of stepping away from the phone/computer. It’s a no-brainer that finding the optimal work-life balance is no simple task. When you are responsible for your clinic’s operations, managing employees, the well-being of your clients/patients, as well as your bottom line, simply “being off your phone or computer more” isn’t something that will just happen.
Instead of trying to reduce the total daily time spent on my electronics, I found it beneficial to look at this from two standpoints: disconnecting while at work and disconnecting while away from work.
In the same article on “Prioritize You-Time,” I found: “When you’re at work, be at work. And when you’re home, be fully at home . . . If you consciously unplug from your work while you’re out of the office or not on-site, you’ll find that your stress will melt away.”3
This should be a good starting place, if you truly want to find a balance. You can always start with one and when you have a handle on that, begin to add in the other. For me, I started each morning with only reading the emails in my inbox so that I could be updated on the upcoming workday, but I didn’t immediately respond to them until several hours later during my email response time, which I scheduled into my day. This saved my morning from endlessly writing emails, and it didn’t take long before my colleagues became familiar with this practice. They knew if they needed an immediate response that I would be easily available in person or with a quick phone call.
This is a key area where your stress management plan becomes unique to your current wants and needs with each situation. Many entrepreneurs and business owners treat their business or job as their life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And in all honesty, your company will likely succeed if you prioritize time away from the stress.
Call to Action: Create a strategy or build time into your schedule that allows you to disconnect, unplug, log off, power down, or whatever else you want to call it. Trust me, it will be more worth it than you’d ever know.
Delegation and Automation of tasks. The key to destressing your workweek.
You likely already have a good idea of what your weekly schedule looks like. Prioritizing your responsibilities and discovering which daily or weekly tasks you can delegate to another individual will increase your efficiency in the workplace. Take a step back and really analyze a typical workweek, a busy week as well as a slow week. What are the constants? What takes you the most time? Are there any tasks you don’t have to do, personally? If you are lucky enough to have the support staff to assist with various tasks, then assess who might be the right one for the job. Are there any systems you can build to help you make the more repetitive and frequent tasks more efficient and easy? While this may take a lot of time initially to implement and perfect, it also allows you to decrease the overall amount of effort needed in the long run, all the while keeping you sane.
Want to learn more about setting up these types of systems? Read any of Ray Dalio’s or Tim Ferriss’s books. There are just too many good quotes to place here.
Call to Action: Analyze your daily and weekly schedule looking for tasks that are frequent and repetitive. Are there any you can delegate to someone else? If not, potentially think about setting up systems to help get these tasks done without your direct and constant attention.
I don’t know about you, but I am a very goal-oriented person. When I first began doing my research on how to manage stress, I quickly realized that my goals were very unorganized. But if I remember anything from physical therapy school it’s that our goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-based.
While I knew I didn’t have much time to constantly make, edit, and consistently change these goals, I remembered the classic “Eisenhower box”: a simple grid that prioritizes the most urgent and important items on your list. This box satisfied all of my goal-making dreams, and I highly encourage making one of your own to keep you on track to complete each of your daily tasks, pushing you closer to each of your goals. Using the Eisenhower box has allowed me to focus and prioritize my goals in an easy, time-efficient manner (I use a whiteboard in my office to quickly update this as needed).
I suggest making one box for business/professional goals and one for personal goals. Don’t let your goals overwhelm you; let them motivate you.
1Robbins T. How to reduce your stress at work. Tonyrobbins.com. www.tonyrobbins.com/health-vitality/reduce-stress-work. Accessed August 30, 2017.
2Lee A. 12 business leaders on how they handle stress. Fortune. fortune.com/2016/08/30/12-business-leaders-on-how-they-handle-stress. Accessed August 30, 2016.
3McIntyre G. 7 ways for small business owners to de-stress (that you should try). Fundera Ledger, Fundera. www.fundera.com/blog/de-stress-small-business-owners. Accessed November 30, 2016.
4Feloni R. Tony Robbins starts each day by plunging into freezing cold water after an extra-hot sauna—and research suggests it’s a health habit. Business Insider. www.businessinsider.com/tony-robbins-daily-sauna-cold-plunge-combo-benefits-2017-10. Accessed October 25, 2017.
Alison Zeleznik, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist working for MossRehab (part of Einstein Healthcare Network) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.