6 Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress
Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.
Who couldn’t benefit from a little less stress? Use these six techniques to help navigate your next taxing situation.
The most recent Stress in America survey, conducted annually by the American Psychological Association, found that Americans are suffering from their highest stress levels to date. When asked to pinpoint the causes of stress, nearly two-thirds of the 3,440 respondents reported that money (62 percent) and work (61 percent) were very or somewhat significant sources. And veterinary professionals are certainly no exception.
Rather than wave a white flag in defeat and accept that stress is just a part of the job, explore these six simple, yet effective stress-relief techniques to find the one — or the combination — that works best for you.
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1. Reflect on a previous success.
When you’re in the thick of a stressful situation it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll never find an acceptable resolution. But remember, this isn’t the first — or second or third — time you’ve faced a dilemma, and it likely won’t be your last.
Instead of becoming overly consumed with your thoughts, take a few minutes to recall a similar obstacle that you overcame, such as relocating to a new veterinary practice or meeting a seemingly impossible deadline. This simple exercise can help put your current struggle into perspective and also serve as a reminder that you’ve already proven to be resourceful and resilient.
2. Identify at least one good thing that happened today.
Practicing a bit of gratitude forces your brain to switch from a state of anxiety to optimism. In many ways, practicing gratitude — finding pleasure from what is around you — is a first step in cultivating an overall positive attitude. So, go ahead! Think of something that went right today. It could be a compliment you received from a co-worker, the fact that finished your first two appointments of the day on time or simply that you made the perfect cup of coffee this morning.
This modest mental exercise is proven to have lasting repercussions, including the ability to make you happier, lower your stress levels and even help you sleep better at night.
3. Create a plan of action.
A sense of pressure is one of the biggest sources of stress. The pressure might stem from not having enough of something you need (e.g., time, money, support), having to perform a task or responsibility that is too new or difficult, or feeling that you can’t properly manage all the responsibilities you’ve been assigned. This is especially true for veterinarians who have to balance many roles in the workplace on top of providing superb medical expertise.
According to experts, including Susan Heitler, PhD, a clinical psychologist from Denver, creating a diversion that distracts you from the problem is not the answer. Instead, one of the best methods for reducing stress is to address the source head-on and create a plan of action. This all starts with identifying what triggered your stress. From there, write down your ideal solution(s) and the actionable items that can help you achieve them.
On a smaller scale, even if you don’t have a single event that’s causing you to feel stressed, simply preparing for tomorrow can help alleviate some anxiety. There are a number of things you can accomplish today to reduce tomorrow’s responsibilities and decisions, including laying out your outfit, packing your lunch and filling up your gas tank the night before.
4. Set aside tech-free time.
If the buzz or ding of your smartphone elicits a Pavlovian response that makes you check the alert right away, technology may be playing a stronger role in your life than you realize. Be mindful that your constant need to be available has myriad negative effects:
- You’re letting your phone control your actions.
- The new message distracts you from what you were doing at that moment.
- Remaining connected increases your stress levels.
Fight back against the dependency you have on your phone or computer by dedicating time each day to completely disconnect from technology by putting your phone and computer out of sight.
Use this screen-free time to practice meditation, exercise or go outside, all of which are also proven methods for reducing stress.
If your veterinary clinic utilizes an emergency response service, make sure the operators know you can be contacted via a landline. This still keeps you connected to your patients without the risk of becoming preoccupied with a dozen other non-vital notifications.
5. Turn on music.
Listening to music can have a remarkably relaxing effect on your mind. In particular, music with a gentle beat encourages slower brainwaves that are associated with hypnotic or meditative states. Researchers from Stanford University have gone so far as to declare that, in many circumstances, listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.
Not only does music have the ability to slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease levels of stress hormones, it also serves as a distraction. You can’t worry about the board meeting you have next week if you’re belting the chorus to “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
6. Write about what's worrying you.
Journaling is an increasingly recommended tool to counteract many of the negative effects of stress. Put your inner dialogue to paper by writing in detail about your feelings and thoughts related to stressful situations.
Not only does writing provide the opportunity to privately divulge everything that’s been stewing in your mind, it allows you to clarify your thoughts and gain valuable self-knowledge. You can even use the opportunity to brainstorm solutions (see Tip 3).
Even if you don’t have a dedicated notebook or are unfamiliar with the practice of journaling, you can still use the technique on an as-needed basis. For instance, if you’re in the middle of a particularly hectic day, retreat to your office or car with a piece of scrap paper and start writing. When you’re done, throw away the sheet of paper and let it serve as a symbol of letting go.