By Emma Fogt, MBA, MS, RD, LDN, FAND
Recent studies suggest just like catching a cold, stress is contagious. It can travel in social circles, from one person to another, like a germ that floats from one coworker to the next. Personal stress not only affects ourselves, but can also infect our friends, our families, and even strangers nearby.
Here’s an example from my own life: I remember being on a BOLT bus getting ready to depart to NYC. Suddenly the driver went A-wall on a poor passenger who placed his bag on an empty seat. The driver was flailing his arms, swearing at the passenger and screaming at the top of his lungs for the passenger to get off the bus. The inadvertent result? I was so stressed out that I felt sick to my stomach! As the passenger got off the bus – so did I. I had absorbed that secondhand stress of the driver and passenger, and it had infected my body and mind.
Now let’s take a look at a research-backed example: Researchers from NYU and the Emotion Health and Physiology Laboratory at the University of San Francisco have studied how mother’s stress levels affect their babies. In their study, mother’s stress levels were measured with an EKG to see if their babies absorbed their personal stress signals. As it turned out, the baby’s sympathetic responses did match their mother’s stress levels. If mothers were more stressed, their own heart rates went up, as did the rates of their baby’s.
Stress can be hard to avoid, which is why it’s important to be mindful of both how you let it affect you and of others around you. On the bright side, there are lots of strategies and mechanisms you can utilize to minimize its impact in your life. By controlling your stress levels, you can boost your own health and energy, and simultaneously reduce the secondhand stress you may transfer onto others.
Here are three ways to handle the contagious stress that might be thrown your way:
- Avoid stressful situations. Yes, this is obviously easier said than done, but if you know a certain situation or environment places a repeated negative tension on your life, seek alternatives. Don’t needlessly walk into a pressurized situation if there are better options out there.
- Determine how you will react to stress. Instead of letting stress stick to you like Velcro, just imagine, you are made of Teflon. The stress just slides off. You don’t absorb it, but instead block it from your mind so that you can fill yourself with positive energy. What you don’t let get to you can’t control your life (or health!).
- Use coping mechanisms like meditation and deep breathing to refocus your energy and move away from the tension that stress can bring. When you feel your palms start to get sweaty, your head start to throb, or perhaps your anxiety levels start to skyrocket, stop for a moment and evaluate from where these symptoms are coming. Take a deep breath. Take two deep breaths. If you can, take 3 minutes of deep breaths, and feel how this simple act can center and refuel you. Then, remind yourself, you can take charge of the situation, and that anything can be accomplished when you slow down and take one step at a time.
Emma Fogt, MBA, MS, RD, LDN, FAND is a Wellness Expert, Speaker & Author. She is seen as a Nutrition Expert in the local media and enjoys cooking up a storm with corporations via Culinary Team Building. Her programs offer leaders and emerging leaders talks, webinars and workshops on wellness, wellbeing and work-life fit. Emma is an active member of Nutrition Entrepreneurs (Chair 2012-13), The National Speaker’s Association and a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Emma’s first book published by ewomenwellness is entitled: Having YOUR All, How Self-Care Leads to an Energized, Empowered and Effective Life!
By Lizzie Meyers
Finding the perfect gifts for everyone on your list, arranging travel plans, and all the while, keeping up with your work at the office – whew, this time of year can be exhausting. Expectations and planning during the holiday season tend to cause people to neglect their own happiness. Often, we strive for what is actually an unrealistic idea of how we picture the holidays should be.
Rarely will you find a gift to please everyone without spending a fortune. Hardly ever will a holiday pass without a disagreement between family members or friends. You will likely have to neglect some plans in order to accommodate for others. The reality of the holidays, and everything else in life for that matter, is that they won’t turn out “perfectly” and that’s entirely okay! The sooner we accept this fact, the sooner we can let go, relax and enjoy the festivities.
You’re not alone if you’re stressing out. It’s a natural inclination to experience pressure and anxiety at this time, and thinking clearly and realistically can be much more difficult than expected. Try these simple tricks to reduce holiday stress:
Put things in perspective:
“Frame every so-called disaster with these words, ‘In five years, will this matter?” (45 of Life’s Lessons by Regina Brett.)
This nugget of wisdom from an Ohio newspaper columnist can work wonders in stressful situations such as the ones we experience during the holidays. Of course, the first step in this process is to identify what is making you feel stressed. A family argument, conflicting plans, and other possible contributors to holiday anxiety are much more manageable when we step back and look at the grand scheme of things. In five years, you’ll remember the happy moments with family and friends and most of the stress-inducing issues will be long forgotten.
Take a moment for yourself each day:
While it is the season of giving and helping others, it is just as important to keep your own happiness in check. If you tend to spend the holidays pleasing others, make sure that you allow yourself 15 minutes a day of “me time.” Go for a walk, get a massage, or watch some mindless TV. This time to yourself should distract you from overwhelming obligations, allowing you to clear your mind and recharge. Bonus – spend those minutes engaged in a healthy activity and you’ll feel extra refreshed.
Many people use the practice of meditation as the ultimate stress-reliever. The goal of this practice is to clear the clutter in our mind produced by day-to-day stressors. Through the use of meditation, eliminating holiday stress can become much more accessible.
New to meditation? Here are “20 Practical tips for Quieting the Mind.”
Take some tips from the gingerbread man pictured above. He knows what’s up. Remember, the key to steering stress away from your holiday experience is to stay in the moment and relax.
A high-level fashion executive was in a panic. A report was supposed to be on her desk by Monday morning, and it wasn’t. She was angry at the employee and couldn’t let it go. Now, her whole week was thrown off.
So, Jeff Cannon told her a story. Not about how to manage your subordinates, but about a monk carrying a geisha across a river, with a “leave it behind” moral at the end.
His approach to working with CEOs might sound unorthodox, but for the meditation teacher and author, it’s par for the (karmic) course. Cannon’s put the ancient practice into powerful service as a tool in the modern (and often fashionable) work place.
“What I’m doing is teaching people how to leverage this wonderful practice in the real world, so that in the short-term, they can reduce stress, increase focus, and manage distractions,” says Cannon, who’s coached executives at Gucci, Armani, and Harper’s Bazaar.
The method explained in his book The Simple Truth, applies particularly well to business, a group that’s embracing meditation despite lingering New-Agey stereotypes. “You don’t have to start shaving your head, wearing sandals, and dedicating two hours a day,” Cannon emphasizes. “You can still wear Prada and meditate.”
We noticed in speaking with Cannon that many of his career boosting and balancing tips for fashion industry CEOs work just as well for the rest of us. So, here we share some of the most enlightening:
1. You Don’t Need to Go to the Mountain Top to Meditate… or Even Leave Your Desk
Instead of waiting for meditation to occur in a quiet place, Cannon says you can incorporate background noise into your meditation (including honking horns and loud talkers in the next room). You can also create short practices, so that you don’t have to commit to a 10-day silent retreat in order to benefit. A few minutes in your corner office or cubicle should do just fine.
2. Breathing Before a Meeting
Cannon teaches grounding techniques you can use before a big meeting or presentation, when you should be at the top of your game but your nerves undermine you and send you into a panic. He’s a fan of belly breathing.
“Stress in the workplace was getting to me—deadlines, deliverables,” says Roget Roman, a well-known record executive who attended a training session with Cannon. “Since then, the breathing techniques have helped me tremendously.”
Want to learn more about improving your health? Check out LifeVest Health and learn how to get paid to get healthy.