Stress management and psychological health should be treated in much the same way as you might check your car in for an MOT despite it running well at the time, to avoid a breakdown later on!
We've already looked at how to modify your behaviour and your thinking to avoid stress. You also need to strengthen your emotional immune system against stress by incorporating the following steps into your lifestyle:
· Create a healthier diet:
Busy professionals often neglect this obvious step.
Nutritious meals throughout the day will fuel energy and your mind. Arm your body against stress first thing in the day with a full breakfast and keep high protein snacks in the office as additional "ammunition." Even small changes to your diet may make a difference!
· Get adequate sleep and rest:
Fatigue leaves us vulnerable to stress and "clouds" rational thinking. Sacrificing sleep to "get more into the day" may often end up compromising both quantity and quality of work, leaving us vulnerable to stress.
· Reduce caffeine and sugar:
Caffeine and sugar provide a short-term "high" in mood and energy, but result in a "crash" that can leave us more susceptible to stress.
· Exercise regularly:
Physical activity buffers against and releases stress and physical tension.
· Give up smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and drugs:
Put your stress inventory "warm-up" to work by surveying and cutting back on harmful self-medicating or coping strategies. These strategies may bring temporary relief or relaxation, but can "cloud" thinking, interfere with needed sleep, and result in harmful health consequences.
· Schedule enjoyable activities
Protect the time that brings you enjoyment and, if possible, treat it as an important, mandatory appointment. It not only can help you recharge and replenish, but can ultimately have a buffering effect against stress when it does rear its ugly head!
· Socialise with friends
· Play with the kids
· Go to the gym
· Take a bath
· Treat yourself to a spa
· Read a book
· Watch a funny movie
· Garden - or visit a garden
· Get creative, paint or draw
· Listen to music
· Learn to play an instrument or sing
Dr. Michael Sinclair is a consultant psychologist and clinical director at the City Psychology Group. Consultant to a number of occupational health departments in the City of London, he is the author of Fear and Self-Loathing in the City: a guide to keeping sane in the square mile and The Little CBT Book: a step by step guide to gaining control of your life.