Lawrence Biscontini by Lawrence Biscontini

Given even the best of scenarios during the hectic holiday season and resolutions for the New Year, stress abounds.  In this blog, I would like to share some of the best stress-management and stress-reduction strategies I have found.

Whereas stress management involves taking the normal stresses of life and directing them toward positive areas in our daily lives, the more complicated task of stress reduction involves diminishing stress by learning offsetting and deflecting techniques.

Stress Management

To manage stress means to channel the same stressful feelings into more positive and productive outcomes. To accomplish that, the following tips help manage the nervous feelings we have in order to direct that energy in a more productive direction.

1. Make a 2-Part List: This technique converts stress to “fuel” for your tasks and ultimately can make you more productive when channeled correctly. When you realize you are under stress, it creates a feeling of being overwhelmed Take an objective moment to jot down the reasons why you are stressed. You probably will find that your “reasons” include many things bothering you until their completion. Then, add to this list the most important of these “inbox” items (things you have to do) over which you do have control. Once you know that the most stressful stimuli in your life appear on a list, you can see more objectively—and less emotionally—the reasons you are stressed. Several free and paid smartphone applications exist (Evernote, Pomodoro Timer) to help create “to-do” lists.

2. Prioritize: With an objectified list of the reasons you are stressed, you can see which items you can control. Prioritize all action items on your list, assigning the top three action items a number from one to three. Next, schedule time to work on each project in that order, and channel your stressful energy into productive energy by telling yourself that you will not let the stress of other action items bother you until you finish the first task. Examples of apps that assist for helping to prioritize are Evernote, Clear and Wunderlist.

3. Share: Find someone in whom you can confide for short conversations when you are feeling the most stressed. Sometimes just having someone listen to you put into words (spoken, not written) the reasons why you are feeling stressed helps manage the stress itself. This process of finding the words can help manage the stress in the first place because you connect deeper with your true feelings.

Stress Reduction

While we cannot control what happens around us, we can make conscious choices about how those events affect us on a personal level. Reducing stress can involve some deceptively easy techniques.

1. Breath Awareness: To reduce stress, try to become aware of how you are inhaling and exhaling -- not to judge the quality but to focus the mind on something productive (the breath) instead of the stressful catalysts. Notice if you are inhaling or exhaling through the nose, mouth, or a combination. Notice if your inhalation or exhalation seems longer than the other. After about a minute of awareness, try to inhale while counting up, exhale while counting down, trying without force to use awareness to make the inhalation and exhalation as similar in duration as possible. Continue this stress reduction awareness technique for five minutes for the best results.

2. Contract-Relax Key Body parts: As you stand or sit, become aware of your posture. Even if you are driving, you can do this if you are able to choose some muscular areas you can control at will. Contract the gluteals for up to five seconds, and be sure to keep breathing during the process. Hold the muscles, but not the breath. During the contraction, say to yourself softly out loud “I am stressed.” As you relax, say to yourself softly out loud “I am relaxed.” Continue this with shoulder elevation, ankle dorsiflexion, and finger-fists as you are able. The last time you do this, try to contract as many of the body parts as you can simultaneously, such as ankles, glutes, shoulders, and fists, and revel in the final conscious relaxation of using the mind to reduce the body of stress. The goal is to become so familiar with this technique that you will be able to do it in even challenging situations, such as when waiting in line in public.

3. Use a Candle: Some people find that lighting a candle with aromatherapy can help reduce stress because when there is a pleasant fragrance, they inhale more deeply, inducing a more relaxed state of being. For some, a candle serves as a symbol of one’s internal light that reflects a living, moving source of energy. A flickering candle, quite unlike a fluorescent bulb, can help tame the mind from the stresses of our to-do lists, and induce almost a meditative state if you can gently gaze on it for more than 30 seconds, blinking as needed. Try to choose soy or beeswax candles, as long-term exposure to emissions from petroleum-based paraffin wax candles may pose a health hazard and petroleum products are not sustainable.

4. Learn Self-Massage: Part of stress reduction can include self-myofascial release. This involves learning to put a small amount of pressure on, and “roll out,” the myofascia, the tissue that covers the muscles. This can improve the overall function of muscles because it helps rid them of “knots” that accumulate from the stresses of life. When combined with proper hydration and breathing, this form of self-massage can help reduce many of the negative effects of stress, insomnia, muscle cramps, and a general feeling of irritability.

5. Meditate: Try meditation. Not all stress management and reduction techniques are for everyone, but trying the gamut can help you settle on the approaches that prove most useful for you. To be sure, given the multi-tasking nature of our society, stress is not disappearing. The key, therefore, is not prevention but rather management and reduction.