Career Guide

Top 10 ways to combat stress

10. Catch it right away

Your body can stress over some of the most mundane reasons, and it can swirl out of control in an instant. One of the best ways to fight stress is to stop that “stress reflex” right when it starts.

For example, if you are one of those people who gets worked up every morning getting stuck in traffic, decide immediately if it is really worth getting worked up over the same thing everyday and find ways to avoid the traffic instead.

9. Label your feelings

Most of the time, we recognise that we are stressed out, but we don’t really acknowledge what is it we are feeling, or what the emotions are that lead us to feeling that way. Identify what that negative emotion is. You’d be surprised at how a simple “I’m overwhelmed” or “I’m exhausted” can calm you down.

8. Fix your posture

Not only does powerful body language gives you confidence, it also helps to reduce stress. People who assume open, confident, strong poses find their stress levels reduced, even if just for a few minutes.

Amy Cuddy, associate professor of business administration in the negotiation, organisations and markets unit at Harvard University, studies body language and the impact it has on our hormones.

She and her team categorised various body positions as “high power” and “low power” poses. High power poses are positions which are more open and relaxed while low power poses are closed and guarded.

The visual below shows some examples of high and low power poses. The poses on the top row are high power, while the ones on the bottom row are low power.

Cuddy and her team conducted a study on the impact of high power and low power poses on 42 students.

First, a saliva sample was taken from each subject and their testosterone and cortisol (the hormone released in response to stress) levels were measured.

The subjects were then each asked to assume a high power pose or a low power pose for two minutes. A second sample of saliva was taken from each subject and their testosterone and cortisol levels were measured again.

The results showed that high power poses increased testosterone by 20% while their cortisol levels decreased by 25%, indicating that body language has a high level of impact on our body’s hormones.

So try striking some power poses before heading out to meet that big client.

7.Food, glorious food!

While it’s not exactly healthy to gobble down a whole box of doughnuts, sometimes stress can be easily intensified by simple things like having low sugar levels.

Eating can help turn your mood around even after a few bites. Fatty acids and spicy food might even help a little extra. Just make sure you eat in moderation. Here are some examples of food that helps to relieve stress.

I. Relax with some avocado and banana. The high level of potassium contained in these fruits help keep your blood pressure low.

II. Calm your frazzled nerves with a nice cup of tea. Studies have shown that people who drink tea reduce their stress levels more quickly.

III. Have some swiss chard and other leafy vegetables to balance your body’s stress hormone, also known as cortisol.

IV. Snack away on some whole wheat crackers. The carbohydrates boost your energy and trigger the brain to release serotonin, which works as a feel good chemical.

V. Yes, the number one happy food – chocolates! Research has indicated that dark chocolate lowers your stress hormone levels. Chocolate also contains endorphins which makes you happy.

6. Turn off your phone

Even if you’re not stressed about work, constant attention seeking notifications from your phone can increase stress levels.

If you’re feeling stressed out, turn off your phone for a few hours, especially if it is after working hours, and have a stress free evening. It also helps you achieve a healthier balance between work and your personal life.

5. Make decisions

Making big decisions can be a little overwhelming at times, and you don’t want to rush them.

However, if the pending decision is the reason your stress levels are sky high, trust your gut and just make the decision.

Our brains have a way of synthesising happiness even if we make the “wrong” decision. So as long as the decisions we make do not have serious long-term consequences, don’t waste so much time being stressed out about the decision.

One easy way for Malaysians to practise this is by not taking such a long time to decide where to eat!

4. Laugh out loud

Laughing works as an instant remedy for many negative situations. Studies show that people who laugh the “most heartily,” show bigger reduction in stress levels when watching a funny movie.

Cliché as it may sound, laughter really is the best medicine. So when you’re worked up, take a break and watch something funny for five to 10 minutes.

3. Exercise

Exercising doesn’t seem like the most fun thing to do when you feel like pulling your hair out. But exercising can help you feel so much better.

Exercise prepares your body for stress, because it thinks you are in a stressful situation.

For example, if you go for a jog, your body thinks you are running for your life.

Your brain releases chemicals to fight the stress, which leads to a high level of endorphins once you’re done.

2. Meditate

Meditation is an extremely beneficial way to calm yourself down. It improves your focus, and clears the distractions in your mind.

Just sit comfortably and take deep and slow breaths, focusing your attention on your breaths and away from all the stressful thoughts.

Here is a breathing exercise you can try:

I. Sit comfortably with your back straight. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.

II. Breathe in through your nose. You should feel the hand on your stomach rise, while the hand on your chest should have minimum movement.

III. Breathe out slowly through your mouth, push out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. At this point you should feel the hand on your stomach move in, while the other hand still should move very little.

Continue this exercise for a few minutes. Try to breathe in enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. If you have difficulty breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, you can try this exercise while lying on the floor instead.

1. Fight long-term stress now

These tips will help you beat stress quickly, but if you find yourself feeling this way regularly, you may be facing a more chronic problem. Identify the key source of your stress and do something about it.

Sometimes, a simple step like changing your expectations can make a huge difference.