Dealing with Stress
I’m on my way to Africa University as you receive this newsletter. I’ll teach there until early May, returning home in mid-May. I enjoy teaching students at AU and working with colleagues there. This is my fourth year of returning to do this and I always find it to be a joy.
Still, it’s a bit stressful to prepare for such a long venture. Although it’s good stress, it’s useful to have a few stress management tools to apply. Here are three tools that I find helpful in many situations.
Have a Plan B as a Back-up
Whether my project is minor or major, it’s always helpful to have plan B at hand in case plan A doesn’t work. This is true for everything from running a simple errand to planning a major life event. I wasn’t sure until two weeks ago that I would receive the necessary clearance from Zimbabwe’s Immigration Control Office to teach at AU this year, so I made mental plans to work on another writing project at home in case I didn’t get to go to Africa University. Happily, the official paper from Immigration Control came two days before my departure. (I scheduled the flight two weeks ago when official clearance was promised.)
Having a “Plan B” ready to use is helpful for almost everything. It provides wonderful flexibility in life while allowing one to remain true to a framework of integrity.
Look for the Silver Lining
Surfacing of unexpected glitches and problems are inevitable in any activity or project. They can range from minor annoyances to major snafus. I’ve experienced my share of them in anything I’ve ever done. What I’ve learned through the years is that if I look for the silver lining connected with any problem, I can usually find it. In fact, the problem may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
An example of this is connected with the work I’ve done over the past three years on my book, Be Healthy. At first I was frustrated with hurdles, roadblocks and rejections that kept coming my way. Yet, after working through them, I realized that my book turned out better because of them. I’ve learned there is a silver lining to almost every problem. To find a silver lining, however, one must look for it. I list three blessings in my meditation journal every day. Some of them didn’t feel like blessings at first, but that’s how they turned out. When I realize a problem has brought me an unexpected blessing, I give thanks for it.
Allow a Halo of Ample Time for Every Task
Becoming seriously crimped for time in any project or activity is stressful. As simple a matter as being late for an appointment can make one’s cortisol level and blood pressure go up. Allowing plenty of time for any task can save me from frustration. I’m always glad when I easily complete an activity simply because of allowing ample time for it. Unfortunately, I don’t always do this, and I always regret it when I’m pushed up against an unforgiving time deadline that I could have avoided by better time management.
One of the benefits of having a quiet time of meditation at least once a day is the easing of overall time pressure. The simple matter of becoming quietly centered for ten or fifteen minutes carries over into the rest of the day, helping me deal with other situations or challenges. Taking ten minutes for simple quiet time may seem wasteful of time, but it actually makes time run more smoothly!
These three stress reduction tips have proven helpful to me many times through the years – when I remember to apply them. I hope you’re better about this than I am!
Ed Dodge, MD, MPH