MANAGE YOUR LIFE
by Machael T. Murray, N.D.
Develop a stress-free life does not mean retreating to a cave or a deserted island. While many people do find that simplifying their lives significantly reduces stress, the reality for most is that due to a number of factors (e.g., responsibilities, financial commitments, values, interests, etc.) running away from the stress of modern life is just not possible (or appealing). What can help reduce stress in addition to the methods discussed in previous chapters is learning to manage your life. By "managing your life" I mean actually developing a daily plan and long-term strategy to achieve your goals.
Planning out your day is something that you should do every day, either in the evening of the previous day, or first thing in the morning. Doing so can help you keep your life on course. It reduces stress to know what tomorrow is going to be like. Of course an unexpected event can derail even the best laid plan, but in general it is what we do day in and day out that determines the direction and quality of our lives.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TIME MANAGEMENT
One of the biggest stressors for most people is time. They simply do not feel they have enough of it. Here are seven tips on time management that really seem to work. And by the way, time management does not mean squeezing more and more tasks into less and less time. It means learning to plan out your time more effectively, and allowing time for other activities in life that you enjoy.
ORGANIZE YOUR DAY. There are always interruptions and unplanned demands on your time, but create a definite plan for the day and be sure to include all of the important health habits like menu planning, time for exercise and relaxation exercises, and socializing.
SET PRIORITIES. Realize that you can only accomplish so much in a day. Decide what is important, and limit your efforts to those goals.
DELEGATE AUTHORITY. Delegate as much authority and work as you can. You can't do everything yourself. Learn to train and depend on others.
TACKLE THE TOUGH JOB FIRST EACH DAY. Handle the most important tasks first, while your energy levels are high. Leave the busywork or running around for later in the day.
MINIMIZE MEETING TIME. Schedule meetings to bump up against lunch hour or quitting time; that way they can't last forever.
AVOID PUTTING THINGS OFF. Work done under the pressure of an unreasonable deadline often has to be redone. That creates more stress than if it had been done right the first time. Plan ahead.
DON'T BE A PERFECTIONIST. Do your best in a reasonable amount of time, then move on to other important tasks. If you find time, you can always come back later and polish the task some more.
STRESS AND RELATIONSHIPS
Another major cause of stress for many people is their interpersonal relationships at home, with family and friends, and on the job. Humans are social beings. We need to relate to each other to nourish our mind and soul. However, the reality is that relationships as well as lack of relationships can be a significant source of stress.
The quality of any relationship ultimately comes down to the quality of the communication. Learning to communicate effectively goes a very long way in reducing the stress and occasional (or frequent) conflicts of interpersonal relationships. Here are seven tips to effective communication, regardless of the type of interpersonal relationship:
THE FIRST KEY TO SUCCESSFUL COMMUNICATION IS TO LEARN TO BE A GOOD LISTENER. Allow the person you are communicating with to really share their feelings and thoughts uninterrupted. Empathize with them; put yourself in their shoes. If you first seek to understand, you will find yourself being better understood.
BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER. This means that you must actually be engaged and interested in what the other person is communicating. Listen to what they are saying instead of thinking about your response. Ask questions to gain more information or clarify what they are telling you. Good questions encourage better communication.
BE A REFLECTIVE LISTENER. Restate or reflect back to the other person your interpretation of what they are telling you. This simple technique shows the other person that you are both listening and understanding what they are saying. Restating what you think is being said may cause some short-term conflict in some situations, but it is certainly worth the risk.
WAIT TO SPEAK. Don't interrupt; wait until the person or people you want to communicate with are done speaking. If they are not ready to listen, no matter how well you communicate, your message will not be heard.
DON'T TRY TO TALK OVER THE OTHER PERSON. If you find yourself being interrupted, relax; don't try to out-talk the other person. If you are courteous and allow them to speak, eventually (unless they are extremely rude) they will respond likewise. If they don't, point out to them that they are interrupting the communication process by not reciprocating. You can only do this if you have been a good listener. Double standards in relationships seldom work.
HELP THE OTHER PERSON BECOME AN ACTIVE LISTENER. This can be done by asking them if they understood what you were communicating. Ask them to tell you what they understood you to say. If they don't seem to understand what it is you are saying, keep at it until they do.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF LONG SILENCES. Human communication involves much more than spoken words. A great deal can be communicated during silences. Unfortunately in many situations silence can make us feel uncomfortable. Relax. Some people need silence to collect their thoughts and feel safe in communicating. The important thing to remember during silences is that you must remain an active listener.
DEVELOP HEALTH HABITS
The importance of attitude, sleep, diet, supplementation, time management, and relationships has hopefully been stressed sufficiently. Woven together, these things construct our lifestyle and daily habits. There is one other very important item that has only been mentioned in passing. Do you know what it is? Of course you do - its physical exercise. Exercise is a vital component of a comprehensive stress management program and overall good health. The immediate effect of exercise is stress on the body, however, with a regular exercise program the body adapts. The body's response to this regular stress is that it becomes stronger, functions more efficiently, and has greater endurance.
The physical benefits from regular exercise are largely the result of improved cardiovascular and respiratory function. Simply stated, exercise enhances the transport of oxygen and nutrients into cells. At the same time, exercise enhances the transport of carbon dioxide and waste products from the tissues of the body to the blood stream and ultimately out of the body.
Regular exercise is particularly important in reducing the risk of heart disease. It does this by lowering cholesterol levels, improving blood and oxygen supply to the heart, increasing the functional capacity of the heart, reducing blood pressure, reducing obesity, and exerting a favorable effect on blood clotting.
Regular exercise increases stamina and energy levels. People who exercise regularly are much less likely to suffer from fatigue and depression.
THE ANTI-STRESS BENEFITS OF REGULAR EXERCISE
Tensions, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and worries diminish greatly with regular exercise. Regular exercise also exerts a powerfully positive effect on mood. Exercise alone has been demonstrated to have a tremendous impact on mood and the ability to handle stressful life situations.
Participation in exercise, sports, and physical activities is strongly associated with decreased symptoms of anxiety (restlessness, tension, etc.), depression (feeling that life is not worthwhile, low spirits, etc.), and malaise (a run-down feeling, insomnia, etc.). Simply stated, people who participate in regular exercise have higher self-esteem and are happier.
Regular exercise has been shown to increase the amount of powerful mood-elevating substances in the brain known as endorphins. These compounds exert similar effects to morphine, although much milder. In fact, their name (endo = endogenous, - rphins = morphines) was given to them because of their morphine-like mood-enhancing effects. There is a clear association between exercise and endorphin elevation, and when endorphins go up, mood follows.
If the benefits of exercise could be put into a pill, you would have the most powerful health-promoting medication available. Take a look at this long list of health benefits produced by regular exercise:
Table 6.1 - Health Benefits of Regular Exercise
Increases muscle strength
Produces stronger bones, ligaments, and tendons
Increases flexibility of muscles and range of joint motion
Enhances posture, poise, and physique
Produces stronger bones, ligaments, and tendons
HEART AND BLOOD VESSELS
Lowers resting heart rate
Improves oxygen delivery throughout the body
Strengthens heart function
Increases blood supply to muscles
Lowers blood pressure
Enlarges the arteries to the heart
Improves the way the body handles dietary fat
Reduces heart disease risk
Improves immune function
Helps lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides
Aids digestion and elimination
Raises HDL, the "good" cholesterol
Increases endurance and energy levels
Helps improve calcium deposition in bones
Promotes lean body mass, burns fat
Provides a natural release for pent-up feelings
Improves the ability to handle stress
Helps reduce tension and anxiety
Stimulates improved mental function
Improves mental outlook and self-esteem
Encourages relaxation, and improves sleep
Helps relieve moderate depression
Increased life expectancy
CREATING AN EFFECTIVE EXERCISE ROUTINE
Exercise is clearly one of the most powerful medicines available. Unfortunately, there's no pill. But the time you spend exercising is a valuable investment towards good health. To help you develop a successful exercise program, here are seven steps to follow.
STEP 1 - REALIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF PHYSICAL EXERCISE
The first step is realizing just how important it is to get regular exercise. We cannot stress enough just how vital regular exercise is to your health. But, as much as we stress this fact it means absolutely nothing unless it really sinks in and you accept it. You must make regular exercise a top priority in your life.
STEP 2 - CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN
If you are not currently on a regular exercise program, get medical clearance if you have health problems or if you are over 40 years of age. The main concern is the functioning of your heart. Exercise can be quite harmful (and even fatal) if your heart is not able to meet the increased demands placed on it.
It is especially important to see a physician if you have any of the following symptoms:
High blood pressure
Extreme breathlessness with physical exertion
Pain or pressure in the chest, arm, teeth, jaw or neck when you exercise
Dizziness or fainting
Abnormal heart action (palpitations or irregular heart beat)
STEP 3 - SELECT AN ACTIVITY YOU CAN ENJOY
If you are fit enough to begin, the next thing to do is to select an activity that you feel you would enjoy. Using the list below, choose from one to five of the activities — or fill in a choice or two of your own — that you think you might enjoy. Make a commitment to do one activity a day for at least 20 minutes, and preferably an hour. Make your goal the enjoyment of the activity. The important thing is to move your body enough to raise your pulse a bit above its resting rate.
The best exercises for your heart are the kind that elevate your heart rate the most. Aerobic activities such as walking briskly, jogging, bicycling, cross-country skiing, swimming, aerobic dance, and racquet sports are good examples. Brisk walking (five miles an hour) for approximately 30 minutes may be the very best form of exercise for weight loss. Walking can be done anywhere. It doesn't require any expensive equipment, just comfortable clothing and well-fitting shoes, and the risk of injury is extremely low. If you decide to walk on a regular basis, I strongly urge you to purchase a pair of high-quality walking or jogging shoes.
STEP 4 - MONITOR EXERCISE INTENSITY
Exercise intensity is determined by measuring your heart rate (the number of times your heart beats per minute). This determination can be quickly done by placing the index and middle finger of one hand on the side of the neck just below the angle of the jaw or on the opposite wrist. Beginning with zero, count the number of heartbeats for six seconds. Simply add a zero to this number and that is your pulse. For example, if you counted 14 beats, your heart rate would be 140. Would this be a good number? It depends upon your "training zone."
A quick and easy way to determine your maximum training heart rate is simply to subtract your age from 185. For example, if you are 40 years old your maximum heart rate would be 145. To determine your minimum training heart rate, simply subtract 20 from this number. In the case of a 40 year old this would be 125. So, the training zone would be a heartbeat between 125 and 145 beats per minute. For maximum health benefits you must stay in this range and never exceed it.
STEP 5 - DO IT OFTEN
You don't get in good physical condition by exercising once; it must be performed on a regular basis. A minimum of 15-20 minutes of exercising at your training heart rate at least three times a week is necessary to gain any significant cardiovascular benefits from exercise.
STEP 6 - MAKE IT FUN
The key to getting the maximum benefit from exercise is to make it enjoyable. Choose an activity that you enjoy and have fun with. If you can find enjoyment in exercise, you are much more likely to exercise regularly. One way to make it fun is to get a workout partner. For example, if you choose walking as your activity here is a great way to make it fun:
Find one or two people in your neighborhood that you would enjoy walking with. If you are meeting one or two people, you will certainly be more regular than if you depend solely on your own intentions. Commit to walking three to five mornings or afternoons each week, and gradually increase the exercise duration from an initial 10 minutes to at least 30 minutes.
STEP 7 - STAY MOTIVATED
No matter how committed a person is to regular exercise, at some point in time they are going to be faced with a loss of enthusiasm for working out. Here is a suggestion: take a break. Not a long break, just skip one or two workouts. It gives your enthusiasm and motivation a chance to recoup so that you can come back with an even stronger commitment. Here are some other things to help you to stay motivated:
SET EXERCISE GOALS. Being goal oriented helps keep us motivated. Success breeds success, so make a lot of small goals that can easily be achieved. Write down your daily exercise goal and check it off when you have it completed.
VARY YOUR ROUTINE. Variety is very important to help you stay interested in exercise. Doing the same thing every day becomes monotonous and drains motivation. Continually find new ways to enjoy working out.
KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR ACTIVITIES AND PROGRESS. Sometimes it is hard to see the progress you are making, but if you write in a journal you'll have a permanent record of your progress. Keeping track of your progress will motivate you to continue improving.
When patients came to see me for help with stress, anxiety, or insomnia it amazed me how often they would say, "I don't have time to exercise." There is no question that many of these patients had extremely busy lives, but I just don't think that is a good enough excuse. You can always make time for exercise, whether it's getting up earlier, working out during lunch breaks, or sacrificing time spent on other activities. It's just too critical to avoid. The shorter your workout time, the greater the intensity of the workout must be.
I CANNOT OVER-STRESS THE IMPORTANCE OF A HEALTHY DIET AND REGULAR EXERCISE; AND THE YOUNGER YOU START INTO THAT LIFE-STYLE, THE HEALTHIER YOU WILL BE IN OLD AGE. BUT STARTING AT ANY AGE IS STILL BETTER THAN NEVER STARTING. I WAS BLESSED WITH GOOD BASIC GENES; I WAS BLESSED IN HAVING A DAD WHO WAS HEALTH AND FITNESS MINDED, IT WAS HE WHO ENCOURAGED ME AT AGE 14 TO SEND FOR THE “HEALTH AND STRENGTH COURSE” BY CHARLES ATLAS. AND I’VE NEVER LOOKED BACK [HIS COURSE IS STILL AVAILABLE - TYPE IN CHARLES ATLAS INTO YOUR WEB BROWSER AND UP IT WILL COME], AND EATING HEALTHY AND REGULAR EXERCISE HAS MADE ME LOOK YOUNGER AND FEEL YOUNGER, THAN MY PRESENT 75 YEARS AS I ENTER THIS ARTICLE. IF YOU WANT TO FEEL SUPER GOOD YOU HAVE TO MAKE SURE YOU EAT HEALTHY AND GET REGULAR EXERCISE AND THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF SLEEP, WHICH THEY SAY SHOULD BE ABOUT 8 HOURS PER DAY - Keith Hunt