Over the last month or so several of my clients have been blocked at work by their stress. The reasons they have been stressed are very real: an unsupportive boss; financial setbacks; fights with spouses; personality conflicts at work. They knew they needed to take action to resolve their issues, so they did what made sense—they thought about the issue over and over trying to come up with an answer. Unfortunately, that just increased their stress, which kept them from accessing the parts of their brain that could solve the problem.

When you are stressed, your focus narrows. This is great if you have a deadline and need to get that presentation ready. It narrows even more if you are in danger—say a tiger is chasing you. This is also great, since you don’t need to do calculus then, you need to focus everything you’ve got on running like crazy to get away from the danger. The trouble with stress is that sometimes it turns off the areas of your brain that handle higher thinking in order to escape danger when the “danger” is something like an irate customer. Just when you need to be able to think rationally, even creatively, to fix what is happening, all you can do is go over and over the problem, getting more and more stressed and tense.

Riding the tiny wheelSo what do you do when you’re on that hamster wheel? The counter intuitive answer is to first get rid of the stress so that you can then deal effectively with the situation causing the stress. The good news is that this can be easier to do than you would think.

To get my clients to let go of their stress, I did EFT (a technique involving tapping on acupressure points) with them. If you are curious, you can read more about how to use EFT to reduce stress here. [ However, if you don’t want to take the time to learn to use the technique, you still may be able to get similar results. What you need to do is take a break.

There are a lot of ways to do it. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Listen to upbeat music.
  • Take a nap.
  • Dance to party music.
  • Call a friend.
  • Call your mother.

The main thing is to change what you are doing so you stop thinking about what is stressing you out. The most effective ways to do this that I’ve found are taking physical action (so run up and down the stairs a few times), change your scenery (get out of your office and walk around the block), and listen to happy music (but stay away from heartbreak ballads or frenetic electric stuff). By all means, combine them if you wish. Pop in your headset, get out the tennies and walk to the next neighborhood.

Even if you can’t leave your desk you can still let go of some stress. Just do deep breathing, which forces your body to relax. When your body relaxes, your mind follows. Here’s how: close your eyes, take a breath that goes all the way down to your navel, leaving your shoulders and chest still. Let it out easily. Now take another. And another. That’s all there is to it. Simple and effective.

Taking a break is a short-term fix. Sometimes that’s all you need. It’s the equivalent of “sleeping on it.” You stop thinking about something and the answer comes to you.

But I know that sometimes the stressor, or what is stressing you out, is unavoidably in your life for the long term. There is no “answer” that will make it go away. Still, unless your stress is helping you (and it almost never does) you will do better if you can let go of your stressful reaction to the stressor. For long-term stressors I suggest three main approaches: (i) half an hour of exercise, the kind that raises your heart rate, four to five days a week; (ii) face time with people who, when you’re with them, you feel good about yourself; and, (iii) EFT. I’ve noticed that both exercise and socializing with your peeps tends to take longer to have an effect than EFT — and you have to keep doing them, unlike EFT — but they have the great advantages that you can start right away and do them on your own.

So now you know what you need to do if your stress is blocking you. Good luck, and please let me know if you have any other ways you have found to let go of your stress.

Next time I’ll tell you about something that can increase your productivity thirty-one percent. And it won’t hurt a bit!

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