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Ten stress reducers

Elevated blood pressure can be a sign of stress, among other things. When I had my little stress attack a while back, my blood pressure was so alarmingly high that the doctors suspected a heart condition; if I so much as lifted my head off the pillow, it went even higher. After the episode passed, the blood pressure numbers went back to normal. But it was scary there, for a few hours. Whenever I go into a doctor’s office, it’s often a little high, especially if I’m not sitting in a chair with my legs uncrossed and my feet flat on the floor. This phenomenon—blood pressure that rises when you go into a doctor’s office—is called “white coat syndrome.”

A week or so ago, GLBL reported at Gather Little by Little that an incident of white coat syndrome led him to buy a blood pressure monitor and keep tabs on himself for a while. This revealed that his blood pressure was higher while he was at work than over the weekend, at home. He put it down to stress.

The work environment can be very stressful, even if you’re not in a high-tension job such as police work, emergency medical or fire services,journalism,or teaching. Certainly one of the elements that led up to my episode—one of the petals of the Poison Poppy, as I call them—was workplace stress, largely resulting from friction with a subordinate. After great effort, I discovered a number of fairly easy strategies to reduce stress, which really comes at you from all directions, not just from the workplace. Here are ten of the best:

1. Reduce caffeine intake

Substitute other satisfying drinks. Some varieties of soda pop are caffeine-free: Sprite, 7-Up, ginger ale, and many brands of root beer. Read the label to be sure. Fruit juices can be combined with soda water or tonic water to make DIY pop, which IMHO tastes better than the canned stuff. Green tea is said to contain less caffeine than black. Sometimes just cutting back the amount of caffeine you take in helps: decaf coffee and tea are not caffeine-free, but substituting them for high-test may help bring down your blood pressure and lower your stress level.

If you go off caffeine cold turkey, you’ll get a headache that may be fairly bracing, but it will pass in a day or two. You can avoid or minimize this by tapering off instead of quitting abruptly. The fact that eliminating caffeine can make you sick should tell you something.

2. Try to de-stress your commute.

Leave earlier so you have plenty of time to get to your destination. Driving in the slow lane reduces the number of people tailgating and jerking around you—you tend to see more of that obnoxious behavior when you’re driving faster in the middle and outside lanes.

Do not listen to the stürm und drang on the news and yak shows. Avoid stations that carry advertising, which also can be stress-inducing and annoying. If your local airwaves don’t carry stations that broadcast the kind of music you enjoy, free of advertising, then get yourself an iPod or MP3 player and bring your own entertainment. Make it something soothing.

Learn some alternate routes to and from the workplace. If you see the freeway backing up, get off and proceed on the surface streets for a while.

3. Keep a low profile at work, and leave work at the office

Refrain from arguing with coworkers or bosses. Let the BS slide off your back like water off a duck’s feathers.

Do your job well and quietly.

Keep coworkers’ and customers’ oddities in the perspective of the large picture. How exactly will their ridiculous behavior change the course of world history?

Don’t bring work home. Make your private time exactly that: your time. And do not work more hours than you are paid to work. If you’re expected to do so, maybe it’s time to find a new employer or a new line of work.

4. Leave the office during lunch hour

Never work through lunch. If you are brownbagging, go outside or to a coffeehouse where you are allowed to eat your own food if you buy a beverage. If you must stay on the premises to eat, take some time to go for a walk. If your company offers a workout room, use it over the lunch hour. Or, if you hate gyms as much as I do and you have an office, close the door and do some yoga during breaks or lunchtime.

5. Learn to meditate.

Use break time or lunch-hour time for brief periods of meditation. Prayer is a form of meditation. If you are religious, spend a few moments at your desk in quiet prayer.

6. Reduce alcohol intake.

Restrict wine, beer, and other potables to one drink a day, max. Alcohol pushes up your blood pressure and interferes with your sleep. If you’ve been in the habit of having a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, you may find you sleep better if you have water instead. Treat yourself to wine on the weekends and on special days only. Nope…for this purpose, every day is not a special day!

7. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy and do it every day.

Walking the dog is exercise. Climbing three flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator is exercise. Bicycling is exercise. Roller-skating is exercise. Gardening is exercise. You don’t have to spend half the day at these activities or exert yourself to the point of exhaustion. A half-hour of walking goes a long way toward lowering your blood pressure and brightening your outlook.

8. Turn off the television.

The constant flow of violence and disturbing imagery flowing out of our TV sets inundates us with stress, if only on a subliminal level. I find I sleep much better if I don’t watch the idiot box at night.

9. Develop a strategy to pay off debt, create a budget, and keep your financial books up to date.

Money worries form a huge part of the stress we all suffer. Getting a grip on these issues, although it won’t instantly solve your financial problems, will at least help you to feel more control of things. And this will ease your stress.

10. Join a group, totally unrelated to your job, that will get you out of the house and into the company of other people. Examples: church, hiking or bicycling group, pet fanciers’ club, hobbyists’ club, Habitat for Humanity, or some other service group.
Try it! You’ll like it!

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