Thursday, October 2, 2014

Stress During Crunch Time: 3 Things to Keep Productivity Flowing Without Sacrificing Your Health

Some contend that we are in the midst of an epidemic of stress. Stress used to be a “good” thing and it still can be, given the appropriate situation. Once upon a time, the collection of responses that stress triggers in our body was designed to save our lives – and sometimes it still does. Running at lightening speed, lifting an astounding amount of weight, heightened senses of sight and sound are all life-saving reactions when the body perceives that it is under attack and needs these measures as a means of defense.

But did you know that this system does not differentiate between the “being chased by a wild animal” type of stress and the “I’m late for an important appointment and now must sit at a stand-still on the interstate because of a car wreck” form of stress that is more common today? Deadlines, investor meetings, product pitches, caffeine consumption, and marathon creative collaboration sessions can produce stress, no matter what their nature of origin or outcome.

When the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenalin are not put to use as a means of defense (and subsequently “burned off”), they become toxins in the body. Additionally, during times of stress, the more “mundane” bodily functions are put on hold for the sake of focusing all energy possible on those involved in “fight or flight” – like heightened strength, speed, and agility. Functions not necessary for immediate survival include reproduction, immunity, and digestion. It’s little wonder that many highly driven people often report suffering from ailments related to these very things.

Here are three simple things that you can do to keep the harmful effects of stress at bay:

  1. Spend at least 15 minutes outside in direct sun every day. It sounds too simplistic to provide any earth-shattering results, but exposure to sunlight causes your body to produce vitamin D – a nutrient responsible for safeguarding your immune system and a key component in building strong bones. Can you spare 15 minutes a day in exchange for staying out of your sickbed? Studies have found that people suffering from the flu are deficient in this important nutrient. A fortified immune system lessens your chance of getting sick, avoiding the distraction of coughs and colds, keeps you at the peak of your productive game, and saves you from being THE guy who made everyone else at the meeting sick.
  2. Eat smart. Avoid that last minute ravenous hunger that happens when you skip breakfast, work through lunch, and graze on sweets along side your bottomless cup of coffee. Instead of chips, fries, or other nutrient-poor foods, non-perishable portable healthy foods like carrot sticks, raw nuts, apples, and boiled eggs are great to-go foods that do more than take up space in your stomach – they bring you sustenance that can allow you to have consistent energy levels and remain focused. A quick morning smoothie that skips the sweeteners, but focuses on a combination of fruit AND vegetables is an easy way to get fortified for a busy day on the go. Keep a few reheatable favorite healthy recipes in your meal rotation so that something decent is always waiting for you after a long day spent working. By using fresh, nutrient-dense foods to keep your blood-sugar levels consistent, your energy and focus can remain more consistent, too.
  3. MOVE. This is an important yet overlooked component to staying well. It’s easy during crunch-time to sit for hours on end focusing on a looming project deadline, but recent studies show that a regular habit of sitting for long periods of time actually shortens length of life. While it may seem counterproductive to get up and walk away from your desk when you are on a creative roll, you must. Set the timer on your phone to remind you to get up and move. Walking briskly for 15 minutes at a time, three or four times during your workday can help keep your circulation working properly and can actually trigger a greater sense of creativity once you return to your project. Also consider holding “walking meetings” when meeting with one or two other people (any more than that, and it can be tough to communicate with the entire group) where you stroll around the office park, your neighborhood, or even at a nearby trail. Often, walking for 15 minutes (sans phone or any other electronic device) can actually trigger activity in parts of your brain that encourage problem solving and creativity. Don’t think of movement as something that takes you away from work, instead, view it as an important ingredient in creating higher-quality work.

By approaching the management of potential stress in a proactive manner you are better able to perform at peak-level, producing top-notch output from a place of greater health, happiness, and overall wellbeing!

Author Elly Haddad is a certified holistic health and wellness coach, yoga instructor, and founder of Elemental Fit, based in Nashville, TN. She helps individuals and groups understand the important influence that diet & lifestyle have on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Elly is also a writer and public speaker, conducting workshops and seminars throughout the US. She can be contacted directly via email here.

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