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10 Tips to Lower Your Stress Level

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Stressed out? Have a million things to do in the next month? Feeling like you don't know what to do first with projects piled on your desktop? Are deadlines starting to stampede you like a wild herd of buffalos?

In an effort to minimize stress The Peorian and I are devoting a three-part series to minimizing and conquering stress. Each of the three parts will focus on a different aspect, including attitude, leisure hours, and work life. I hope this series will give you some down-to-earth, helpful tips for making 2012 and beyond a little less stressful and more serene.

PART TWO
CONTINUED FROM THE PREVIOUS ISSUE OF THE PEORIAN

Here's a strange paradox: leisure takes some work. Most of us assume that all we need to do is make some free time and we will automatically feel happy and stress free. Unfortunately, things aren't quite that simple.

To really use leisure time as a stress reducer, it is essential that we devote a little time to planning.

Did you know the time Americans spend for vacation has actually shrunk more than a third in the last decade? With all the media and self-help books preaching the importance of self-care and renewal, it appears we are actually doing more work instead of less. Cell phones, IPads, Facebook, Tweets and laptops keep us constantly connected to our work and personal commitments. Being connected creates a situation where others view us as continuously available even when we are on vacation or enjoying a weekend. Our technology keeps us hooked in but limits our time with family, friends and time for personal self-care.

Real leisure time actually involves doing something that is unstructured, spontaneous and relaxing. Too often even our leisure time is rigidly structured and tightly scheduled. We seem to have lost our ability to enjoy being spontaneous. So here are some quick and easy down to earth tips for lowering your stress and enjoying your leisure hours.

1. Exercise: More than 150 studies confirm that exercise is a source of stress reduction. Stress-busting endorphins are pumped into our system every time we exercise. In fact, exercise increases our brain's alpha waves, which is associated with relaxation. Vigorous exercise decreases muscle tension and helps us keep fit. Just 20-30 minutes of exercise three times a week can greatly reduce stress levels.

2. Do less: Many Americans are trying to squeeze too many activities and events into their lives. Parents enroll their children in karate, music lessons and soccer all in the same week. Life becomes activity after activity, with little time for relaxation and leisure. We've become "doers" instead of enjoying life to its fullest. Interestingly, years ago, people would spend a whole day at a park, but today people plan three or four activities on a weekend trying to accomplish everything.

3. Turn off the TV: Statistics show that we spend 40 percent of our leisure time in front of the television, yet more and more people say they feel less relaxed after watching television. Couch potatoes have less intimacy in relationships and tend to feel less energized in life.

4. Share more time with friends: Research indicates that nearly half of us would rather spend time with friends when we are stressed...but do we follow our intuition? Social support is an important factor in lowering stress and increasing our self-esteem. In fact, close relations have shown to not only lower stress but are a factor in lowering the incidence of diseases such as heart attacks and cancer.

5. Turn your work into fun: Statistics show we send about 30 percent of our waking time doing maintenance activities such as showering, dressing, cooking and shopping. So why not make these activities more fun? Play music and dance as you cook. Share your chores with a friend and talk as you shop.

6. Go outside: It has been shown that going outside actually lowers stress by causing our bodies to slow down. In fact, research has shown that watching nature actually helps drop blood pressure and relax our muscles. Research from leading hospitals prove that patients recover faster if they can look out their hospital windows and view nature vs. looking out at a brick wall.

7. Eat better: When stressed, many people eat unhealthy foods, which increase stress. Make sure you watch sugar and caffeine consumption and eat more fruit and vegetables.

8. Put the "vacate" in your vacation: Remember to get away from the office or your job and totally vacate your mind from work situations and work responsibilities. Tell your co-workers you won't be available for questions from the office or business calls and that you will not be connected to Linkedin, Facebook, email, Twitter or other technology during your vacation. Remember the essentials of a real vacation — companionship, laughter, reflection, making time for your dreams, and being spontaneous.

9. De-Junk your home: "Stuff" creates more stress...with the average household accumulating 300 pages of paper a day! Throw out those broken vacuums, the abandoned coffeepot, and the two-year old catalog and you will notice a huge reduction in stress by de-cluttering your life.

10. Get a pet: Research shows that people with pets have lower stress levels, colds, flu, backaches and diseases. Studies have proven that people who own pets make fewer visits to doctors for physical complaints than non-pet owners. So perhaps a bird, a cat, a dog or a lizard is in your future.

The key to stress reduction is realizing that you are important and it's necessary for you to renew and revitalize yourself every day. Whether you decide to take a walk, make time to read that new book you bought or do a little yoga, it is important that you balance your life with time for leisure and self care.

Just how much do you know about stress?
Here is another simple quiz to check you knowledge. (True or False)

1. Research has proven that exercising three times a week for 20 minutes will reduce our anxiety and tension.

2. Watching television three hours a day will minimize our tension and stress levels.

3. Inviting friends for dinner appears to strengthen the immune system and boost our protection from colds for up to two days.

Answers:1.-True 2.-False 3.-True

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