A lecturer on stress management raised a glass of water and asked, "How heavy is this?" Answers from the audience ranged from 20 to 500 grams.
"The absolute weight doesn't matter," replied the lecturer. "It depends on how long you try to hold it.
"If I hold it for a minute," he said, "that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."
The lecturer continued: "That's the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on. As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden."
I used this story in my column nine years ago, and I feel it's just as important today. So when you leave work today, put the burden of work down. Don't carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you're carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can. Relax -- pick them up later after you've rested. Life is short; enjoy it.
Stress is part of life. A certain amount of stress is normal, even useful. Deadlines are stressful for many, but they also motivate people to finish projects and even feel a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes such pressure is effective in fostering teamwork -- the notion that we're all in this together. Team members share the stress, empathize with each other and feed off each other's energy.
That's the upside of stress. But when stress results from overwork, unreasonable demands and impossible expectations, it can affect everything from customer relations to personal problems to health issues. Can anything be worth that?
While your mind may still be on a holiday schedule, you may not feel ready to get back into the groove. Your job (and your boss) won't wait, though. Here's how to get past the holiday bustle and New Year's doldrums:
-- Review your goals. Look back at what you accomplished the previous year. What remains to be done? Spend some time setting new objectives for the coming 12 months. This should help you get charged up for the future.
-- Adjust your energy level. Log your activities for a few days and identify tasks that waste time and leave you feeling drained. Eliminate what you can, and look for strategies to manage what you're stuck with.
-- Set priorities. Look at what's most important to get done now. Achieving a fresh goal will improve your spirits and remind you of what you're good at.
-- Commit to a work/life balance. Make one of your resolutions to balance the demands of your job and your personal life more equitably. You'll be less likely to crash after a holiday if you're not stressed out before it begins.
-- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep diminishes your ability to deal with stress. Seven or eight hours of sleep every night will help you stay calm and patient throughout the day.
-- Resist the urge to vent. Expressing your feelings isn't the same as losing control. Lashing out at others can intensify your sense of frustration, especially if you can't do anything about the situation. Focus on solving problems without exploding.
-- Find your stress triggers. By observing what's likely to make you nervous, impatient or angry, you'll be able to head off an ugly incident with your co-workers.
-- Exercise. Regular exercise keeps you healthier overall. Start slowly, if you need to. Low-impact exercises such as yoga can help you relax your mind as well as your body.
-- Recognize the symptoms. If you're suffering from warning signs like lingering headaches, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating or stomach problems, you may be hiding from a very real threat to your health. Pay attention to what your body is telling you before stress takes its toll.
And if all else fails, just remember: Stressed spelled backward is desserts.
Mackay's Moral: Don't let excess stress get in the way of extreme success.