This is compounded during the winter holiday season, say all the experts. That's right, what should be a joyous time of year often has the opposite effect. Suicides increase during the month of December, as do bouts of depression. It's a time of year when raw family nerves get rubbed, and the hectic pace of holiday activities often pushes the stresses beyond the breaking point.
Add to all this our national anxiety over terrorism, war and a gasping economy. It's not surprising to find many folks on the verge of burning out.
If you're among them, here are some simple stress-relieving tips from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, which operates the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.
1. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier at night. Yeah, I know, easier said than done for busy people. Nonetheless, fatigue makes it that much harder to cope with stressful situations.
2. Read a good book. The Mayo Foundation doesn't expand on this recommendation, but I would recommend avoiding books that are too closely related to work or of bleak subject matter. Read something you want to read, not something you feel you have to read or ought to read.
3. Seek out positive people. Birds of a feather flock together. Hang out with chronic whiners, and the world will seem a joyless, stressful place. Cheerful folks spread a different attitude.
4. Meditate or pray. So what if you're not religious. What do you have to lose!
5. Delay or delegate a non-critical work project. Be realistic. Not everything you do is critical. Set priorities and focus your attention on only the top one or two items.
6. Do volunteer work for a favorite cause or charity. Don't just write a check. Give something of yourself. I can think of no better way to start feeling better about yourself and your activities.
7. Go to a humorous or uplifting movie. About a week after Sept. 11, my wife and I needed relief from the unrelenting bleakness of TV news during that terrible time. We decided to see a movie. There were various flicks we wanted to see, but we were in no mood to endure a couple of hours of wrenching drama. So we settled on "Rat Race," a movie filled with slapstick humor. Most movie critics didn't like it, and it was downright stupid in parts, but it provided plenty of laughs that came as a welcome respite to the gloom and doom that hung over us and our entire nation at this time last year. We walked out of the theater smiling for the first time since the terrorist attacks.
8. Write in a journal. Focus on recording the best things that happen to you each day. Even on the worst days, if you look for positives, you'll find them.
9. Tackle unpleasant tasks early in the day and get them over with. Otherwise, you'll spoil your day by thinking of what's ahead.
10. Eat properly and exercise regularly. Exercise is a particularly good stress reliever.
11. Go with the flow. Not every battle has to be won - or even fought. Give in on issues that are relatively trivial to you. Some things are not worth arguing about, and only the most important things are worth going to war over.
12. Deal with only one thing at a time. I have trouble with this one. For instance, often I find myself trying to talk on the phone and read at the same time. Join me in resolving to heed this advice.
13. Ask help from a partner, friend or co-worker when you feel overwhelmed. As they say, "Pride goeth before the fall."
14. Create a change of pace. Make no plans for an entire day. Maybe work from home that day.
15. Be realistic about how much you can accomplish. You may be asking too much of yourself.
A Little Perspective
Finally, I'd like to add a little more advice of my own. A stress management technique that works for me is simply to pause and put things in perspective.
Personally, I've never bought into all the hype about the business world being particularly stressful. A certain amount of stress goes with the territory if you are to succeed in any walk of life. The more competitive the business, the more stressful you'll find the work, but the financial and personal rewards ought to be a worthwhile tradeoff.
To me, the most stressful life would be one without job satisfaction, and without enough money to support your dependents in a reasonable manner. If this describes you, maybe you need to look for another line of work. But if you like what you're doing and making a decent living at it, take comfort in that. Too many people are out of work for me to feel sorry for myself because of deadlines and other pressures attending my chosen profession.
Instead, this is the time of year to gain satisfaction from spiritual thoughts, and to give thanks for the good life that the vast majority of you reading this are fortunate to lead.