Are you feeling the pressure? We are all under it, these days. As the incoming CEO of a large, national health care organization, I work with men and women who face high-stakes decisions daily that can save lives as well as impact the health and well-being of our members and their families. Often, these decisions must be made in a split second and with little time to second guess. We all experience similar types of work stresses. Then, we head home at the end of the day where we need to make dinner, walk the dog, pay bills, wash dishes, and get ready to start again the next morning. Finding those few minutes to relax – or just breathe – isn’t easy.
Still, if we don’t take the time to “unplug” and separate ourselves from the stress and challenges in our lives, there’s no question the pressure can have lasting, negative consequences on our health. Learning to better manage stress and take better care of ourselves – to make ourselves a priority over job and even family every once and awhile – is one of the most important things we can do to maintain our health and well-being.
We can’t toss aside our responsibilities but we can take steps – even small ones – to better manage stress.
Something I do that you may find helpful is to get up just 30 minutes earlier to fit in exercise or “thinking” time before the day begins. This helps me focus on the day ahead and set goals for what I want to achieve before I go to work. It even helps me as I walk back through my front door at the end of the day because I’ve taken care of my health. Try to resist checking your Smartphone or email until “your” time is over, although this is something I need to work on!
When you get home from a long day at work, take 30 minutes to do something for yourself before diving into home life such as cooking dinner or helping your kids with their homework. Take a brisk walk or quick bike ride around the neighborhood. If your kids have scooters or bikes, invite them to tag along. You’ll be serving as a positive role model and get to spend more quality time with them. And if that 30-minute break seems impossible, then listen to music while you’re driving home – or resist the temptation to answer email on mass transit and instead read a book – to get some “me” time before you get home.
Still other people may prefer to take some “me” time before bed, after the dishes are done and the kids are down for the night. Instead of working on your laptop or checking Facebook on your iPad in bed, dust off that novel on your nightstand. You may also wish to use this time to reflect on the day behind you and what you’d like to accomplish the following day. Using a journal to jot down personal thoughts or musings is a relaxing and refreshing way to end the day.
Although work days are always busy, during work breaks, take a walk outside with a co-worker or pack your lunch and find a bench in the sun where you can enjoy some time alone. Find a quiet space to close your eyes for a while and just breathe.
Finding time for personal appointments can be difficult given demanding schedules – especially since most of us are balancing appointments for ourselves and our children. Often doctor, dental, and optometrist appointments take second billing to hair appointments or car maintenance and repairs.
But, making – and keeping – annual health check-up appointments is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. So many health issues can be invisible to the eye, and early detection can make all the difference in your life. Talk to your physician about the pressures in your life. He or she can help you develop a stress management plan that fits your daily routine, making it more likely you’ll stick to it.
Managing stress takes attention and I wish I could offer a magic solution. We all have unique work and home situations, and what might work for me may not be best for you. They key is finding one or two things you can incorporate into your daily routine that will give you the time you need to disconnect, breathe and appreciate the beautiful moments in life.
Bernard J. Tyson is Incoming Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan, Inc.