by Susan Andrews, PhD
New Years’ Resolution: This Year I’ve Got to Manage Stress Better
It’s that special time of the year when we make those statements about our goals for better living for the coming year. I don’t know about you, but every time I make a resolution that resolution that involves diet or exercise or work habits, I tend to forget that I even made such a resolution by mid-March. Life happens, and we adapt and move on. The first thing to go for many people is exercise unless you are one of those people who have been focused on exercise and have made it a full-blown habit. Stress takes a big toll on most professionals who are building a career. Consider making a 2019 Resolution to manage your stress better this year. It will improve your health and your happiness.
Habits are very stubborn things. It is tough to break a habit. But, it is even tougher to build a new habit. A few new books have even been written about how to build good habits and keep them going strong. I recommend The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (2014). This book was a New York Times Bestseller and available many places.
Developing a habit is like making a decision and then working to make it “automatic” behavior, things you do without planning them first or even thinking about them or making a list. Duhigg asked some great beginning questions in the prologue: What is the first thing you do in the morning? Hop in the shower? Brush your teeth? Grab your cell phone and check your messages? Duhigg’s basic message is that habits can be changed if you understand how they work.
William James wrote in 1892: “All of our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” Whereas many of our habits get in our way and keep us in a loop, developing strong positive habits can make you more productive and effective at what you want to do.
Pick out one or two ways that you want to try to manage your stress better on a daily basis. We have gone over a large number of them. Don’t try to do too many at once. You are more likely to be successful if you start with one or two relaxation techniques that do not take a huge amount of time and that you think will really work for you. If successful, you can always add more down the line.
The key to building any new habit, even taking frequent relaxation breaks, is to repeat the new behavior frequently so that it can become an established pattern or link in your nervous system. Developing a habit basically means that a behavior becomes more or less automatic for you. Various experts offering advice on how long it takes to build a habit agree that it takes frequent repetition for 14 to 21 days. That means you have to be very aware of and conscious of repeating the same behavior each day multiple times. Any person who has made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight or start an exercise regimen knows that if you miss even a few days in the beginning of trying to start a new habit, you are probably not going to succeed. The old expression “just wait till next year” may come from that. There is no time like the present to start building a new habit of working with stress solutions. So, I leave you with the following message: This is a good time to take a relaxation break.