By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
People often ask how I manage stress being the publisher of two newspapers. I often say, “If you love what you do, you don’t feel the stress.”
But that’s not exactly true. If you have deadlines week after week, it wouldn’t be much fun year after year. Even though I love what I do, the amount of work I am dealing with is enormous. Some friends suggest that I should hire more to help me with the job. A small business owner often faces this dilemma—making ends meet. If I had a large staff, I wouldn’t be able to meet payroll.
So I have developed some solutions to lighten my duties and also enlighten myself during stressful times. But first, the questions: What kind of lifestyle should I adopt if I need to manage stress constantly and unexpectedly? What causes pain and tension in my neck and shoulder and back? What ruins my energy? What kind of food should I eat so my body can resist illness? How do I identify the sources of my stress and what do I do to prevent it? How do I relax when dealing with crisis after crisis?
The answers lie in my years of experiencing demands from readers, customers, staff, family and community and then finding solutions to balance with my health and well-being.
1. Consider deadlines your allies, not enemies
Deadlines induce pressure. Working with deadlines is indeed stressful. That is why I often admire folks who thrive under pressure. They are my role models.
Over time, I have re-programmed my brain to appreciate the meaning of deadlines—it requires goal-setting and vision-forming. It shows we are getting things done and building more and more achievements every week. It gives us opportunities to create a remarkable product, and make a difference in the community every week. “Deadlines” are allies, not enemies. Changing perspective is an excellent strategy when working under stress. We have to get both our papers published every week, so we might as well embrace the deadlines and the energy it creates. It turns into a seamless process instead of a stressful process.
Sometimes, I even extend deadlines for our special editions so we can accomplish more. Being flexible helps us to see solutions and possibilities.
2. Eliminate long meetings
Sitting in a long meeting, using computers and smartphones to get work done, are sources of stress. Most of the meetings take more time than necessary. Productive meetings require an efficient agenda and a task-oriented chairperson. Background information should be sent prior to meetings. When an organization does not prepare its homework before it begins, it wastes everyone’s time. Meetings are designed to make decisions.
Many take meetings as a way of “catching up” rather than discussing the real intent of the meeting. You can catch up, but do it after important tasks are accomplished.
Limiting my meetings to no more than an hour helps to manage my stress level.
3. Incorporate work with discovery
I love to cover events for the Asian Weekly and the Chinese Post. Covering events provides me the freedom to walk around and mingle with people. I hate sitting in one spot for too long.
With my camera, I get to discover the unknown, meet new people, and initiate conversation (and new ideas).
Everyday, I take three breaks to walk 10-15 minutes for exercise, sunshine and fresh air. Sunlight boosts serotonin, a feel-good hormone. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have found that you can fight stress naturally by simply stepping outside on a sunny day.
A person can easily feel stressed being cooped up in an office without enough oxygen. A study also shows that walking activates the brain and improves memory,
In the office, I try hard to communicate to my staff face-to-face instead of sending an email. I use every excuse to get out of my chair and move and stretch. I don’t shop online unless I really need to.
Every night, I walk for 20-30 minutes before I go to bed.
5. Experience nature
Studies have also found that the color green produces a soothing effect on people’s brain.
The 12 plants in my living room (and several more in the Asian Weekly’s office), help me to de-stress. I enjoy grocery shopping every day to get fresh veggies and fruits. The smell and color of produce energize me. Most doctors would advise people who live with stress to tend to a garden. It works magic.
Every weekend, I hike around forests, lakes and trails to explore, think and breathe. It helps with my mental and physical health.
6. Get a good night’s sleep
Restful sleep is important to deal with daily struggles, especially in the media business.
It is not easy for people with stressful jobs to get a good night’s sleep. Their minds are still busy when they go to bed.
Most health gurus would recommend you to meditate at least five minutes a day to calm your mind. Sometimes, massages and acupuncture work well too.
Years ago, my yoga teacher taught me, when you are in bed, make a mental box outside your body, put all your problems inside the box, and then lock them up.
This tip takes long practice—because you are the only one who has the key to unlock the box. Learn how to be captain of your actions and master of your thoughts.
7. Eat healthy—food cures stress
I often study how food can affect our mind and body. To make sure I stay healthy, I don’t eat much junk food. That includes deep-fried stuff, and I don’t drink alcohol either. If I get sick, how can I do my job? I eat lots of nuts, lean meat, and lots of fish and veggies.
When I read flaxseeds are good for us. I immediately started taking one flaxseed pill daily. And I started eating blueberries, salmon, and eggs. Those are all in my diet now. Vitamin B12 is vital to our nervous system. And yes, I take that too.
8. Have hobbies
Most workaholics give up their playtime for work. That’s wrong. You have to find your passion besides work. Don’t let work define who you are.
I love to travel. I wouldn’t forfeit my vacations for work no matter how busy I am.
Embrace your hobbies. If you don’t have any, discover some. It makes a difference and balances out your work life.
9. Give back
Don’t focus on yourself. Focus on service, and helping others.
Helping others bring joy. When you see someone else happy, it will make you happy.
Laughter is the best medicine
People usually forget to laugh on a busy or bad day. Laughter boosts our mood quickly. Don’t tell me to watch violence and horror movies—comedies are my favorites for releasing tension.
Dr. Oz, TV personality, said we shouldn’t forget to smile when stressed—it will dissolve the tension on your cheeks.
So smile, and laugh on your tough days, because life is never a bowl of cherries.
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.