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Mastering Stress Management

If you don’t get a handle on your stress it will take over.

March 22, 2011  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Information might be traveling at the speed of light but solutions rarely do. There was a time when getting something done immediately was manageable by prioritizing or using project management, but it's becoming more and more difficult.

Take for example my experience after a recent six-day vacation. Upon my return I had eight tasks waiting for me in addition to what I'd already been working on when I'd left. These included an internal investigation I had to conduct, creating a sample policy for the part-time tactical flight officer program I had suggested, and helping to make breakfast for our section the next day. Being new to the unit, I didn't know the breakfast was something the captain did every year around the holidays. The point is, no matter how caught up we think we are, or how good we are at putting out fires, it just never seems to end.

The Key

The best advice I ever got for dealing with stress came from a sergeant major I knew while serving on active duty with the Army. He worked out every day and looked very impressive for someone in his late 50s. He was never sick and had the energy of a four-year-old high on candy. He told me the secret was to make time for yourself every day.

He impressed upon me that no one would take care of me unless I took care of me. He also taught me one of my management mantras that I still use today: It's either an emergency or it's not. Since there are very few real emergencies, then you have the time. Finding what to do with that time then becomes the question.

Unconventional Solutions

Instead of the traditional Western advice to take time off, eat right, exercise, get enough rest, and drink chamomile tea, let's look at how the Eastern half of the world deals with stress. A significant part of the day there includes focused training, an idea that is finally starting to catch on here in the West.

For centuries in Eastern traditions, the benefits of Qigong (pronounced chi-kung) techniques have been well known. Now, experts in Western medicine and psychology have verified its effectiveness. Qigong is a series of postures or simple movements that combine deep breathing and relaxation techniques. It helps center you by improving your mind and body connection. The postures move every joint, work your full range of motion, and are considered low-impact exercise. What you may not know is that Qigong dates back to the 12th century and is the foundation for many internal Chinese martial arts like Bagua, Hsing-I, and the most well known, Tai Chi.

Tai Chi is both martial art and a system of gentle physical exercise. To do Tai Chi, you perform a series of movements in a slow and seamless manner, each posture flowing into the next without stopping (not as easy as you might think). You are moving while doing this and you often squat, bend, turn, and jump. It's not unlike other types of martial arts forms training. By adding breathing techniques, the Tai Chi movements become a form of Qigong and create another great way to reduce your stress.

You Already Do Qigong

You already practice deep breathing automatically while you sleep. All of your body's healing and rebuilding occurs during that time. Deep breathing helps to increase oxygen flow to your vital organs. It helps cleanse, nourish, and heal them. Purposefully exercising in this way is therefore an extension of something you already do naturally.

When you practice Qigong or Tai Chi, it makes you live in the moment by focusing all of your attention on the movements and the breathing. This helps you push the world aside for a while, which is exactly what you need. Everyone needs a time out, a chance to decompress and unwind. By the end of a training session you feel relaxed, focused, and have an enhanced sense of well-being. I know this to be true because it's how I start my day. The only time I don't is when I'm sick or injured.

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