Exercise, hobbies, small rituals can ease stress

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Published: April 10,2006

Stress is a part of our lives. Although there may be people who have less stress than others, we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t experience it. Ways of dealing with stress and keeping it at bay vary but some busy professionals are doing just that.

Keith Bates of Madison has worked for 22 years in the hectic world of advertising. Now senior vice president with Maris, West & Baker of Jackson, Bates supervises account services in addition to the day-to-day management of some accounts. His long time interest in cars, listening to smooth jazz, running and lifting weights three times a week keep him on an even keel.

“Running allows you quality ‘me time.’ You’re totally alone with your thoughts,” he said. “I’ve solved many issues while running at 6 a.m. Waxing and polishing my car is a labor of love. It’s not work at all and, perhaps best of all, it requires very little brain power. It’s also very gratifying, especially if you’re a little obsessive/compulsive.”

In addition to driving a 1998 Corvette, the 51-year-old Bates collects toy cars, is a member of the Mississippi Classic Cruisers car club and is co-founder of a classic car show in Madison.

“I love collecting toy cars. My mother once told me I would out grow them, but I never did and I hope I never do,” he said.

Bates, who earned an art degree from Mississippi State University, enjoys running in 5K and 10K events too. Two of his most memorable races included running across the Mississippi River Bridge and through the hills of the Vicksburg Military Park. “My running career will be complete when I run across the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said.

Running also plays a major role in managing stress for Dr. Eugene McNally, a family practitioner in Gulfport.

“Exercise and that animal,” he said, pointing to his eight-year-old golden retriever, Finn. “We walk all the time and I take him to the park. You have to have hobbies and you have to get your mind off work. People who do well are able to deal with stress before it gets too intense.”

The affable Finn is a fixture around McNally’s clinic and well known to the physician’s patients. McNally, 47, has practiced for 18 years. He is happy that his clinic escaped destruction from Hurricane Katrina and that all four employees returned. Together they were able to get the practice up and running quickly after the storm, as soon as the building had electrical power.

“I see a different spirit on the Coast. People are working together,” McNally said. “My patients are much more appreciative of what we do and there’s more loyalty.”

He said he spends more time with patients and much of that is dealing with social and emotional issues of recovery. That makes it even more important for him to maintain his exercise routine to deal with his own stress.

Professional training creates expectations that we’re supposed to work hard to be successful and mistakes are not to be made, says Phillip Hemphill, clinical director of the Professional Enhancement Program at Pine Grove, a facility of Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg.

“Professionals often don’t reach out for support,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition out there and they feel they must be perfect. These are some of the variables that create stress.”

He says conquering stress is an issue of boundaries and not allowing work to spill over into other parts of life. “People see that spillover as normal and don’t set boundaries. That’s partly because our identity is tied up with our work,” he said.

Hemphill advises rituals to separate work and home life. It could be as simple as changing clothes upon arriving home or having a few moments of silence to transition from one part of life to another.

“Even when driving to pick up the kids, you could turn off the radio and have some silence,” he said. “People define rituals their own way. I switch my work and personal keys from one pocket to another to help make the transition.”

Hemphill also recommends taking care of oneself physically, something often neglected by hard working professionals. “Exercise, even stretching in the office, is good,” he said. “You can close your eyes and visualize a place that’s very tranquil to you for five minutes and that can give the same level of relaxation as taking a nap. Even taking a break and going to the bathroom is helpful during the day.”

Spirituality, integrity and being genuine, Hemphill feels, help create centeredness in life and a sense of well being that ease stress.

He urges employers to be committed to healthy issues in the workplace and to having routine team meetings to find out what’s going on with employees. “These things will help create less stress,” he added.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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