How to Stay Calm and Focused On Insanely Busy Days
Any shrink can give you stress-reduction techniques—but we wanted to know what really works.
So we turned to five men we admire—successful doctors and researchers whose to-do lists are as baffling as their C.V.s—to find out how they manage to thrive under pressure. Here, a few of Men’s Health’s top advisors reveal what works for them.
PUT YOUR HEALTH FIRST
David L. Katz, M.D.
Founding Director, The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center
One of his favorite stress-relievers: Hugging his wife and kids.
If all those healthy habits sound like a lot of work, Dr. Katz says they actually have a snowball effect: “Sleeping well helps me have the energy to exercise, which in turn helps relieve stress further and sharpen my mind. I often get work done inside my head while exercising.”
DON’T WASTE ENERGY ON THINGS THAT ARE OUT OF YOUR CONTROL
Travis Stork, M.D.
Emergency physician; host, The Doctors
“It was easy to get overwhelmed early in my career, but I’ve learned to focus my energy on the things I can control and let go of those that I cannot,” says Dr. Stork, who works in the high-pressure worlds of medicine and television.
When things are particularly stressful, he’ll turn his attention inward to regroup. “I take time to take a few deep breaths throughout the day, which is a big help,” he says.
Dr. Stork also exercises every day, even when he’s swamped. “My secret: I started biking to work when I was in my twenties, and to this day I bike almost everywhere, whether it be to work, the gym, or the grocery store.”
Mark S. Wolff, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Family practice dentist in Stony Brook, N.Y.; professor at New York University College of Dentistry
Dr. Wolff’s strategy for reducing stress at work is simple: “I count on knowing my subject really well—better than many around me,” he says. “I read journals on my area of expertise voraciously.”
Of course, everyone gets caught off guard once in a while. And when that happens, Dr. Wolff, once again, has a straightforward, stress-free solution: “I’m prepared to say, ‘I don't know, but I will find out.’”
He admits to not getting as much exercise or sleep as he should, largely due to his demanding schedule—something you can probably relate to. So when things get especially hectic, he takes what he can get.
“I try to walk to work and take the stairs,” he says. “That helps me focus. I also take time to do the things that I like to do when I can, like working around my home or boat, gardening, construction, or engine work.”
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR STRESS, THEN MOVE ON
Adnan Nasir, M.D., Ph.D.
Dermatologist in Raleigh, N.C.
Before Dr. Nasir even attempts to tackle the stress he’s feeling in a given situation, he tries to understand it.
“I find it’s not enough to just say a situation is stressful or overwhelming,” he says.
Thinking through the details can help put the stress in perspective and your mind at ease.
“What exactly is causing the stress?” he asks himself. “Deadlines? Multiple tasks? How does it make me feel? Anxious? Annoyed? Overwhelmed?”
Then he talks himself through the situation, starting with the acknowledgement that, yes, it is stressful—but also manageable.
“I follow that with a brief pep talk, like, ‘You can do this,’ or, ‘That’s nothing to worry about.’” And then he moves on.
NEVER, EVER SKIP YOUR WORKOUT
Alexander Koch, Ph.D.
Professor of exercise science at Lenoir-Rhyne University; USA Weightlifting coach
“My best advice is to be aware that making time to exercise will make you more productive doing all the other things you are obligated to do,” Koch says.
Exercise has a powerful balancing influence on your brain’s neurotransmitters.
(For the incredible science of how exercise boosts your brainpower, read The Genius Of Cardio.)
“One effect of this is that exercise improves concentration, so if I skip workouts because I am ‘too busy,’ I find I get less done at work than if I stick to my routine.”