Feel like you’re stretched to the breaking point? Is the stress of day-to-day life on the verge of killing you? We empathize. Life has a way of piling up until it’s almost hard to breathe. Between work deadlines, family dynamics, hormonal changes, traffic, financial challenges, health issues, taxes and everything else that needs to get dealt with, it’s no wonder stress is getting the better of us.
Well, it’s time to stop bitching about your stressful life and just take a breath and embrace it. Believe it or not, stress is actually good for you—if you know how to manage it, that is. According to psychologists Dana Gionta, Ph.D., and Dan Guerra, Psy.D., authors of the new book From Stressed to Centred, we all need a little stress to survive.
In small doses, stress can help us be better test takers, get more done in a quicker amount of time, and perform better at work and sports. But there’s a healthy limit, and the key is to be able to diffuse stress before it shuts you down. Here are some smart ways to keep stress at a healthy level so you can use it to become a more centred, more productive you.
10 WAYS TO COPE WITH STRESS
1. Mind the Body. Despite shape, size, or age, when we really tune into it, this body we have is amazing and wonderful and it is also a place where stress often likes to land hard. Headaches, neck and back pain, restless legs, stomach ailments, and heart palpitations are all signs that stress or the long-term effects of stress are at work. Minding the body begins with turning our focus to it. With practice on body focus, we can discover where stress resides and then how to address it effectively.
2. Watch Your Language. Many times we use language that signals DANGER to us. When we say out loud or think “Oh My God” or “This is Terrible” or “What a Nightmare,” we are unintentionally giving our bodies the message that the situation is dangerous. Our body begins to prepare for a fight or flight response, which then increases our stress—mentally and physically. What can you do? Begin observing your language and noticing how often you use threatening or extreme words. Intentionally replace such words with more neutral or perspective-centered words.
3. What do you think? You are not your mind. So many of us operate in this life in a way that over focuses on thoughts, thinking, and the activity of the mind. Have you ever considered that thoughts and the thinker are two separate entities? We do not have to be slaves to the process of thinking by over focusing, chasing, and making meaning out of all the thoughts that pass through our heads.
4. Put Things Into Perspective. Do you worry and become stressed with the same frequency and intensity no matter what the occasion? If being late to meet a friend for coffee and receiving a call that your house just flooded stress you out the same way, you may need a dose of perspective taking. No one but you can judge the importance of any one event, but knowing which events are worth investing in emotionally and which ones are really not worry-worthy is good discernment. Make a list with two columns (at least two) and get to work!
5. It’s right under your nose. Take a breath. It turns out the old adage of taking a breath and counting to 10 has more wisdom in it than we may realize. Conventional wisdom and now even science and medicine have come to realize that there is power in the breath to manage stress and anxiety and promote good overall health. Consider learning some breath control exercises from a qualified practitioner. After all, accessing the breath is right under our nose.
6. Set Boundaries. We can think of a boundary as a limit defining you in relationship to something or someone. Boundaries serve several key functions. They help to protect us, to clarify what is and isn’t our responsibility, to preserve our physical and emotional energy, and to identify and honour our needs and limits. Not setting or maintaining our boundaries often leads to increased stress, anxiety, feelings of overwhelm and resentment.
7. Get Out of Limbo. Being in a state of limbo is stress-inducing. If you find yourself in a situation or in a relationship that feels like it is in limbo, and has been for awhile, it is very likely you are experiencing increased stress as a result. Be proactive and make a decision to get out of limbo as soon as possible. The act of deciding will bring immediate relief. Then create a plan to help you transition from limbo to taking action toward the path of greater health and happiness.
8. Give Yourself Permission. That’s right. Permission. Many times we know what would help us feel better. However, we often don’t act on it because we don’t give ourselves permission. Whether it is to take a break, do something fun, engage in some R&R or set a needed boundary, our default tendency is to say no to ourselves. The four most common self-care saboteurs are feelings of guilt, self-indulgence, false beliefs of not enough time, or waiting until our responsibilities are done. Okay. Permission is granted. What is the first thing you are going to do?
9. Hit The Slow Button. Our mind and body regularly communicate with each other. When we are stressed or anxious, we have a tendency to speed up. We talk faster than usual, walk, eat and even breath faster. This inadvertently gives the body the message to shift into high gear, contributing to us feeling increased stress. One of the best strategies to reduce your level of stress in the moment is intentionally slowing everything down—your speech, your pace of walking, your rate of breathing and anything else you find yourself doing fast. Slowing down gives both the mind and body the powerful message that there is no imminent threat, resulting in almost immediate calmer state. The next time you are rushing someplace around, consider experimenting by intentionally hitting the slow button and observe what you notice.
10. Don’t Resist, Persist! Many obstacles can get in the way of managing stress better. Sometimes we avoid starting something new because we don’t believe it will help. Other times, you may believe that you are too busy to learn stress management skills. There may even be a lack of awareness as to the level of stress at this time in your life. Whatever the case, managing stress begins with only one small step, one small change in behaviour that often improves once you start seeing some results. It is better to commit to taking one full, deep breath per day on the road to stress management than it is to do nothing. That’s for sure.
From Stressed to Centered – A Practical Guide to a Healthier and Happier You authors Dana Gionta, Ph.D., and Dan Guerra, Psy.D. are both clinical psychologists and executive coaches in the New York City metro and Tri-state area. With a combined 30+ years of behaviour change expertise, they have joined forces to write this powerful guide to help you shift your own behaviour so you can be in better control of your own life.