People who stay busy (even with pointless tasks) tend to be happier than those who don’t.
Stress is inevitable. It walks in and out of our lives on a regular basis. And it can easily walk all over us unless we take action. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize and cope with stress. Here are 10 ideas for handling stress without causing more strain and hassle.
1. Figure out where the stress is coming from.
Oftentimes, when we’re stressed, it seems like a big mess with stressors appearing from every angle. We start to feel like we’re playing a game of dodgeball, ducking and darting so we don’t get smacked by a barrage of balls. We take a defensive position, and not a good one at that.
Instead of feeling like you’re flailing day to day, identify what you’re actually stressed about. Is it a specific project at work, an upcoming exam, a dispute with your boss, a heap of laundry, a fight with your family?
By getting specific and pinpointing the stressors in your life, you’re one step closer to getting organized and taking action.
2. Consider what you can control—and work on that.
While you can’t control what your boss does, what your in-laws say or the sour state of the economy, you can control how you react, how you accomplish work, how you spend your time and what you spend your money on.
The worst thing for stress is trying to take control over uncontrollable things. Because when you inevitably fail — since it’s beyond your control — you only get more stressed out and feel helpless. So after you’ve thought through what’s stressing you out, identify the stressors that you can control, and determine the best ways to take action.
Take the example of a work project. If the scope is stressing you out, talk it over with your supervisor or break the project down into step-wise tasks and deadlines.
Stress can be paralyzing. Doing what’s within your power moves you forward and is empowering and invigorating.
3. Do what you love.
It’s so much easier to manage pockets of stress when the rest of your life is filled with activities you love. Even if your job is stress central, you can find one hobby or two that enrich your world. What are you passionate about? If you’re not sure, experiment with a variety of activities to find something that’s especially meaningful and fulfilling.
4. Manage your time well.
One of the biggest stressors for many people is the lack of time. Their to-do list expands while time flies. How often have you wished for more hours in the day or heard others lament their lack of time? But you’ve got more time than you think, as Laura Vanderkam writes in her aptly titled book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
We all have the same 168 hours, and yet there are plenty of people who are dedicated parents and full-time employees and who get at least seven hours of sleep a night and lead fulfilling lives.
5. Create a toolbox of techniques.
One stress-shrinking strategy won’t work for all your problems. For instance, while deep breathing is helpful when you’re stuck in traffic or hanging at home, it might not rescue you during a business meeting.
Because stress is complex, “What we need is a toolbox that’s full of techniques that we can fit and choose for the stressor in the present moment,” said Richard Blonna, Ed.D, a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Help You Live a Busy Yet Balanced Life.
6. Pick off the negotiable tasks from your plate.
Review your daily and weekly activities to see what you can pick off your plate. As Vanderkam asks in her book: “Do your kids really love their extracurricular activities or are they doing them to please you? Are you volunteering for too many causes and so stealing time from the ones where you could make the most impact? Does your whole department really need to meet once per week or have that daily conference call?”
Blonna suggested asking these questions: “Do [my activities] mesh with my goals and values? Am I doing things that give my life meaning? Am I doing the right amount of things?”
Reducing your stack of negotiable tasks can greatly reduce your stress.
7. Are you leaving yourself extra vulnerable to stress?
Whether you perceive something as a stressor depends in part on your current state of mind and body. That is, as Blonna said, “Each transaction we’re involved in takes place in a very specific context that’s affected by our health, sleep, psychoactive substances, whether we’ve had breakfast [that day] and [whether we’re] physically fit.”
So if you’re not getting sufficient sleep or physical activity during the week, you may be leaving yourself extra susceptible to stress. When you’re sleep-deprived, sedentary and filled to the brim with coffee, even the smallest stressors can have a huge impact.
8. Preserve good boundaries.
If you’re a people-pleaser, saying no feels like you’re abandoning someone, have become a terrible person or are throwing all civility out the window. But of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Plus, those few seconds of discomfort are well worth avoiding the stress of taking on an extra activity or doing something that doesn’t contribute value to your life.
One thing I’ve noticed about productive, happy people is that they’re very protective of their time and having their boundaries crossed. But not to worry: Building boundaries is a skill you can learn.
9. Realize there’s a difference between worrying and caring.
Sometimes, our mindset can boost stress, so a small issue mushroom into a pile of problems. We continue worrying, somehow thinking that this is a productive — or at least inevitable — response to stress. But we mistake worry for action.
Clinical psychologist Chad LeJeune, Ph.D., talks about the idea of worrying versus caring in his book, The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Worrying is an attempt to exert control over the future by thinking about it, whereas caring is taking action. When we are caring for someone or something, we do the things that support or advance the best interests of the person or thing that we care about.
LeJeune uses the simple example of houseplants. He writes: “If you are away from home for a week, you can worry about your houseplants every single day and still return home to find them brown and wilted. Worrying is not watering.”
Similarly, fretting about your finances does nothing but get you worked up (and likely prevent you from taking action). Caring about your finances, however, means creating a budget, paying bills on time, using coupons and reducing how often you dine out.
Just this small shift in mindset from worrying to caring can help you adjust your reaction to stress. To see this distinction between worrying and caring, try this activity where you can list responses for each one. For example:
Worrying about your health involves…
Caring about your health involves…
Worrying about your career involves…
Caring about your career involves…
10. Embrace mistakes—or at least don’t drown in perfectionism.
Another mindset that can exacerbate stress is perfectionism. Trying to be mistake-free and essentially spending your days walking on eggshells is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Talk about putting pressure on yourself! And as we all know but tend to forget: Perfectionism is impossible and not human, anyway.
As the researcher, Brene Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth and it’s not self-improvement.”
Nothing good can come from perfectionism. Brown writes: “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life-paralysis [‘all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect’].”
Plus, mistake-mistaking can lead to growth. To overcome perfectionism, Brown suggests becoming more compassionate toward yourself. I couldn’t agree more.
People who stay busy, even with pointless tasks and activity, tend to be happier than those who do not.
Stress has become very common in today’s faced-paced society. Financial circumstances, monotonous work, and other environmental factors can make for a very stressful existence. There are many ways to cope with the stress life can bring. Many of us rely on strategies that may seem effective in the short term but often have dire consequences to our long term health and well being. Learning safer and more effective ways of managing stress is essential to living a healthy and long life. One of the most effective ways of coping with stress is emotion focused coping.
What is Emotion Focused Coping?
Emotion focused coping is a way of training your mind to focus less stressful thoughts and more on the positive aspects of your life and circumstances. In this way we can force our mind and emotions to remain more positive thereby reducing stress. It may take some time to learn these techniques but with enough practice emotion focused coping can become second nature. The idea is based on the premise that the mind cannot work with two contradicting emotions at the same time. This means we cannot be happy and sad simultaneously. Instead of allowing your mind to dwell on the negative, producing greater negativity and stress there are many things you can do to guide your thinking back to the positive side of things. Some examples include:
1. Keeping Your Mind Busy.
Being busy and involved in different tasks helps in reducing stress. Stress often occurs when a person is sitting idle thinking about past or future experiences. We all tend to naturally dwell on the negative aspects of our experiences. In a attempt to problem solve many of us tend to resort to worrying. This is a highly stressful activity. A busy mind cannot focus on negative thoughts and by staying busy we can avoid stressful moments. Divert attention from stressful issues by watching television, surfing the internet, or spending time with friends who are positive distractions. Find opportunities to laugh. This reduces stress-causing chemicals in body, improving both mental and physical health. You can also try to play some games or read books to divert your attention from stressful thoughts.
2. Ignoring Stress-Inducing Thoughts.
Another good way to cope with stress is to ignore stress inducing thoughts by deliberately thinking of good experiences. Keep a gratitude list or a journal of all your good times and refer back to it during times of stress. A good experience triggers positive chemical reactions in the body and this can go a long way to making you feel better.
3. Positive Self-Talk.
It is often said that our mind gives out what goes in. Positive self talk means speaking positively to one’s own self. Speaking positive helps a person to develop an optimistic outlook. Over time, our mind learns to cope with stress by thinking positively. Try using positive affirmations and simple phrases like “Today is a wonderful day” or “I am feeling happy today” throughout your day. Many find it helpful to speak these thoughts aloud while looking in a mirror as if they are truly having a conversation with themselves. Doing this first thing in the morning can sometimes help set a positive tone for the rest of the day.
4. Prayers and Spiritual Guidance.
Many rely on their religious and spiritual beliefs to maintain hope in their lives and to find peace. Research has shown that this is a very effective practice. Even if you are not a spiritual person, taking a few moments every day to clear your mind and meditate can go a long way to reducing stressful thoughts and feelings.
5. Meditation and Exercise.
There are various meditation techniques available today to help with stress reduction. Yoga has become popular all around the world because of its effectiveness in reducing stress. Exercise is a good way to release positive chemicals in our body. Exercise also helps in refreshing our mind.
There are various ways to reduce stress. People often use medications to deal with stress. However, medications are not a permanent solution. Emotion focused coping can help you reduce stress by making small but powerful changes to your thinking. With enough practice this new way of thinking will eventually become habit.
The universal goal of life is happiness. Up your feel-good quotient with some of these easy-do pointers:
1. Wake up and focus for a moment on all that’s right in your life (forget the wrongs for some time). Send up a little prayer of thanks for all that’s good.
2. Drink 2-3 glasses of warm water, followed by either green tea, lemon water, or 1 tsp amala juice.
3. Spend a few minutes going through your to-do list for the day (a good idea is to make a physical list the evening before). Plan on how you will go about your tasks and proportion time to ensure you are not faced with last-moment panic attacks.
4. Get moving. Briskly. For at least 30 minutes every day. Doesn’t matter what you do: It could be a walk, aerobics, swimming, skipping on the terrace, yoga or even sweeping the house.
5. Practice meditation and pranayama to keep your mind calm and stress free. Kick start your meditation routine with 5 minutes today – just shut yourself in a cool, noise-free room and focus on god (or anything you fancy). Use mild incense, a candle and soft background music if you feel they help. Increase the time by 5 minutes every week. At first, you will find it difficult to keep your mind focused on one thing; don’t fret. The moment you realize you’re thinking of something else, pull your thoughts back.
6. Eat a healthy and wholesome breakfast. Try cereals/bread, eggs, fruits, soaked almonds and milk.
7. Include fiber, calcium and iron-rich foods such as fresh green leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, ragi, oats, black raisins and dates in your daily diet. If you can’t get all in on one day, space out and include through the week. But do so consciously. Make a menu plan if need be.
8. Give yourself a hair and body massage with an ayurvedic oil at least 2-3 times a week. Leave the oil on for 15-20 minutes, then shower. It will relax your mind and muscles.
9. Take time out to do things you like at least once a week to recharge.
10. While you watch TV, once in a while soak your feet in warm water with salt.
11. Once a week find time to be with your friends. It is a known happiness booster and stress-buster.
12. Make sure you get adequate sleep. Needs vary, but an average of 7-8 hours is good.
13. Plan a family vacation at least once a year, and one only with your close friends, to unwind in different ways.