We all experience stress in one form or another, and it’s a normal part of life.
What’s not normal is the level of stress most of us feel on a daily basis.
Human beings weren’t designed to live 23 hours a day indoors and spend 40-50 hours a week working in a job that makes life seem like a gerbil wheel. We weren’t meant to have such little quality time with our family and friends.
Compound all this with a mostly sedentary lifestyle, as well as financial and relationship pressures, and you have the perfect recipe for stress.
Some people experience waves of stress with peaks and valleys. Their stress levels shoot up high and then come down low. Others experience low-mid levels of stress almost constantly.
Unless you’re living the ideal life which includes being loved unconditionally, feeling fulfilled, not worrying about anything and feeling a sense of calm on a daily basis, you probably endure more stress than you realize.
I believe it’s crucial to keep an eye on your stress levels and not assume they’re just part of life. Your physical and mental health are impacted from experiencing stress on a regular basis. I’m certain that many years of stress contributed to my breast cancer diagnosis in 2020.
An excellent book to learn the tolls that stress can take on your body is called When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, by Gabor Maté.
Before you can figure out how to reduce stress in your life, you need to know precisely what’s causing it. Some of our stresses are from big life events that knock you over (divorce, death, illness, financial ruin, etc.). Often though, our stress is triggered by the little things.
Those smaller stresses are usually just a symptom of the bigger stresses. Getting really angry at the small stuff is a sign of stress.
Regardless of where the stress is coming from, your well-being monitor needs to flag the stresses in your life before they lead to devastating mental health issues (severe anxiety, depression) or even illness.
The steps below will get you moving towards decreasing your stress, but if you want to dive deeper to get a crystal clear look at the stresses in your life, and uncover how to greatly reduce them, you may want to have a look at my guide, A Roadmap to Calm: A Practical, Step-by-Step Guide to Discover your True Stressors and Shift to Calm.
Ok…let’s look at the shortened version of what you can do to decrease your stress.
The very first step to living a life with more calm and peace is to identify the things or situations that are triggering your stress.
Think a minute about your life. Is there one area that seems to trigger you more than others?
- Hectic life
When you notice you’re feeling stressed, the second step is twofold:
1. What is the precise situation/tigger?
- Driver cuts you off
- Expected package is late
- Spouse left the dishes for you to do
- Car repair is a surprising $1200 bill
- Coworker’s incompetence is affecting you
- Late for work
2. What is your response (emotions and behavior)?
- Get tense
- Speak rudely to others
- Hold in your feelings
- Walk away
- Turn to alcohol or drugs
- Turn to food
- Have thoughts spinning in your head
The next time you feel stress, ask yourself what’s causing it.
If you snap at your kids for not doing something at home, is it really because they didn’t pick up their toys that you’re pissed at them? Or, is there something else going on? Maybe you had an argument with your spouse that was unresolved, or maybe you were feeling the pressure of an unrealistic deadline at work.
Maybe you are exhausted all the time and are running on empty.
Think about what’s behind your stress as well as how you show your stress.
By pausing to see what’s at the root of your stress and how you respond it, you can move to the third step, which is to figure out ways to eliminate, decrease or manage that stress.
I lived with high levels of stress for many years in my teaching job (now retired), but you know what? A lot of my stress came from my own thinking patterns. Discovering that my own mind was contributing to my stress levels helped me reduce the stress I was feeling.
You can utilize a huge array of strategies (physical and mental techniques) to make you feel better when you feel stressed out (exercise, meditation, etc.), but what’s more powerful is to learn how you’re creating your own stress with your thoughts.
Start to pay closer attention to your thoughts.
If you start imagining what will happen in a meeting with your boss, you might start to feel stressed. Your thoughts create that stress. You created the thought, so you created the stress. Powerful, right?
Instead, find out exactly what the meeting is about, so you can be prepared. Then, put it out of your mind. Remind yourself that you can handle whatever happens.
Worrying and stressing about the meeting in advance will not change the outcome of the meeting. Change your stressful thoughts to something else. You could focus on the present, or you could repeat helpful, calming thoughts, like, “Everything will be fine.” over and over.
By changing your thoughts, you can decrease your stress. Conversely, you can elevate your stress by thinking about stressful thoughts.
Can you Actually Reduce your Stress?
When you practice using the three steps, you will..
- become more aware of your stress triggers and find healthier ways to deal with them
- notice when you’re flying off the handle at some minor situation, and then reset your thinking and emotions
- begin to head off some of your negative responses to stress before they even start
As you pay more attention to the daily stresses in your life, you may also find that you become more aware of deep underlying stresses (miserable marriage or highly stressful job). Discovering the roots of your stress can be eye-opening because your awareness will help you to take steps to build a calmer, happier life.
Be gentle with yourself as you observe yourself in times of stress. Changing our habits takes time, so be patient.
If you’re interested in digging deeper and making eye-opening discoveries about the stress in your life and how you can feel more calm on a regular basis, check out my comprehensive, self-paced guide, A Roadmap to Calm: A Practical, Step-by-Step Guide to Discover your True Stressors and Shift to Calm.
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