If you have a job or children or aging parents or health challenges or a relationship or bills to pay, I’m guessing you’ve got some stress in your life. I have two children under the age of five, a husband who travels frequently, and I work as a consultant juggling multiple clients and deadlines so I am blessed with plenty of opportunities to practice stress management.
While stress can be an obstacle to the good life, it’s neither realistic nor desirable to have a stress-free life. Instead, we need to find ways to manage the demands on us so we can still enjoy and engage in all that life sends our way.
I’ve been doing a lot of research about stress management in writing my next e-book, 9 Strategies for Dealing with Stress, coming out on April 30th. My deepest gratitude to all of you for passing the word along and helping my first e-book, 9 Strategies for Dealing With The Difficult Stuff, become a #2 Bestseller in Amazon’s ‘Memoir under 45 minutes’ category.
In my research for the new e-book, many of the stress management strategies I’ve encountered are lifestyle strategies – such as exercising and meditation, or getting more sleep and drinking less coffee. We all know we should be practicing these strategies but we rarely do.
My approach is different: I want us to change our relationship to stress. Here’s a sneak peak of one of the strategies I’m am including in the new e-book. If you want to significantly reduce the amount of stress in your life, try this:
Recognise that you choose your response to stressful events: Stress isn’t a result of what happens to us, it’s a result of how we respond to it. This is great news because our response is one of the few things in this world we can control. We don’t always have control over many elements of life but we do have control over how we respond to difficult experiences and events. Yes, stressful things happen. All the time. Every day. I’m with you. I have a stressful life and I know you do too. But we don’t make it any easier for ourselves by getting really anxious and upset in response to the tough stuff.
Take a step back, a deep breath. Find the calm within you. Identify what you can control, and what is manageable about this situation. Deliberately ask yourself how you want to respond. Managing our stress requires a good dose of self-awareness and practice.
You can still choose to get upset and distressed; this has its place. Or you can choose to look for perspective and focus on what you can do about the situation. Understanding stress as manageable allows us to develop skills and habits that help us stay grounded in the storms that life sends our way.
Some of the things I do when faced with challenging circumstances are to put the situation in context – is it more or less stressful than other times in my life – does it warrant a full-blown stress response or is it just a mere annoyance? Sometimes I realize the situation is actually amusing and my first response is to laugh. My husband and I have a silly little song we sing to one another in moments when we are feeling exceptionally challenged or frustrated by our children. It makes us laugh, changes our perspective, boosts our immune systems, and allows us to face the challenge with a different attitude.
In difficult times, I ask myself what I can do about the situation and then I focus on the elements that I can control. When the situation is beyond my control, I let go and choose not to put my energy in to something I can’t have any impact over. I take the time to reflect on how I may have contributed to the situation and what I can learn from it. Sometimes I do get really stressed out and upset but I catch myself doing this and remind myself that I’m contributing to my own stress. I look at the big picture, take a few deep breaths and think about how I can respond in a way that feels more productive.
I encourage you to focus on your stress response over the next few weeks and notice what your natural response is to the challenges that arise in life. You can make different choices and significantly lower your stress. I know you might have been hoping for a quick fix but like much of what we face in life, the solution often lies with making a subtle change to our thinking. And if all else fails, a recent study found that “eating an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks dark chocolate reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed.” (source: www.acs.org). That’s the kind of quick fix I can get behind!
How about you? What helps you manage your stress? I’m going to include a section dedicated to the stress management strategies from my friends and readers in the e-book, 9 Strategies for Dealing with Stress, coming out on April 30th. I’d love to include your ideas so please share in the comments any strategies that you’ve found helpful.