The trouble with stress is that it feels bad. That’s the whole point right? The feeling of stress motivates us to get out of dangerous situations and make things better and safer. If stress felt good, we wouldn’t last very long as a species because we would all be seeking out predatory animals to fight with and migrating to regions of drought and famine.
So although it feels bad, stress is kind of good because it keeps us out of trouble.
However, there is a problem with stress. In fact there is a problem with modern humans. We don’t live in the natural world. We live in a world where we are protected from most of the things that we might really need to feel stressed about, but have created loads of new things that we get stressed about. Things that never go away. To get an idea of what I mean, watch the birds in the garden. Most of the time they are pretty relaxed, on the lawn looking for food, but when the neighbours cat shows up they all jump into panic mode, suffering temporary stress that drives them up into the trees to safety, where they then relax. Our modern stresses however don’t come and go like the neighbours cat, but instead sit like a cloud permanently hovering over us. We worry about being late (for everything), we worry about our work, we worry about our school grades, we worry about our finances, we worry about what people think of us, we worry about getting a parking ticket and we worry about the house not being tidy.
There is not a minute of any day that we couldn’t find something to be stressed about, leading most of us to live is a state of permastress that we have become so accustomed to that we don’t even notice it unless it gets really bad.
But if we have become numb to it, why does it matter?
Firstly, becomes you want to live a full and happy life, and feeling numb does not equal happiness.
Secondly, because this chronic stress that so many of us suffer from has real, scientifically proven impacts on our physical health that literally makes us ill.
When we suffer from stress, our body’s fight or flight responses are activated because your sub-conscious mind thinks that you are in danger. It doesn’t realise that you are just worried about having the wrong colour napkins at your wedding reception. So to save you from the napkin monster, your body generates stress hormones to spur you into action and suppresses the immune system so that it can temporarily allocate more resources to the immediate problem. But there is no immediate problem that needs this response and the problem doesn’t go away quickly like the neighbours cat.
The result is that we get ill more, experience more pain and heal more slowly. Ultimately, it means that we’ll die younger.
“OMG! Now I’m stressed that I might die young!
Calm down. It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are a few tips for helping you reduce your levels of stress in your life:
We smile when we are happy, but we also feel happier when we smile, even if we are dealing with unpleasant and unhappy circumstances. If you can just force yourself to turn up the corners of your mouth, however fake it might look, then you’ll feel a warm sensation in your cheeks and your body will release endorphins that make you feel good. Researchers have even found that you can make people feel less stressed by sticking a chopstick between their teeth to force their faces into a smiling position. So however rough you feel, just try to force yourself to smile and it might feel a bit less stressful. In fact, even if you don’t think you are stressed, smile more!
This article by Karen Kleiman tells you more about it.
Whatever situation it is that you are worrying about, ask yourself honestly how bad things are by imagining the worst possible scenario. In most cases, even the worst scenario is not that bad, and the reality will usually be better than the worst case scenario.
There is a Buddhist death meditation, which sounds really depressing but is exactly the opposite. By spending a few minutes each day reflecting on the fact that today could be your last day and there are no guarantees that you will make it to tomorrow, it puts life’s small problems into perspective and helps you to make the most of every day that life gives you.
It sounds harsh, but one of the most important things that I have ever learned is that stress is self-inflicted.
We have a culture where we blame stress on other people and things around us, but stress is not external. Stress is in your head, and you have the power to decide what goes on inside your head.
Lot’s of things act as triggers for our stressful behaviour, but it is you that decides (normally sub-consciously) to be stressed. But your conscious mind can put its foot down and keep you calm if you have awareness of your own stressful thoughts.
As you see in the video below, you need to stop it! It’s funny because it is true. Smile, get some perspective and feel empowered that you can choose not to get so worked up about things.
Stress tends to build up when we spend too much time focusing our attention on negative thoughts and things that might go wrong. We like to focus on them as if it helps stop anything negative from ever happening. Sometimes it works, but most of the time we are just wasting our energy and making ourselves miserable. In fact, in my experience, good things tend to happen more when I focus on the positive and negative things happen more when I focus on the negative.
If you spend lots of time thinking about stressful things, you need a distraction. Go out with friends, indulge in your hobbies and interests, watch comedies or visit family. If you have a willing friend, you can even ask them to distract you from time to time.
Positive distractions shift your attention onto positive things and make your life feel better.
If you are feeling negative the it could be because you are constantly being bombarded by negative information. You spend time with people that discourage you and make you doubt yourself, you see terrible things every day on the news and are surrounded by adverts designed to make you feel that you and your life are not yet good enough.
Marketing guru Jeff Walker calls this “injecting poison into your brain” and advises that we need to guard our brains to let in more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff.
Avoid people that make you feel negative and spend more time with the people that make you feel good about yourself. Stop watching negative news so often and get your news from more positive sources by subscribing to websites and blogs that make you feel good. And try to limit your exposure to advertising as much as possible by watching less commercial TV and spending less time walking around the shopping streets in towns.
Nourish your mind with good ideas and good vibes and you will feel good.
We all live in a society with accepted norms of behaviour, beliefs and fashion. Whether it is spoke or not, we all feel pressure to fit an idea of what society thinks we are supposed to be. The problem is that everybody is different (some more so than others) and to some extent it is inevitable that people will not perfectly fit into the mold. But the very idea that we should fit into the old causes stress. Your mind perceives the pressure to conform as a threat because it literally is a threat to your self.
It can be difficult to have the confidence to do things differently and be honest about who you really are and what you believe in, but research shows that the more you can live true to yourself, the lower your levels of stress and the healthier you will be.
Many times when we feel stressed, we struggle to pin point exactly what it is that we are so stressed about. Our minds are full of 101 things and we can’t think clearly. If your mind is foggy and you feel stressed, grab a piece of paper and a pen and start writing down whatever is on your mind. Don’t worry about structure or grammar. Just do a brain dump.
You might just be amazed how the simple process of downloading your thoughts onto paper frees up space in your head and helps you feel more relaxed.
You might be worried that other people will read what you have written but that doesn’t have to stop you. You can shred, bin or burn the paper as soon as you have finished writing and no one will ever know what you wrote.
A positive body helps to create a positive mind. If you are feeling stressed then one of the simplest ways to combat it is to get out and do some exercise. Activity focuses your mind on something other than your worries, giving you some temporary peace. At the same time it gets oxygen and endorphins pumping around your body that improve your mood and invigorate you.
Our environment has a big impact on our mental state. We spend lots of time indoors, using electronic devices, bombarded by advertisements, noise and pollution.
Every now and then, take yourself to a place of calm and tranquility where you feel safe and happy. For some people this might be walking the dog in the woods, for others it is weekends away in the mountains, while some might simply take a long bath or sit in the quiet isolation of a toilet cubicle. Whatever works for you. In fact, sometimes I just go to a happy place in my head.
It sounds stupid, but when we get stressed we can forget to breathe properly.
If you are feeling stressed, take a few minutes to close your eyes, breathe deeply and slowly, and and listen carefully to the sound of your breathe going in and out. If you mind drifts to other things, just let them go and start listening to your breathe again. Keep doing it and gradually your heart rate will reduce and your mind and body will start to relax.
This is the most simple form of meditation and you can do it almost anywhere for as long or short a time as you want.
We naturally feel stressed when we are vulnerable and relaxed when we are safe. Our brains are wired to relax when we are hugged, so if you are lucky enough to have someone that you can hug (or even a huggable pet), go and wrap your arms around them and see how much better you feel.
We all have pressures on us to do certain things and it can be a big trigger of stress when we feel that we have to do things that we don’t want to do or don’t have the time, money or skills to do. But the thing that most people don’t realise is that you don’t have to do anything. Even obeying the law is optional. The only truly compulsory things are eating, drinking, breathing, sleeping and going to the toilet. Apart from that it is up to you what you do and don’t do, and sometimes you need to learn where to draw the line and just say no.
You might just be amazed how much time and brain space you free up by saying no to some things and taking less upon yourself. You might just find that you are stressing about things that you don’t even need to do.
A lot of things happen to us in our lives and not all of them are good. The trouble is that however much they might upset you, you have to let them go. Stop holding a grudge, stop wondering what if and move on. Because if you carry all the negative emotions with you, your brain will become more and more crowded with negativity as you get older and your background stress levels will keep growing and your ability to handle stressful situations will get worse. Imagine negative emotions as souvenirs that you collect on your travels through life, and your brain as a bag that you put them in. If you don’t clean out that back from time time and chuck some stuff away, that bag is going to become seriously heavy and you’ll get buried under a pile of crap. Holding on to negative thoughts doesn’t change the things that happened in the past. All it does is drags that misery into your present and your future. So let it go, take a deep breathe, smile and move on.
The great thing about all of these techniques is that they are all free and most can be done virtually anywhere. You can also combine a lot of them for even more efficient stress relief.
Try them out and see which ones work for you. Even if one technique helps you feel a little bit less stressed and a little bit happier, then I’d say that is a positive result.