If you are familiar with the concept of InsideOut Thinking, then you already know that I don’t conceptualize stress as something that exists outside of you. Instead, it’s a behavior you create to help you get something you want. The only way to reduce stress is to empower yourself into taking control of what you can control: your actions and your thoughts. You may not believe you can control what you think, but it’s possible with patience, persistence, and practice. Gaining control over your thoughts and actions is critical to maintaining a positive state of mental health.
Stress is a killer and I haven’t yet met anyone who says they don’t experience stress regularly. Since stress seems unavoidable, here are a dozen ideas for things you can do or think differently to help reduce your stress level.
- Rational Thinking – Irrational thoughts are common contributors to stress: everyone must like me for me to be worthwhile, I must complete everything on my ‘to-do’ list in order to be a success, I can’t let anyone in my house unless it’s spotless. These thoughts are called irrational because they are not true. When you convince yourself otherwise, your stress levels can soar. If I actually believed everyone I met needed to like me in order to be deemed worthwhile, imagine the stress I would create for myself by trying to make everyone like me. Check your thinking and make sure your thoughts are rational. Keep in mind that if you believe the irrational thoughts, you may have a difficult time recognizing them as irrational. Ask someone you trust to help you.
- InsideOut Thinking – Instead of focusing your energy on things you cannot control, take a proactive approach by looking at what you can do or think differently to improve the situation. Your actions and thoughts are the only things you really have control over. You can’t change others. This also means no longer pointing a finger outside of you for the source of your problem or unhappiness. If you are in pain over something, then it is your responsibility to fix it the best you can.
- Time Management – Find a time management system that works for you and implement it. You have the same amount of time in a day as everyone else, yet some people are far more productive than others. They have discovered a way to maximize their moments, getting the most out of each of them. There are many time management experts out there who have different systems. However, I think time management is similar to dieting—it is not a one size fits all approach. Find a system that works for you and follow it.
- Fun Activities – Make a list of things you love to do; when was the last time you engaged in them? Making sure you schedule time for self-care is essential to keeping stress at bay. Even if you think you have no time for pleasure, taking that time will increase your productivity when you do get down to business.
- Relaxation – Do you meditate, visualize your happy place, get massages, or do some deep muscle relaxation? These are sure ways to reduce stress. When you become practiced at meditation and relaxation, it is something you can do very quickly almost anywhere. Not only is it a great skill to develop, but it will also substantially help you manage the stress in your life.
- Exercise – Research shows that physical activity can be helpful in managing the negative effects of stress. This does not have to be any strenuous exercise, but could be something as simple as going for a walk. Any physical activity provides a release of the stored energy of stress.
- Healthy Living – There are some known links to substances that stress our bodies; consider your intake of drugs, alcohol, nicotine, sugar, saturated fats and caffeine. If you use any of these substances on a moderate or higher level, you can be creating stress for yourself.
- Sense of Humor – If you can find the humor in stressful situations, you can laugh your way through life. Laughing releases the body’s natural endorphins and will ward off potential stress before it even begins. Learn to laugh at yourself, and find humor in everyday situations.
- Support System – You need to decrease the toxic people in your life and increase the nourishing ones. We all have those who will suck the life out of us if we let them, and then there are others who will support us in our time of need. Look at reducing the former and expanding the latter.
- Assertiveness – Develop the ability to take care of your needs without interfering with others taking care of theirs. Be able to say no when it will best support you. You can stress yourself out when you always put other people’s needs and desires ahead of your own.
- Experience the Arts – There is something about the arts that will sooth many. It could be music, art, dance, or nature, but setting aside time to appreciate life’s beauty can act as an immunization against stress.
- Spirituality – Develop a personal sense of your spirituality. Find your own way to a calm, a peace, a sense of the order of life—it doesn’t necessarily involve religion. When things get stressful, you can rely on your spirituality to help you through. You can feel secure through believing everything happens for a reason, your Higher Power will take care of things, or that there is always positive to balance out the negative. Spirituality can help you make sense of things that otherwise wouldn’t make sense.
Stress is not inevitable, and you definitely do not have to be its victim. Know that you are choosing it, understand that you are getting something from it, assess the consequences of it, and then make a conscious decision about whether or not you want to continue on the same path.
Want to learn how to handle stress? Join my Choosing Me Now retreat February 9th-11th in San Antonio, TX.