Stress is a major contributor to illness. It’s also a part of daily life. Between work, family, health, and everything else we deal with on a regular basis, it’s pretty hard to avoid stress altogether. But reducing the amount of stress we allow into our lives can make a big difference in our health and outlook.
Scientist Hans Selye, known as “the Founder of Stress Theory”, stated,
“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.“ Since it’s difficult to have no stress at all, it may be helpful to think about how we want to handle it.
But how do you reduce stress in your life when it seems to be coming at you at every turn? Let’s take a look at some stress reduction techniques that may help.
Know Your Triggers
When you think about what really sets you off and creates stress in your life, what is the first thing that comes to mind? That first thought is usually the truth. Is there a particular person or situation that always seems to create tension for you?
When you can identify who or what triggers you to become stressed, you may be able to divert the emotion before it reaches you. For example, if you often receive criticism from a boss, acquaintance or coworker, you may become conditioned to start stressing at the very sight of them. Rethinking how you want to react can give you the upper hand on your emotions before they get out of control.
Other common triggers can be things like having too much to do, slow moving traffic, demanding people or situations that don’t meet your expectations.
Most stress occurs because things are different than how we want them to be. It’s a matter of how your brain detects things that are not in alignment with how you believe they should be.
One technique that may get you started in the right direction is practicing acceptance. Begin to realize what you have control over and what you don’t. You can’t control the number of cars on the road or the way that other people drive. You can’t control what comes out of other people’s mouths.
Basically, you can control what you think, what you say and what you do. What you can NOT control is whatever is not your own actions. You can’t control your coworkers but you can control how you react to them. You can’t control the weather, the traffic, or the problems that other people are having. But you can control what you choose to do in these circumstances.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you welcome whatever it is you are experiencing. It just means you accept what is happening and are able and willing to respond in a way that you choose. You are not at the mercy of your emotions.
Author Dan Millman wrote,
“You don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you.”
Plan and Prepare
Knowing how you want to respond to stressful situations in advance will give you a steady platform when the unexpected happens. Make a plan for what action you will take in any given situation. Similar to an emergency “go bag”, you can be prepared in advance.
If other people’s comments typically throw you off course, you may want to learn to dismiss them. Buddha said, “If someone offers you a gift and you don’t accept it, to whom does it belong?’ By using this philosophical thought, you can simply refuse to accept their comments. It’s only their opinion. And why give your power away to someone else’s opinion?
If it’s traffic delays and bad drivers that push your blood pressure to the boiling point, ask yourself if it’s within your control to change it. If not, then think about how you want to respond in this situation. Giving yourself extra time when traveling can help you feel less stressed. Have empathy for the other people around you. A common saying to remember is that everyone you meet is carrying some kind of burden. So be patient with them. Slow breathing or thinking about pleasant memories might help you feel calmer until things start to move again.
Thinking ahead before stressful situations arise can offer you some protection from being held hostage by your stressful emotions. Exercise regularly, eat healthful foods and monitor your activities so you don’t become overwhelmed.
Set Realistic Goals
Stress can occur when you put too much on yourself. Taking on too many projects without enough time to finish them can create stress and pressure. By setting realistic goals and using time management tools to schedule your tasks, you may avoid stressful burn out. Be mindful of your expectations for yourself. Don’t put the bar so high that it becomes a nightmare.
Two questions to ask yourself are, “What am I doing and who am I doing it for?” If you’re taking on other people’s work, you may be overloading your resources. If someone asks you to do something, it’s okay to say no. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Saying no to overworking on something, is saying yes to self care.
The Power of Breath
Despite our best intentions and all of our preparation, there are going to be times when stress takes over and something needs to change to return to a more relaxed state. Observing your breath is a good place to start.
Breathing is something we often take for granted, but it’s an integral part of how we react to stress. Oftentimes, in stressful situations we might find that we hold our breath. Another stress response is shallow breathing. Both of these affect chemical changes in our bodies that upset the balance and prevent normal functioning of our body systems.
The good news is that changing your breathing can bring you back to a relaxed state and allow you to think with more logic and clarity. It can be hard to talk yourself down in an emotional moment, but deep breathing can bypass your anxious feelings. Research shows that deep breathing can slow your heart rate and stimulate the vagus nerve. This triggers your parasympathetic nervous system to help you calm down.
Pro Golfer Byron Nelson said,
“One way to break up any kind of tension is good deep breathing.”
If you are using all the tools you know about, like breathing and focusing on what you can and can’t control, but still find yourself becoming overstressed, you may just need a break. You may have overloaded all of your circuits and just need to switch off for a while.
Psychological detachment is the ability to mentally disconnect from work, and not think about job-related issues when you are away from your job. Whether you take a vacation or just turn yourself off at the end of your work day, everyone can benefit by resting from the demands of life.
Guided meditations are easily found online if you need extra help separating yourself from the noise of your responsibilities and relationships. Whatever your idea of rest and relaxation, make sure you include it in your self care routine!
Laughter is the Best Medicine
One last reminder to reduce stress in your life is to remember to laugh. It not only feels good to laugh and feel happy, but laughter has beneficial effects on our bodies as well.
When you laugh, your body produces chemicals that make us feel good. When you smile, you trigger your brain to believe that things are fine! Even if you don’t think you have anything to laugh about, you can always laugh along with someone else. Funny movies, stand up comic routines and silly jokes are available from many sources.
The benefits of laughter have been known throughout the ages.
“Laughter is a bodily exercise, precious to health”– Aristotle
Stress can be so harmful to your health that it’s worth doing all you can to minimize the stressful events you encounter. Once you know how you are going to deal with stress when it does occur, it’s like putting your hands on the steering wheel of your life. Know your triggers, accept what is within your control, and have a plan for how to deal with it when you can’t avoid it.