We all feel stressed sometimes, and most times we can look back, realise that it really wasn’t worth worrying about and wonder why we ever let it spoil our quality of life. You’ve heard the phrase ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ but it’s amazing that we all still do. Remembering what is really important in life and what is mere detail can go a long way to grounding us and getting us back on track. And a few handy stress management tips can lift the load and have us the feeling that life can be easy…. if we let it! So here we go, seven proven ways to reduce stress and have you back feeling in control of your life:
1/ Most large tasks can be split down to several small steps.
Don’t try to do everything at once and don’t try to envisage a large project as one task. If you wish to undertake a long-term or larger project then your first task is simple – make a plan involving small easy steps, each one taking you closer to your overall goal. Think of it as a journey up a mountain or a tall staircase – you wouldn’t even think about trying to get to the top in one bound! So take the extra time to plan those small steps, then concentrate only on the first one or two. The overall task will immediately seem surmountable, your motivation and confidence will soar and your stress levels will drop to next to nothing.
2/ Life can always be simplified and de-cluttered.
Most of us have a tendency to take on too much, whether it be in our professional or personal life. Everything we do can be simplified by taking a step back and looking at what is truly necessary. It’s good to remember that you are not in competition with anyone, especially in your personal life; you don’t have to impress anyone with your house, your garden, your cooking, your holidays… Many people feel that they must continually be ‘the best’ at everything and this is a false assumption that leads to stress and burnout. Even in your professional life there will be tasks that are really not that important, things that do not need a lot of time or attention or can be left to another day. Multi-tasking is also generally a bad habit that will simply clutter your mind and leave you tense. Why not cut the clutter in your mind by choosing one task, concentrating on it and doing it well? Anything can be seen as a mindful meditation whether it be ironing shirts, filing paperwork or balancing your check book. These things usually become stressful when you allow other thoughts to intrude, worries of the past and future or matters completely unrelated to the task in hand. Getting in to the present moment and really focusing on one thing at a time is a stress-busting habit that will serve you well in all avenues of life.
3/ Choose good and true thoughts.
Stress is a state of mind and that’s something we always have control over. If you’re worrying about your bills, your relationship or the holidays then stop thinking about those things! Yes, we can choose which thoughts we focus on. Choose those that are true and good for your happiness. It’s easier said than done at first but a simple ten to fifteen minute meditation, relaxation or deep breathing session morning and evening can give you the control you need to quiet your mind and guide it gently to a more peaceful, healthy subject. Of course, we all need to give serious thought to issues that are concerning us, but you should have the power over your mind to decide when to think on these subjects, when to concentrate on other things and when to be able to simply relax with a clear mind. Regular meditation will strengthen the ‘muscle’ of your mind and allow you this freedom.
4/ Don’t focus on how things should be, focus on how things are.
Essentially another exercise in mindfulness, this encourages us to fully appreciate the now. We all have a tendency to compare life with a blueprint of perfection that we carry around with us in our minds. Life rarely matches up to this blueprint and so we often find ourselves disappointed and stressed by reality. Rip up the blueprint! Life is more interesting that way and you’ll find yourself noticing the wonderful reality that actually exists around you, a reality that may well have been obscured before by your desire to compare and contrast with some imagined ideal.
5/ The grass is not greener on the other side, especially if you water and nurture your own garden.
I’m talking metaphorically of course, but envy and unfavourable comparisons cause unnecessary stress and unhappiness. Focusing on your own life, tending to your own existence, your family and friends (and not focusing on what others have or what you feel you lack) is a surefire way to dispel feelings of tension and dissatisfaction. Be thankful for every little thing – friends and family, your favourite comfy chair, warm clothes, food and drink, a roof over your head – and love and nurture them rather than looking past them to see what everyone else has got.
6/ When other people lack manners, lead by example.
Another person’s rudeness should never be used as an excuse to be rude in return. If you are able to smile, stay calm and be polite back to that person, you will be helping yourself as well as others. Your calmness and politeness will be contagious, you will avoid the stress of reacting emotionally to this person and you will have the satisfaction of not allowing them to change who you are or how you are feeling. Choosing not to react also takes the power away from a rude person who are often looking for a rise and feeding off it. Nip their bad habit in the bud by cultivating your own good habits.
7. You may not have ultimate control over everything but you do have control over your response to everything.
This is absolutely the most important concept and this is where your power truly lies in reducing stress. If you can really take control of your response to life’s ups and downs then you will deal with your stress levels and lead a calmer, happier, more satisfying life. Give yourself time to reflect (counting to ten is an old but effective method) before making a snap judgement or a hasty emotional reaction. You can deal calmly and intellectually with the difficulties you face every day. There are many small techniques that will help you – counting, taking a deep breath, scanning your body for tension and releasing it – all before weighing up your options, deciding your motive for your response and targeting an outcome. If someone screams at you angrily, what will be achieved by screaming back at them? It might feel good for a few seconds, to release frustration or as some form of one-upmanship, but beyond that it is obvious that the situation will escalate and the end result will not be good. The confrontation will only raise your stress levels and lead you into further conflict. A calm response or even no response is always the better course of action for a calm, mindful, stress-free existence.
By taking responsibility for your reaction to everything that life throws at you, you can reduce stress. We are though humans who are apt to make mistakes, so don’t judge yourself too harshly if you can’t always take the high road in a confrontation or find the good in each and everyone you meet. The goal is to try, and to do better in time, learning from experience. This will give you a wonderful sense of control of your life as you gradually learn the life skills to lower stress and lead a calm, mindful existence.