We hear a lot about how bad stress is for us. It raises cortisol and adrenaline levels, increasing sugar levels, heart rate, and blood pressure. It also decreases the immune system response and affects both the reproductive system and digestive system. In the short-term, this might not be a big deal, but it can have big implications long-term.
There are lots of things you can do to reduce stress: meditation and exercise are two that immediately come to mind. But sometimes you don’t have time. Or you already do those things and it doesn’t feel like it’s working. Or you just need something else to make some progress.
Luckily, I have a few more tricks you can try that will help you get your stress under control.
Know that stress is normal and stop beating yourself up
The first thing to know here is that there is good stress and bad stress. Good stress comes from excitement. Good stress might be a first date, knowing you got someone the perfect Christmas gift, or getting engaged. Good stress is typically short-term, feels good, and we don’t even think of it as stress.
Bad stress, on the other hand, can be acute or chronic. Acute stress is short-term bad stress, or the kind of bad stress we deal with quickly before being able to relax again. This might be something like needing to find a sitter at the last second because your usual sitter is sick or running late for a big meeting. Chronic stress comes from bigger issues, such as trying to raise small children while caring for a disabled or aging parent or working for a rude and unhappy boss.
All these forms of stress are normal. We all experience one or more of them almost daily. So don’t beat yourself up for feeling stressed. Know that you are no different than anyone else on the planet. The key is in dealing with it, which is why you’re here.
Determine where the pressure comes from
Stress is the result of pressure. Pressure to do things, fix things, get things, listen to things, etc. But where does that pressure come from?
Sometimes we put that pressure on ourselves. When that’s the case, it’s much easier to deal with because we can just stop. We can make the decision to stop pressuring ourselves and ease our stress.
But when it comes from others, things can get a bit more complicated. Once we recognize that it’s coming from others, we can start working on it. We can sit down with those who are putting the pressure on and discuss the situation. We can ask for what we need.
Bonus hint: If you feel like you don’t know where the pressure is coming from, that often means it’s you.
Acknowledge what you can and can’t control
We can control what we do and how we behave. We can’t control what others do or how they behave. You can’t control what will happen in a week or a month, but you can control what you do right now in this moment.
If your stress is the result of trying to control something that’s not within your control, let it go. It really is as simple as that. Just stop trying to control what you can’t control.
If it’s within your control, take action. Break it down into manageable chunks and get to work instead of stressing over it.
Eliminate what you can
Once you’ve figured out where your stress is coming from and what you can control, it’s time to start eliminating some things. Stress often results from taking on more than we can handle — or more than we think we can handle, at least.
Pull out that to-do list and go over it. What can you get rid of? Whether it’s crossing it off because it doesn’t really need to be done or delegating it to someone else, what can you take off your plate?
Feel free to be a bit ruthless here. Put yourself first and if it doesn’t need your personal touch, get rid of it.
Lower expectations on what’s left
After you’ve eliminated what you can, it’s time to lower your expectations on what’s left. This isn’t permission to just let go and hope for the best. But it is permission to stop seeking perfection.
Imperfect results are better than no results at all. But you also need to set expectations that are reasonable and objective. Don’t tell yourself “I’ll write the best report ever” or “I’ll finish writing the book today.” Instead, make your expectations simple and clear, such as “I’ll write the book for three hours today” or “I’ll research and find five facts that back up my report.”
You might not want to let yourself completely off the hook, but by lowering your expectations and acknowledging that you’re only human and can only do so much can lift a lot of stress off your shoulders.
Take care of yourself physically
Eating healthy foods, getting consistent exercise, and ensuring you get a good night’s sleep each night all seem like such trite advice when it comes to reducing stress but they are the foundation of easing stress.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your mind can get caught up in stressful thoughts that cause anxiety which contributes to more stress. Lack of exercise can lead to depression and other issues that also increase stress. And while indulging in comfort foods may make you temporarily feel better, in the end, it usually causes more problems than it could ever solve.
By taking care of your physical health, you give your body and mind the resources it needs to battle stress.
Take time to focus on deep breathing
When we’re stressed, we resort to shallow breathing without even realizing it. And this shallow breathing keeps that stressed out feeling thriving. Shallow breathing indicates to the body that it’s still in danger, still under stress, still needing to be prepared for any threat coming from any direction.
When you take the time to slow your breathing, and take in deeper breaths, you let your body know that everything is okay. You tell your body it’s okay to relax and let go.
It doesn’t eliminate situations and tasks that might be contributing to your stress. But deep breathing allows you to let go of the tension and racing thoughts that come with stress and that makes it easier to handle the situations and tasks causing the stress.
You’ll never eliminate stress completely. But you can reduce it. Take that as a win and don’t stress yourself out trying to eliminate it completely.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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