Human beings are amazing, quizzical creatures. We can simultaneously dread something, yet not be able to imagine existing without it. Universally, we have a great disdain for stress, thus the fight or flight reflex. We look forward to vacations to "get away from it all," but we check our email constantly when we are away. We pine for the day we can retire and forget about deadlines and quarterly numbers, and, at the same time, we love our jobs. It is the great paradox of being human.
Despite our desire to live a relatively stress-free existence, we are constantly adding new things to increase stress. We get married, have children, remodel our homes, vigorously pursue promotions, etc. Only the foolhardy would attempt all we do without mentally bracing for the accompanying stressors. Still, we bravely charge forward.
Why? Because we determine that the juice is worth the squeeze. The smart ones understand that anything worth doing would not come without challenges. However, the truly wise also understand that if you can learn to master stress—versus falling prey to it—the journey is easier. Here are four ways to minimize stress.
1. Do something active every day.
Exercise has the remarkable ability to improve both physical and—often overlooked—mental health. Going for a brisk walk, running five miles or lifting weights all accomplish the same mental health objective. They take your mind off of what is ailing you and provide a temporary break from that anxiety. It is the equivalent of hitting the reset button, allowing you to get a fresh re-start to your day. The recent popularity of "walk and talk" meetings was spurred by research that suggests walking encourages creative thinking.
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2. Keep things in the proper perspective.
If you have done this exercise: "If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?" The response will likely include, "don't worry, things will work out." In retrospect, it is typical for us to look back on things that stressed us and realize how trivial they were. In the moment, though, it never feels that way. The burden can be crushing, as if the weight of the world is on us.
When you find yourself stressing, it is often helpful to realize that win or lose, the sun will still rise tomorrow. The people that truly support and care about you will still feel the same. You will have other opportunities. Calvin Coolidge said, "If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you."
3. Know when to shut it down.
The most devastating effect that stress can deliver is when we allow it to pervade 24/7. It is when we are holding feelings of fear or stress in our minds at moments when there is nothing we can do to impact it. I am not talking about preparation, but those times when we dwell on work challenges long after we have left the office.
Creating an action plan to shut down your source of stress at certain junctures in your day will help quell pestering thoughts at the wrong moments. For instance, when you pull into your driveway each night after work, shut the ringer off on your phone or make a point to not check email again until the morning. And do not forget to breathe—deeply and slowly. Mindful deep breathing can be both relaxing and energizing.
4. Don't chase perfection. Pursue progress.
Our rational side realizes that perfection is unobtainable. Yet, the overachiever in us still strives to achieve the impossible. Instead of setting yourself up for failure with unreachable goals, redirect your attention on progress. However challenging your goals may be, the best way to accomplish them is to move the needle a little each day.
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Some of the stressors in life can neither be predicted nor avoided. We can manage many, however, with the right outlook and technique. By conquering the resolvable stressors in your life, you will be infinitely more equipped to handle the rest.
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