Do you regularly experience stress in your life, be it physical or psychological? I’m guessing you said yes, only because I play the odds. According to the American Psychological Association, in 2017, their annual stress research findings showed that 77% of individuals regularly experience physical symptoms of stress (think lack of sleep, muscle tension, IBS, etc.), and 73% of individuals regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress (anxiety, depression, nervousness, low energy, etc.).
The key word that I want you to pull out from those statistics is REGULARLY. We’re talking the majority of individuals experiencing chronic levels of stress. And how does that stress impact our lives? It can cause tension at work and home, create challenges in juggling our various responsibilities, result in a loss of time for personal care, cause us to fight with loved ones, alienate us, make us sick, etc.
Stress sucks. Period.
As someone that experienced chronic stress for a number of years, I have been so grateful to have gone through a combination of counselling and coaching to get to a place where chronic stress and I are distant acquaintances. Now, do I ever experience stress? Of course. It’s unavoidable. But my resiliency is so much stronger and I’ve learned helpful strategies to help me get through them.
Before I go into detail on what those top strategies are, I do want to highlight that having someone in your corner to guide you through these practices is incredibly beneficial. I’d love to be that support for you, so find out more information on how to work with me and to get a free energy transformation session, because less stress equals more energy. As a mom of two, I know we could all use some more energy!
1. Let Go
Have you ever had someone cut you off in traffic and it ruins your morning? No? Me neither… just kidding! It’s funny how many of us let little, truly innocuous things alter our mood and stress levels for hours. In the moment they seem like really important things, but if we take a step back, I bet there are many moments in your day where you could just take a deep breath and move on without giving it the power to cause you stress.
I recently read The Book of Joy, and one key takeaway for me is a practice that whenever one of these moments happens, whether you’re cut off in traffic, someone is rude to you at Starbucks, or you get splashed by a passing car, to ask yourself whether this will matter in five seconds, five minutes, five hours, five days, etc. If it’s not going to matter for a matter of days, brush it off and move forward.
Another key thing to letting go is to saying no more often. Cut things from your schedule or your too-long-to-do list. Clear out your space of physical and emotional clutter. Let go (or at least hit pause) on toxic relationships in your life. And simply say no. No to commitments that you don’t have time for or aren’t interested in. No to the feeling of ‘but I should do that’. Just no.
Let it go.
2. Diet, Sleep and Exercise
When we think of stress, we often think of it as emotional or psychological. Well, physical stress is real as well. I’m not going to go into detail on this one, because we’ve heard it all before. If you eat well, you’ll feel better. If you’re well rested, you think more clearly. If you get some exercise, you are able to create more energy.
Now, I completely understand that in stressful times diet, sleep and exercise can be the first things that we sacrifice. We ditch our Zumba class, hit the drive through and survive on caffeine, but I BET that you feel like rubbish. It might work in the very short term, but in the long term you’re setting yourself up for burnout. Ever heard of a zen burnout? Nope, me neither.
As hard as it can be to find the time, CREATE the time. Make life easier and meal prep (or use a meal service if you can afford it). Schedule in your exercise, or at bare minimum make sure you’re walking everywhere! And get that sleep. As a mother of a newborn, I can tell you just how important sleep is. Without it, you function in a fog and stress will automatically rise making you more likely to overreact.
3. Create Your Tribe
This ‘do it all’ culture that the Western world espouses is bull. There, I said it. None of us can do it all, nor are we meant to. Do you truly know anybody that has a career they love, perfect health, an ideal family, gives back to the community and is all around happy WITHOUT help?
You might think that you do, but I bet that’s wrong. We all need support systems for the various areas of our lives. Personal trainers, nutritionists and health coaches can help us get our bodies moving and thriving. Therapists, life coaches and counsellors can support our mental health and challenge us to achieve our goals. Friends and family can be there for the emotional support we need.
When it comes to running a business or a family, we also need support. The more you try and do, the more help you need. Be it kick ass childcare, a virtual assistant, a weekly cleaner or a food delivery service, there are so many ways we can make our lives easier and decrease our stress levels by bringing together a tribe of individuals and services to support us.
The key is to build that tribe.
4. Neutralize Your Shame
This is a big one, particularly for women. We shame ourselves. For those unclear as what shame is exactly, it’s when you attribute negative things to your personality. It’s saying ‘I am’ instead of ‘I did’. For example, when my toddler won’t stop crying and throwing tantrums, a moment of shame has me saying “I AM a bad mother,” instead of the rational observation that “I HAVE a toddler in the terrible twos.”
And boy do we shame ourselves. I’m a bad mom. I’m ugly. I’m fat. I’m not as good as so and so at such and such. I’m a terrible daughter/sister/wife/employee.
Enough. Just enough. We need to take a step back, and even if you don’t believe it, you’ve got to rewire that self talk.
The quickest way to neutralize shame that you can start with this moment is by removing “I AM” from your judgements. Shift it from being about you, to being a non-judgmental observation. Instead of saying “I’m a bad friend for such and such,” say “I did a bad thing,” and decide what you’ll do differently.
5. Slow Down
Our modern society has us going a mile a minute. We’re constantly available thanks to advances in technology, and output is expected to be higher and higher. We try to ‘do it all’ when once upon a time that would never have been expected of individuals. We had more supportive communities that shared the load of work, parenting, domestic duties and so on.
When you can’t let something go (like point number one) or say no, what do you do? When the tension gets so high and you’re ready to burst?
Breathe. It sounds simple, but we often forget to do so. I heard a great quote from Jay Shetty who is a former monk. He said that the only thing that’s with us from when we’re born until the day we die is our breath. That’s the only constant. And our breath changes through every state we’re in. Happy, sad, angry, stressed, our breath changes. Do you ever notice that you hold your breath when stressed? I’d often be at physio and my therapist would be working a tough muscle and she’d say, “Victoria, breathe!” Without the proper slowing down of our breath, we can’t decrease our stress levels.
One method that I’m very fond of is called box breathing. Think of it as 4-4-4-4. You breath in for four, hold for four, exhale for four, and hold for four. Repeat this ten times and I guarantee you’ll have brought your heart rate down, physical tension will ease and you’ll be thinking more clearly. I try to do this every time my toddler is throwing a tantrum, and believe me, it works.
6. Adjust Your Expectations
I keep coming back to the incredibly damning concept of doing it all. It’s impossible, and yet society tells us we can do it, so our expectations are sky-high. And when you don’t reach those unattainable expectations, you feel depressed, anxious, or stress about how to get there. I’m not saying don’t dream big. Dream big, but recognize that you can’t have everything operate at a ten realistically.
Where can you adjust expectations in your life? I used to think that I’d be able to keep my home perfectly clean AND work full time AND be an engaged mom AND podcast AND blog AND write AND … you get the idea. And so, I now have a cleaner come twice a month to do the all important bathroom, kitchen and floors. And you know what? I walk in the house on the days she’s visited and I breath a sigh of relief. I no longer expect that of myself.
Same with timelines. We live in an age where instant gratification is an addition, and social media makes us think that every successful person got there overnight. I know that when I experiment with things on the blog or on social media and don’t see an immediate result, it can get to me, and so I keep reminding myself to alter my expectations. Look at the long game.
7. Rework Your Self Talk
The most brutal place to be is in your own head when you perceive a failure. Oh man… we are HARSH on ourselves. You would never talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself. And so, I challenge you to immediately alter your self talk. As soon as you have a moment where you’re beating up on yourself, think, “what would I say to my best friend?” And do that. Be kind to yourself.
When it comes to the goals that you’ve set, those big dreams, act today as the person you’d need to be to achieve that. Don’t get into your head and say you’ll never achieve such and such. Act like you have and see what kind of mind set that requires. I bet it’s a much more positive, less harsh place to be. I’m willing to bet that’s a less stressful state of mind.
8. Determine What You Really Want
I used to have a job where I worked myself to the bone. I’m talking 60 hour weeks, and I took it so seriously. I wanted to be considered a high performer, to get a great performance review, and I did… but at a high cost. I look back on that time in my life now and I shake my head because in retrospect I didn’t really want the job. I wanted recognition and to excel at something, but it was the wrong thing. It wasn’t what I really wanted, and so many of us get into that situation. We get anxiety over certain relationships, jobs or commitments we’ve taken on that we may not even really want.
The hard part, I’ll grant you, is to figure out what you really want in life. It requires some introspection, which can be tough for many, but it’s so critical. An exercise that you can do to begin figuring out what you want is to imagine yourself at the end of your life, and ask yourself if you lived a good life. What does a good life look like to you? What I consider a good life and what you consider a good life will be different. When we look forward, it’s easy to get caught up in what we think we should want based on society and what others are doing, but if we look backwards, that’s where the clarity comes in. So imagine it.
9. Change Your Environment
Have you ever looked around a messy room and felt anxious, even if there was no pressing issue? Or been in a crowded room, or a packed bus? Our environment has such a huge impact on our mood and stress level. I remember trying to cross the street in Vietnam and constantly feeling like I was taking my life into my hands. Now, compare that to a hike in the Rocky Mountains and, for me, I find the latter to be much more relaxing.
Whether we’re talking about your physical location, your job, your cluttered desk, or your general surroundings, environment matters. What can you do to declutter the environment you’re in? Or, on the flip side, maybe you’re the kind of person who thrives in chaos. Figure out the kind of environment in which you thrive, and find more opportunities to be in that type of space.
10. Take Action
Many of our stressors, or perceived stressors, are us worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet. What if I lose my job? What if I never meet “the one”? Will I make my mortgage payment this month? What if my child is sick? These are all 100% valid stressors to have, and we could list countless more.
Part of what makes them so stressful is that many of these things seem outside of our control. Fun fact – many things are out of our control, so the key is to focus on that which is within your control. Worried about losing your job? Start reworking your resume, or talk to your supervisor about a development plan, or begin networking. Worried about not meeting the one? Get out there, meet people, invest in your hobbies and spend time with friends. Worried about not making your mortgage payment? What can you cut from your budget, or can you make a little side income with a part time job?
Please don’t mistake my examples as me making light of major stressors. In no way am I saying that any of these aren’t serious or that you don’t deserve to feel the associated anxiety. What I’m saying is that if you find small ways to take control, to take action, you will feel better. You’ll feel more in the driver’s seat and that will reduce stress. Remember, this isn’t about making every negative experience disappear, it’s about lightening the stress load.
So there you have it…
These are the ten strategies that truly make a difference to my life when I’m in a state of stress. Depending on the circumstance, I pick one or more of these methods and they almost always make me feel calmer, allow me to process my thinking better, and make me physically more relaxed.
Stress and energy go hand in hand. The more stressed you are, the less energetic you are. If you want to double your energy, half your stress. I want to help you do that, and I’m looking for two clients at the moment, so if that’s of interest to you, please leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about one on one coaching with me.