You are a living, breathing being who inhabits this world and works and plays here. You are an intelligent being who has dreams to fulfill. So you are not new to stress. And if you have not been living under a rock, you know stress is bad for your health and wellbeing. So what do you do about it?
Given that some stressors—obnoxious bosses, back-stabbing co-workers, long commutes, credit card bills, and the like—will be constant in your life, it is imperative that you don’t ignore them. Else they will bounce back more powerful, and you will have to fight harder to drown them out. The key to not let stress get the better of you is to change the way you deal with it.
And here’s an even better way to get the better of stress: turn it to your advantage. Stress does not have to reduce you to a mass of jangled nerves. You can use stress constructively. Here are some tips:
Tweak your attitude to stress
It is all in the mind. How you deal with stress is determined by what you think of and feel about stress. If you think feeling stressed signals that something terrible is happening around you, then you will deal with a stressful situation with fear, hesitation, and uncertainty. You will take actions from a place of fear and desperation. You will make knee-jerk (read: thoughtless) decisions.
You have to tweak your attitude to stress. A situation is stressful only because you choose to feel stressed about it. It is stress, only if you choose to label it so.
Think of stress as an energy that gets things done. It is your body alerting you to something that is not right around you and that you have to do something to correct the situation. And no, you don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to believe that stress is useful. Countless scientific studies prove stress is a beneficial defense mechanism that has been evolutionally programmed in us.
Our cave-dwelling, hunter-gatherer ancestors relied on stress to get through the innumerable "fight or flight" situations they faced every day just to survive and find something to eat. The typical physiological, psychological, and neurological stress responses they experienced were designs by Mother Nature to equip them to deal with the situation.
A burst of glucose provided energy, to flee danger. Blood flow diverted from the gut and skin to muscles, to provide strength. An increase in tension in the muscles, to boost endurance. Increased blood clotting, to prepare the tissues for physical damage. Speeding up of the cognitive processes, to help an individual assess situations quicker and react accordingly.
So you see, stress helps you get things done. Stress is your ally; accept and welcome this fact, and learn to work with its energy.
Learn to pause
When you take your foot off the pedal and slow down, you create a mental space where you can get a grip on your mind and gather and process your thoughts.
Taking a moment to breathe stops you from lashing out angrily (sometimes needlessly) at the person in front of you. The pause stops you from making a move that you will regret later. By pausing, you choose not to "react" to stress negatively.
By pausing, you also create the first line of defense against stress. It starts with not fearing what is stressing you.
We usually get stressed because we fear what is happening around us. Fear is a powerful emotion, and it can be conditioned in people. Many of our fears were drilled into us by our parents and teachers when we were young. We learned many other fears from our peers and what the media fed us. Of course, these are often valid concerns to keep in mind, but the images they portrayed were so vivid that we internalized them as they were. We never stopped to think if we at all needed to fear a particular fear with that same draining quality and intensity.
For instance, do you really need to be afraid of a slump in the economy if you are a trained surgeon? Do you need to fear old age when you know if you have got a tidy nest egg stashed away? Do you need to fear illness when according to scientists, a healthy lifestyle can prevent most of the debilitating diseases of our times?
By pausing, you give yourself time to realize that what is happening to you need not be feared. This moment of stillness also prepares you to analyze the situation that feels stressful and see the things you can do about it.
Analyze your stressors
A seemingly complex problem no longer looks challenging or insurmountable if you break it down and analyze it. When the parts of a whole are laid bare in front of you, you can find out what’s feeding the problem and figure out how you can solve it.
When you overcome fear, you can analyze a stressor objectively. Find out what has triggered the situation and if there are factors you can now control to manage or mitigate the problem. Of course, there might be factors that could be beyond you to control. Accept your shortcomings, and figure out alternative ways to tackle the problem.
We feel stressed when we a situation does not feel comfortingly familiar, or when we feel we cannot control it. Remember that a situation turns "stressful" because status quo is no longer working. So be prepared to look for innovative solutions; accept that what worked in the past might not work now. You may be asked to step out of your comfort zone to implement the solutions, but regard this as an opportunity to grow.
Visualize yourself overcoming stress without giving in to its negativities
Practice visualization to hone your abilities to deal with stress. A visualization exercise is like a mental rehearsal where you replay a particularly stressful situation that recurs in your life and practice coping with it in a healthy and positive way. You go over the emotions you display, the actions you take, the words you use, and the gestures you make, and practice controlling, tweaking, and channeling these to enforce a desirable outcome, all in your mind.
Visualization lets you re-script and then play out a stressful situation, so you can practice being calm and cope with the problem. As you carry out this mental exercise, you can visualize being in control and feeling confident and empowered. A guided meditation app can be of great help, giving you reassurance and positive suggestions while you engage in the practice. As you do more of these exercises, you desensitize yourself to the emotions that a stressful situation conjures up, so you no longer fear, or experience feelings like frustration, anger, and helplessness when you confront the stressors in real life. The situation feels familiar, you know how to respond, and you can calmly go through the motions knowing that you are in command.
Record your victories over stress
Remember how you managed a stressful situation in real life without losing your calm. Record all the strategies you adopted to bring about the outcome you desired. Go over your victories to spot the lessons, create checklists, and feel confident about your ability to tackle stress.
Realize how going through a stressful situation and triumphing over it has made you grow, and you will thank stress for making a more capable and efficient person out of you.
A change in mindset is difficult to bring about. After all, you have to unlearn habits that have become second nature and thought patterns that are engraved in your psyche. Meditating regularly will help you calm your mind and bring more clarity to your thoughts. It definitely helps if you can foresee the new YOU that will emerge from this transformation.
The Meditable visualization exercises are designed to help you see yourself using stress to boost your performance, and go over these rehearsals repeatedly to retrain your mind to think about stress in a helpful way. These guided meditation exercises will gently implant positive thoughts in your mind, enhance self-trust and weed out fears and other self-sabotaging thoughts that it’s time for you to leave behind.