1. Pay attention to stress
Stress is a built-in warning system telling you that something needs your attention. Just like a car dashboard lights up to signal that something is wrong, stress alerts you to pay attention to your body and environment.
Stress often communicates that there is going to be a problem. It gives you a chance to react to circumstances before things potentially get worse. Ignoring these signs can lead to more emotional chaos, greater physical symptoms and even illness.
Small stresses, left unchecked, pile up and threaten to wreak havoc in our lives. Then, when a large stress hits us like a sudden storm, we’re left reeling, struggling to regain our footing.
Some people tend to ignore their personal stress signals while others tend to worry about their stress which creates more stress.
Neither of these tactics benefits you or work in your favor. If your stress is triggering on a regular basis, it is time to identify it, give it the attention it needs, and combat it accordingly.
Just like you wouldn’t ignore your car’s warning signals for too long, you shouldn’t ignore the signs that your body is giving you about your stress level.
How do you react when you are late for a meeting, have to make a big decision, or get a behavior notice from your child’s teacher? Do you sense a tension in your body? Do you experience the sudden onset of a headache, tight muscles, or irritability?
Take your body’s stress signals and use them to your favor. Rather than respond in a way that increases your stress, choose a path that decreases it.
Something as simple as taking a 5-minute break alone, a quick walk around the block, or stepping outside for a breath of fresh air can significantly reduce the stressful impact.
Let your body be your guide in the moment.
2. Let stress be a motivator
In his article “The Science Behind Relentless Breakthroughs,” author Brian Lee states, “While most of us crave a degree of stability, a life without challenges robs you of your fighting spirit and motivation.”
Stress, if you let it, can cause you to look at different options, see alternate outcomes, and increase your performance. Rather than dreading an upcoming work presentation or telling yourself, you won’t meet an important deadline, let stress motivate you to focus on the outcome you desire.
We all know it’s important to reduce stress and make sure it doesn’t stay around too long because it drains our energy. But you can use stress-in-the-moment to your advantage.
Say, for example, that you have several projects with looming deadlines come across your desk all at once. Or it is a back-to-school season for your kids and your calendar is crammed with after-school activities, social invites, and more carpooling than you imagine is possible. Maybe it’s an exciting season of planning a wedding while trying to juggle your full-time job and a new relationship with your future in-laws.
Whatever the season of stress, resolve to face it head-on. Get organized with detailed calendars, apps that create lists for you, or good old-fashioned sticky notes. Rise to the challenge rather than let the stress overwhelm you like a tidal wave and shut you down. Remember, the stress is for a season and you can not only manage it but perform well and come out on top!
3. Respond with kindness when experiencing stress
So you are getting better at recognizing your stress and are learning how to let it motivate positive changes in your life.
Now it is time to be kind to yourself; to take the information stress provides and develop different or new self- care habits.
Oftentimes we extend grace to others and give everyone around us a break, but rarely do we do this for ourselves. Eventually, we won’t do that for others if we don’t do it for ourselves.
It is easy to run low on compassion and empathy–even becoming resentful of those closest to us who need us–all because we’re not taking care of ourselves.
Wondering how compassionate you are for yourself and what areas you could improve in? Take this quiz to find out and learn ways to be more self-compassionate.
In the age of blogs, podcasts, and apps, developing new habits of better self-care is easy.
For example, the Calm app guides you through quick calming techniques and offers reminders to breathe.
If you’re a blog reader, The Blissful Mind is a great one to help you create balance, routines, and identify priorities.
If you struggle with decision fatigue and are generally overwhelmed due to a busy life or season, the podcast, The Next Right Thing is perfect for you.
There are many great blogs, apps, and podcasts out there that offer all types of ideas to simplify your life and manage stress. Find one that works for you!
4. Let stress lead you to positive, long-lasting change
Let it lead you to new discoveries about yourself.
Let it uncover strength you didn’t know you had.
History is full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things under great stress and against considerable odds. We remember these heroes not only for their successes but also because they let their hardships and victories shape their character.
While self-help strategies and books are great, take this opportunity to consider how therapy might be able to help you create long-term change.
It can help you identify ineffective coping patterns and self-destructive habits that you might not even see in yourself.
It can help you create new goals and develop the lifestyle changes needed to meet those goals.
It can lead you to make wonderful discoveries about yourself or situation that you couldn’t see before.
Recently, a client with overwhelming anxiety and debilitating panic attacks sought help to identify the stressful triggers in her life.
Through our work together, she realized that her job, while fulfilling at one point, was now adding undue stress and increasing her anxiety. She decided she was in a position to quit her job and focus primarily on her schooling. This was a turning point. She noticed immediately the feeling of burdens lifting off her as she made the decision to eliminate stressful triggers.
While not everyone may be able to quit their job, or completely eliminate every stressful trigger, you can work to mitigate the effects of stress and gain greater control over your life. Sometimes it’s hard to identify these things on your own, but with the help of a therapist, you can discover new ideas.
5. Use stress to gain control of things in your life
While you can’t control everything that comes your way or what others do to you, you can focus on those things that are yours to control.
For instance, you can learn to control how things affect you and what you will allow to continue in your life. You get to decide what you need to cut out because it’s no longer healthy or no longer serves a purpose.
Gaining a sense of control over something in our lives is a powerful feeling in a world where so much is out of our control.
For example, you may find that you experience anxiety over something bad happening to your child or loved one. You are constantly controlled by thoughts of “what if?” or “it’s just a matter of time before something bad happens to me or my family.”
A powerful and often overlooked practice to combat this type of stress is that of gratitude. Identifying what you have to be thankful for changes your perspective and helps you focus on what you have, rather than what you lack or what could be taken from you.
Try an app like the 5 Minute Journal to help you cultivate this simple, yet life-changing practice.
While there are different types of stress, small and big, things of our own making or things that happen to us, you can allow stress to be the catalyst that moves you into new seasons of learning and growth.
Stress often forces us to make necessary adjustments in our lives; but it can be for the better!