Feeling pressure, anxiety or stress is a common reaction to many situations in our dynamic lives. It’s natural. However, stress has now taken on a much larger role, exasperated by a fast-paced, heavily multi-tasked, over-scheduled, achievement-driven and want-it-now culture. Whew! No wonder we’re stressed. How many times do you find yourself saying or hearing the phrases “I’m too busy,” “I’m overwhelmed,” or “I’ve got too much on my plate”?
So – how can you deal with it? Well, as with many challenges you might face, I’d invite you to go deeper than simply applying a band-aid. This blog isn’t a list of quick fixes or one-size-fits-all de-stressers. Those practices can definitely help, but only in the context of a larger understanding of your stress triggers and responses.
Try some of these strategies to get at the essence of your relationship with stress:
- Get Specific About It: When problems remain generalized in our minds, they don’t get managed or solved. Stating that you’re “just so stressed” doesn’t get you anywhere towards understanding the contributing factors or strategizing about possible actions. The first step, therefore, is to get really specific. What sort of stress are you experiencing? How intense it is? Where do you feel it in your body? What is it impacting? Does the stress accompany other feelings? If so, which ones? How does the stress impact your actions and relationships at work and at home?
- Understand What’s Contributing to It: In addition to naming your stress, you’ll need to become more observant about what’s contributing to it. In what situations does your stress arise? Is it always the same type of situation or scenario? What are the patterns or common themes? When you start to connect some of these dots, you can become more aware of stress triggers before they arise, and take proactive action to shift your perspective or relieve the stress before it takes hold as strongly.
- Identify Extreme or Limiting Beliefs: Because much about stress relates to fear, it can be a helpful to identify what fear-based beliefs – either extreme or limiting in nature – are amplifying your feelings. Are you stressed about giving a presentation because you see it as only pass/fail? In other words, if you were to make the slightest mistake, would you view that as failing completely? Or, are you stressed because you “absolutely can’t find any time in the schedule,” when this is likely not the reality? Or, is a limiting belief getting in the way, such as “I’m just not capable enough to do this project”? These extreme thought patterns only serve to feed or create more stress.
- Look at Your Situation Objectively: It can be helpful to step back from the extreme characterizations of your situation to seek a more objective view. How would a consultant look at your situation from the outside? Take an outside-in, third-person perspective to see what’s really possible or not possible. What’s the more true and accurate picture of the time you have available to complete your tasks? Where will your strengths help you, and where are your legitimate (not exaggerated) weaknesses? How can you address any areas of weakness by asking for support from others, or by utilizing resources within reach?
- Plan Proactively: Stress can occur when our problems or challenges feel unstructured and undefined. And the longer they remain so, the more stressful things get. This is a rut we typically refer to as procrastination. One helpful strategy involves the intentional planning of time and actions. Take the opportunity to look ahead at your schedule and block time out for the activities that address your sources of stress. Those might include work tasks, commitments at home or with family, or preparation for a big project. That way, you know you have a plan in place for taking action.
- Start with One Thing: A close cousin to stress is the feeling of overwhelm. When multiple things need to get done, it’s easy to see them as one intimidating, heavy and scary blob of responsibility. What happens then? You lock up. One method for breaking through this type of stuckness is to pick one particular task and get started on it. This will generate a few tangible results and the needed momentum for completing additional tasks.
- Make Commitments with Intention: Stress is often self-created when we’re not careful about making commitments. Saying “yes” to every invitation and opportunity, without an intentional awareness of the commitment level associated with each, is a sure way to get overwhelmed. Here are some tips for how to effectively say “yes” and “no.”
- Identify and Commit to Practices that Release and Relieve: Get more in contact with those activities that help to channel or release stressful energy. Those typically take the form of either: a) meditation, prayer or inspirational reading, b) exercise or getting active, or c) activities connected to your passions or hobbies. For me, that means playing the piano or going swing dancing. For you, it might mean cooking, crafting, playing sports, or hiking. These sorts of in-the-moment, embodied or creative activities can be especially helpful. In the height of stress, it’s easy to say, “I don’t have time for that.” We all know, however, that taking even just a small amount of time out for these practices can greatly reduce stress and increase your productivity and overall well-being.
- Practice a Mentality of Surrender and Present-Moment Focus: Ultimately, we’re not totally in control of every aspect of any situation. Utilizing some of the above strategies can definitely help reduce stress, but in the end, some of us would really benefit from a mentality of letting go. When you release the desire to completely control future outcomes, and focus on the present moment instead, things become a lot less heavy. This is much easier said then done, but I invite you to start developing a practice of bringing your attention back to the present whenever it wanders into the imagined future.