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Why You Should Cope With Your Stress Now And How To Deal With It

Why You Should Cope With Your Stress Now And How To Deal With It

Did you know stress can literally eat away your brain (and potentially making you stupider)? And we’re not being dramatic—it may even kill you!

Today we all have reasons to be stressed. Maybe you feel like you’re out of depth at work or at school, maybe you’ve been fighting with your significant other, or maybe there’re a lot of things to take care about your family.

We’re so used to stress that we tend to think it’s normal. But we may just be overlooking how dangerous being stressed out can be.

Stress can slowly kill us and make our brain smaller.

Science has shown that long-term stress can have serious effects on both your physical and mental health.

For instance, researchers from Yale University have found that stress can lead to the loss of brain connections, and as a result, it shrinks your brain.[1]

Besides, various other studies suggest that if the body is constantly under stress, we’re more likely to develop deadly diseases and conditions such as heart diseases and hypertension.[2] Indeed, up to 75% of adults experience physical stress symptoms, according to the American Psychological Association.[3]

All this only means one thing: stress really can kill you slowly, without you even notice it!

So, the next time you think you’re just tired, try to check if you’re suffering from any of these stress symptoms instead:[4]

  • Frequent headaches, neck pain and back pain
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Unexplained rashes, itching, goosebumps
  • Frequent colds or infections
  • Heartburn, stomachache, nausea, change in appetite
  • Constipation, diarrhea, bloating or gas
  • Mood swings, anger, frustration, hostility
  • Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia, nightmares
  • Fatigue, weakness

These are just some of the many physical symptoms of stress — our bodies react to stress differently, depending on many factors. But they are the common signs you’re of anyone struggling to manage stress.

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While we’re taught to hang on and to keep pushing when facing difficulties, too much stress doesn’t work for us.

Some think that stress can always make you perform better, but is it the case?

It’s true that some amount of stress is normal and is beneficial to us. For example, most of us will feel at least a little nervous before an exam, during an interview, or having to speak publicly. This kind of stress gives us the energy and adrenalin boost we need to perform better.[5]

However, when stress becomes too much for us to handle, problems arise. A research from UC Berkeley shows that stress changes the brain structure, increasing our risk of anxiety and depression.[6]

Stress can be damaging to our mental health, and even causes a meltdown in some people.[7]

Therefore, it’s better for us to understand the causes of stress and cope with it.

We feel the stress, but most of the time aren’t sure where it really comes from.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out why you’re feeling stressed:[8]

  1. Are there any new challenges or difficulties I’m dealing with?
  2. Is it really a new challenge or is it something I’m too nervous to face?
  3. Do I lack the abilities needed to tackle these problems? Should I be worried, or am I just not confident enough?
  4. Am I expecting too much of myself? Are my expectations realistic?
  5. Is there someone who causes this or is it someone that I’m upset about?
  6. What would be the ideal solution to my problems? Can I make it happen, or should I ask for help?
  7. Is there one thing on my to-do list that stresses me out every single day? What can I do to deal with it?
  8. Is it something that I really don’t have control over?
  9. Do I feel happier after spending time with someone or after doing something? Have I been seeing less of them or doing less of it?
  10. Do I always feel stressed after talking to someone in particular or after doing something? Is that the reason why I’m upset at the moment?

These questions should help you identify where your stress comes from, and guide you to manage it effectively. You can also reflect on whether it’s related to work, school, family or any of your relationships.

The next step is to look for the solution that fits you most.

Let’s take a look at some quick fixes to relieve your stress first:

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes
They contain chemicals that stimulate your brain and can stress out your body.[9] While you may be tempted to make yourself a strong cup of coffee ahead of work, or unwind with a few cocktails at the end of a stressful workday, remember there are other ways to help you relax (read on!).

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For now, just drink water. It’s good for you.

Practice breathing techniques
Take your mind off your problems for 15 minutes each day just to practice some deep breathing. Try this calming breathe exercise:

It helps you calm down so you can think more clearly about your problems afterwards. It also helps you to fall asleep easier if you have sleep problems.

Sleep
I understand it’d be difficult for you to fall asleep when you’re stressful. If the above two techniques can’t get you to sleep still, try to sleep with a weighted blanket, it’ll get you to sleep soon.[10]

When you’re well rested, you can better tolerate stress and are less likely to feel it’s getting out of control.

Talk to a friend
Yes, talking out your problem seems to be an obvious way, but it really works. Sometimes, we need to learn to ask for help and support. Seeking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak; it actually means you’re brave enough to embrace your problems.

For example, if you’re having an argument with your partner, see what your friend would do in the same situation. An outsider’s perspective can always inspire you.

Exercise
Exercise helps reduce stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol,[11] while at the same time increases the level of endorphins, known as the ‘happy hormones’. Keeping these chemicals in your body in balance is essential to managing stress.

If you’re not the “exercise” kind of person, I understand that it’s not easy to kickstart doing any exercises. So I’d suggest you to take a morning walk or an evening walk, which has a similar effect as intense exercise too. Or you can go hiking and explore the nature too, while it’s a kind of good exercise, you can also spend some time with your friends or family together.

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For your long-term benefits, fit these things into your daily routine:

Keep a stress journal (or an emotion tracking app)
At the end of each day, take some time to reflect on what stressed you out during the day. Write down what you’ve done, what happened to you, and how you feel about those things.[12] Write down things that stress you out or make you feel sad. Ask yourself: should i really be so worried about these things?

If you’re not the “journal” kind of person, try these apps:

They’re easy and fun to use. You can record and look at your daily emotions and find out the triggers of stress, sadness and also happiness.

When you learn your triggers, you know what to avoid and what to do instead.

Be realistic with your to-do list[13]
When you’re making plans for work, be realistic about your goals. Honestly assess your abilities, and don’t stress yourself out with too high expectations.

For example, instead of aiming to completing a very difficult task in 1 hour, carefully evaluate the effort you need for the task and set an achievable yet ambitious goal for this.

Also, try to prioritize your tasks and keep your to-do list challenging yet achievable. Don’t underestimate any tasks, or overestimate your abilities.

Always have a backup plan.
Accept that change happens and you don’t always have control of everything.[14]

What’s important to realize is that you do have the power to control how you face change, and you can always be prepared for it.

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“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” isn’t just a cliche saying. When you always prepare for a backup plan, you have done your part already, and you have to let go of the thought that anything will go wrong. Because things will always go wrong anyway.

When change happens, instead of feeling upset and stressed out, you can change your own perspective. You have to look at the new situation in ways different from the old ones—those were for the old situation only.

For example, instead of worrying about your upcoming speech will not be interesting enough for the audience, simply imagine that silent scenario in your mind and think about what you can do to gain back the audience’ attention. Maybe you can prepare a joke now so you can talk about it at that time? Maybe you can prepare some questions to interact with them?

Be prepared for the worst situation and then you’ll have nothing to worry about any more.

Understand that stress is in your control

Learn to live with stress and don’t let it take over your life.[15]

Don’t stress about stress, literally—don’t obsess over your problems. Instead of worrying about “what’s going wrong”, focus on “what’s going right”.

Instead of thinking of stress as something negative, think of it as a helpful tool. This shift in mindset lets you regain control in difficult situations.

However, this is not to say that you should ignore stress. You should accept it.

Realizing stress can be a helpful friend makes you more confident and happier, which ultimately helps you stay strong in stressful times.

Keep in mind that different things work for different people. Don’t be discouraged if a certain way doesn’t get you what you want immediately. Keep trying and be patient.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

More by this author

Wen Shan

Proud Philosophy grad. Based in HK.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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