The way we deal with stress is often learned. We saw our parents handle disappointment, financial woes or crisis in a particular way and our young minds soaked it up. Even as adults, we take note on how to react when we see our boss or mentor behave in a certain way. It gets comfortable and familiar to approach stress the same way every time.
Stress will always exist, and it won’t always defeat us. In fact, scientists have proven there are some benefits to a healthy dosage of stress. It’s how we deal with stress that will make or break us. Here are 10 ways to change the way you deal with stress.
1. Don’t just react to your stress, but take a moment to authentically respond to it.
Some stressful events in life can trigger you to react without much thought, or simply react out of fear or confusion. In these stressful times, our fight or flight response gets activated.
To authentically respond to stress, you need to check in with how you are feeling, what is cropping up for you, and how you can manage this new stress in your life. Sometimes our reaction only increases the stress and we get stuck in a reactive loop, filled with negativity and self-abuse.
We may not be able to control the situation, but we can develop control of ourselves and change the way we deal with stress. You don’t need to hurl insults, go on a cursing tirade or throw things and have an all out temper tantrum when stress appears, but you can state what you think and feel. The way you choose to authentically respond may change according to your surroundings, whether in the workplace, with your spouse or children, or other family members, or casual friends. Remember that hurting others in the process is not an effective way to heal yourself.
2. Step back and see the wholeness of the issue at hand, not just the particulars.
It’s easy to get caught up in some parts of your stress, but this won’t help you change the way you deal with stress. You will keep running into a wall, as you learn that you can’t change others or things out of your reach. It is in these moments that you can lend your focus to the positive. See the situation in its entirety, and evaluate what the end result could be and how you can maintain that open, welcoming perspective.
3. Learn to accept change and understand stress.
When you truly accept that things won’t always go as planned, and that stress exists, and will always exist, you will start reformulating the way you think about stress. Its power won’t be so invasive and debilitating.
Good stress can be a motivator; it can challenge your long held behavioral patterns and encourage you to approach your issues with strength and vigor. Bad stress, on the other hand, can mess with your sleep, your mental health and overall physical well-being.
According to this University of Wisconsin-Madison study on stress, those with persistent negative stress had a 43% increase in chance of death. Stress can be a serial killer and will take no prisoners, if you let it.
Don’t be a victim of your stress. Remaining immobilized and stagnant in the fear that your stressful situation has caused is not a way of accepting that stress exists. It is important to be aware of stress, differentiate good stress from bad stress and embrace change so that you can better deal with stress when you encounter it.
4. Create a mindful revolution in your own life.
Practicing yoga, exercising, playing a favorite sport, eating a nourishing meal, attending a religious ceremony, chanting, meditating, paying attention to your breathing, reading a beloved book, writing your thoughts in a journal, listening to calming music, painting, and finding a quiet, safe, cozy place to relax are all ways of creating mindfulness. Mindfulness will change the way you deal with stress.
Imagining your life without nagging stressors is another powerful way of refocusing yourself. Be mindful of how you are reacting to stress. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfullness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR is a trusted method in learning more about ways of coping with stress and chronic illness. The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco offers a weekly guided course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. The University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester also offers a MBSR study group for stress management. There are MBSR courses all over the world, offered both online, one-on-one or in groups. You can find one that suits you best here. If you prefer to do some therapeutic work on your own, try the Mindfullness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.
5. Acknowledge your past behaviors towards stress and bid them adieu!
Albert Einstein is quoted as once wisely saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Just because you once had a coping mechanism that seemed to work does not mean it was a healthy or successful choice. And it does not have to continue. You can change the way you deal with stress. There is no set way of reacting to a stressful situation. You didn’t sign a contract and even if you did, this is the time to renegotiate it.
6. Don’t rely on drugs and alcohol to make all your stress go away. It won’t.
There are more beneficial ways of managing stress. Drugs and alcohol might only complicate things. Bad trips, hangovers, disorderly conduct landing you in jail, getting pulled over and ticketed by police for drunk driving or altercations will only add to your stress and worries. Even if you feel great when you first start, you’ll soon understand why there is no masking a wound without cleaning it first. Caffeine, food, sex, cigarettes and prescription medications can also be abused and will not provide positive lasting effects in your effort to change the way you deal with stress. They will only add to your pain and frustration and create another point of stress.
7. Be careful that you don’t engage in stonewalling or outright avoidance when dealing with your stress.
Some may find stonewalling, escaping, outright avoidance or passive-aggression the most protective method in dealing with stressors or pressing matters. Perhaps stress can be so overwhelming that it feels safer to pretend like there is no problem or ignore your own feelings. It may seem appealing to do so, at times, because you think “out of sight, out of mind,” but in reality, you are only injuring your connection with others, yourself and delaying resolve, not for time to reflect but simply with the hope that everything will just go away. You won’t find any change in the way you deal with stress by these actions.
8. Don’t brush underlying issues under the rug.
Ignoring the source of your stress won’t help alleviate anything. You will still awake to the same issues. The longer you evade responsibility or another pressing matter the longer you postpone your happiness and health. Brushing stress under the rug may sometimes be tempting if you view your stress as a weakness or not in line with what is supposed to happen in your life. This is the time to change the way you deal with stress, and have an honest look at your choices and lifestyle.
9. Make a list of goals that allow you to chip away at stress without chipping away at your self-esteem.
Writing down a list of things you can do or need help with will help you change the way you deal with stress. You can refer to the list throughout your day or week to stay on track. Completing goals will be good for your self-esteem. Try not to fall into negative self-talk, even if you don’t get everything done at once. It is important that you reframe the way you speak to yourself to effectively change the way you deal with stress.
10. Accept help from family and friends, or a trusted source for counseling or therapy.
You are not the only person to ever falter in your goals, and you won’t be the last. In our failure, we sometimes learn more about ourselves than when everything is going along swimmingly. Stressful times are not easy to carry alone, and it’s okay to ask for help.
If you need another person to have a look at your project, or get a second opinion, or if you need to brainstorm a new plan of action, do so. You can seek out friends or family members that you get along with or find a therapist that can offer you a discreet, safe place to air your grievances or reflect on your choices, attitudes, or beliefs and in turn can provide you with professional feedback, clarity and encouragement. Taking the time to build your personal support system, outside of your work life or educational pursuits, is very important in changing the way you deal with stress.