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10 Ways to Change the Way You Deal With Stress

10 Ways to Change the Way You Deal With Stress

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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