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Addressing Stress: 5 Ways to Keep It In Check

Stress: just thinking about the word “stress” can feel stressful. We’re that familiar with the feeling and with its regular appearance in our lives. 

This is both a common state of being and an uncomfortable one. It is also so frequent and constant for so many of us that we don’t even realize how much stress we are carrying around. That is, until we snap at a coworker or family member, or start to notice that the insomnia is kicking in again.  

We are also all aware that stress takes a toll on our health. It has both immediate, short-term effects and a long-term impact.

There are ways you can get a handle on your stress and reduce its presence in your life. In the process, you will also feel better. 

Is This Important Enough to Compromise My Health? 

This may sound dramatic when you’re deciding whether or not to volunteer to make cupcakes for a class party, but it is worth considering before you take on a new task: Is this important enough to add to my already full plate? Because that full plate is having an impact on your wellness. While each task on its own probably isn't a problem, piling on a mountain of them is. Choose wisely.

So, for instance, when you’re looking around at undone chores or trying to wrangle your email in-box or considering what home improvement project you need to tackle, it's worth considering if it's really that important. What is the cost-benefit analysis when it comes to your stress and therefore your overall health? 

Many times it is worth adding some event or task to your list. But it’s not always worth it. So it is crucial that you learn to make healthy boundaries. Even fun events can become a wellness drain if you’re overtaxed. 

Then there are those less fun tasks that you may feel pressured to get to: keeping your house and life tidy, sparkling clean, and well organized, for instance. Boundaries are important here, too. Is it worth you losing sleep over not having all the laundry washed, folded and neatly put away? Probably not. 

This process, of making these boundaries, leads directly to our next item.  

1. Prioritize

Setting clear priorities is key to managing stress. Allowing those priorities to change is also important. Life isn’t always providing the same challenges and gifts; your life focus will ebb and flow, too. 

Priorities, it should be noted, are a form of creating boundaries: the items higher on your priority list are non-negotiable. That’s one boundary. The items lower down can be discarded if need be. That’s another boundary. The more overwhelmed you feel, the more you focus only on the highest priority tasks, letting anything non-essential go. 

You give those nonessential items no thought. It’s very important that you pick up your child from school and get them to the doctor on time. So, thoughts of getting the lawn mowed are allowed to vanish. 

Key here, too, is making rejuvenating and health-promoting activities essentials as well. Your hiking time, it’s essential. Your 15 minute midday rest, non-negotiable. Ten minutes of journal writing each morning–don’t skip it. 

A final word is that it really is OK to let some things go, at least for now. Yes, you do want to volunteer at the library once a week, but right now just isn’t a good time. Table it. You will get back to it when the time is right. 

2. Focus On Your Emotional and Mental Energy 

Most of us have enough time to do just about everything we need to do. What we don’t have enough of is the emotional and mental energy to do it all. 

For most of us, there’s time to stream some shows, play video games, and scroll through social media. We have the time, that is, for mindless activities that require little effort. During that time, we would be hard pressed to be able to get much else done. That is because we’ve become emotionally and mentally tapped out. 

The focus then when we’re deciding what we do or don’t have space for isn’t so much a concern about how much time it will take but how much energy it will consume. The hour you spend on your taxes will feel a lot different than the hour you spend in your yoga class. Both are important and they take the same amount of time, but one is likely much more taxing (I hope–and, pun intended). 

Being mindful of how taxing or stressful your daily endeavors are can help you prioritize and modulate your energy expenditure. 

3. Start Each Day with a Stress-Reducing Mantra

Yes, stress is a result of having a lot to do and feeling as if we won’t have enough time or energy to do it. But, very importantly, stress has a lot to do with how you perceive what’s on tap for the day. It has a lot to do with your outlook. 

For instance, imagine you have a meeting today with a client and you’re just not sure how it will go. So, you begin to consider how many ways you might mess it up, losing potential business. Alternatively, you could fix your thoughts on how well it might go, and what you might learn from this new person. You can approach the situation with fear and trepidation or excitement and curiosity. It’s your choice. 

Similarly, you can approach each day feeling under duress from the minute you open your eyes: Ugh, what do I have to trudge through now? Or you could start with a mind open to possibilities: What wonderful experience is waiting for me?

One way to help set the tone is to choose a word or phrase to carry with you. A guiding principle you create every morning. 

It could be something like, “My day flows smoothly and fluidly,” “I notice what’s beautiful in my surroundings,” or “I approach challenges with curiosity.”  

You may be surprised to discover how this small shift in perspective and intention can have a profound impact on your subconscious and on your nervous system. As simple as it sounds, this can be a powerful tool. 

4. Recognize Moments When You Can Insert Calm

There is time throughout your day when you can practice serenity. It can, in fact, be in those moments when you normally find yourself at the height of stress. Sitting in traffic. Waiting in a long, slow moving line. While you're on hold waiting for someone on the phone. When you can turn these normally draining moments into refreshing calming moments, you win times two. 

Also important to remember is that even small breaks of one or two minutes scattered throughout the day are really helpful. This helps keep your energy in a more steady state throughout the day.

Take a few deep, intentional breaths. Do a two minute body scan, tensing and relaxing each body part, head to toe. Stand up and stretch. Take a walk around the block. 

Learning how to bring yourself into a calm state will help keep stress at bay. This is a practice, which means you’ll improve on it over time. Putting in your calming “reps” will improve your stress management and reverberate through your day.

Nothing to Lose, Except the Stress

We all experience stress. How we manage it has a big impact on our health and wellness. Left unattended, stress can take on a life of its own, such that even the smallest additional pull at our energy sends us into a spiral of overwhelm. 

Taking steps to address where your stress is coming from and how to manage it doesn’t need to take much time or effort, and the benefits can be life-changing. 

Putting these 5 easy concepts to use can have both immediate and long-term benefits. You can literally start right now. 

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