Do you feel constantly under pressure? Are your work deadlines taking a toll on you? Do you find yourself being anxious and on edge in your relationship? Do you experience headaches often? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are undergoing stress.
Stress has taken over our lives. The alarming rates of competition, job insecurity, and conflicts at a personal level all give rise to stress. We feel stressed when we have to handle more than we are used to. It is the reaction of our body and mind to the demands placed on us. Stress makes our heart and breathing rates faster. To a certain extent, stress is normal and useful and helps us to react quickly or work hard to meet a deadline.
However, if the stress is prolonged or occurs often, it results in negative effects like upset stomach, back pain, headache and disturbed sleep. It also has an adverse effect on our mood and may hamper our relationships and career. This is when we need to take a step to manage the stress.
The first step – find what is causing your stress
The most important thing you should do when combating stress involves finding the source of stress in your life. This can be done by keeping a stress journal.
Keeping a stress journal entails recording information about the daily stressors you are experiencing in order to analyze and manage them. Here are a few things you would want to record:
- The stressful event you have experience
- Your feelings after the even
- How did you handle the event?
After you have recorded in your journal for a number of days, it’s time to analyze it. For the analysis, look at the different stressful events you have experienced. Highlight those that occur frequently as well as those which are the most unpleasant. Then, appraise how you have felt after these events as well as how you handled them. Your analysis will reveal several problems regarding your handling of these events that need to be fixed. It will be helpful to list these areas separately to work on them later.
Then shift your focus to the stressful events you experienced and list ways in which they can be changed or if your reaction to them can be changed. Finally, analyze the feelings these events arose in you and how did that affect your overall functioning.
Once you have fully identified the common sources of stress in your life and analyzed your pattern of handling them, you can discontinue managing your journal and move onto the next step.
The second step – avoid situations that cause stress
Avoiding all situations that are causing you stress might not be possible, but avoiding some will be. For example, avoid people who stress you out. Limit the time you spend with them. Of course, this can’t be done if it’s a spouse or a family member.
Having too many deadlines and taking on too many roles is a cause of stress. Learn to be assertive and say no. Know your limits and say ‘no’ to taking on more than you can handle.
Take control of your environment. Avoid the traffic-filled route or hire someone to clean the house for you if you find it stressful.
The third step – change the stressful situation
If there is no way to avoid a stressful situation, try to change them and decrease the amount of stress that way. For example, play your favorite music while doing an unpleasant chore like cleaning to make it seem better.
Manage your time better. Poor time management leads to a lot of stress. Planning ahead ensures you are on time on your deadlines and you lose a reason to be stressed.
Express your feelings. Talk it out instead of keeping it inside. If you want some me-time, tell your spouse you want to be by yourself for __ number of minutes and will get back right after that. If something is bothering you, be upfront about it without being rude and express how you feel about it. For example, if your spouse is not throwing out the garbage, a duty he initially assumed, calmly approach him and say ‘I feel stressed when the garbage is still there and I feel like I have one more task to attend to before sleeping.’
Balance it out. Asking someone to change their behavior also involves doing something for them in exchange. Or when you are taking on their duties, you might want to give them one of yours. For example, in the above situation, you can add, ‘When we divided the duties earlier, we had decided you will do it. Do you want to continue doing it or exchange it for another?’
The fourth step – change your reactions
You may not be able to control stressful situations and events, but you can control the way you are reacting to them. Try looking at stressful situations from a positive perspective. For example, if an added responsibility at work stresses you out, think of how it will add to your learning and you can add an extra set of skill experience to your resume.
Take out your binoculars. The situations cause us stress because we are looking at merely the present scenario. However, if we zoom out and see the whole picture, it might not seem as bad. Think of how much this event is important? Will it matter in a month or a year? Is it worth wasting your time over? For example, this might be applicable when a colleague has pointed out your mistake in a monthly review meeting. You feel bad about it and get stressed that it will affect your reputation at work. Thinking about how many people will remember it till the next meeting or how important that colleague’s view is for you should help reduce the stress.
Set lower expectations. When we expect a lot from both ourselves and others, we set ourselves up for failure. Stop demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards.
The fifth step – accept what cannot be changed
Some situations and people are beyond our control. Focusing on these uncontrollable events will only lead to more stress. You need to shift your focus to things you can control instead. For example, if a family member’s behavior often causes you to be angry and your umpteen efforts at changing him/her have proved futile, it would be best to change the way you react to him/her. Don’t give him/her the power to decide your emotions.
Look at difficult situations in a new light. View them as ways to grow and learn.
Humans are fallible and prone to mistakes. Forgive and let go of resentment.
The sixth step – find ways to de-stress
Find strategies that work for you when you are stressed. Some of these may be:
- Playing with a pet
- Writing about things that are bothering you
- Talking to a friend
- Indulging in a hobby
- Going for a walk
- Taking a long, leisurely bath
- Watching a comic video
- Practicing relaxation techniques or yoga
Set aside time for yourself during the day. Indulge in things you enjoy doing.
The seventh step – practice healthy lifestyle choices
Eat a nutritious, balanced diet. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Reduce caffeine, oil, and sugar from your diet. Get enough restful sleep. Drink sufficient water daily to keep yourself hydrated.
This will help you feel better physically and emotionally. Take care of yourself; it’s the number one thing stress hates.
Elkin, A. (2013). Stress management for dummies. John Wiley & Sons.
Romas, J. A., & Sharma, M. (2013). Practical Stress Management: A Comprehensive Workbook. Pearson Higher Ed.
Tol, W. A., Barbui, C., & van Ommeren, M. (2013). Management of acute stress, PTSD, and bereavement: WHO recommendations. JAMA, 310(5), 477-478.
Do you experience stress on a daily basis? Do you often forget important tasks or where you kept things? Are you experiencing stress in your relationships? Do you experience difficulties in regulating your emotions? Are you having trouble losing weight despite having tried all diet and exercise versions? Are you striving to know the real you?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, this article is for you.
In the rush of things today, we often find ourselves multi-tasking. You may be talking to your kids while reading the newspaper, folding your laundry with an eye on the television, or calculating the monthly expenses while talking to your mother on the phone. Amidst all this rush to get everything completed on time, you may be losing out on your connection with the present.
Are you actually aware of what you are doing and how you are feeling? Or do you just go through each day without an awareness of what is happening? Did you notice that little puppy wagging its tail at you during your morning walk or the fact that you woke up feeling a bit lightheaded? Or did you rush out of bed owing to the alarm’s buzzer and then went off on your daily routine without a pause to think or feel?
If this is how each of your days looks like, it’s time to turn to mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of consciously focusing your attention on the present and accepting it without being judgmental. Mindfulness nudges you to let go of the past and the future and be aware of only the present moment.
Often enough, we find ourselves lamenting on the past and wishing things could have been different or dreaming about the future. But in doing so, we let go of the present as the moments tick by without our being aware of them. Mindfulness helps us by slowing down the pace of our thoughts, letting us focus on each thought, in turn; giving us a clear head and helping us relax.
That is all good, you say, but why should I practice mindfulness? What does it have in store for me?
Well, here are 6 basic reasons why integrating mindfulness into your life is helpful.
1. Reduces stress
Know that thing which makes your heart rate rise, makes you sweat profusely, and unable to focus on anything with that unsettling feeling inside of you? Yes, that’s right.
The everyday stress and worry that hounds you all day can be gone with a poof with mindfulness.
Have I got your attention now?
Researchers now prove that mindfulness is associated with decreased level of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, mindfulness has been seen to increase positive affect and decrease negative affect, as well as anxiety. The research findings suggest that mindfulness brings about a shift in people’s ability to use emotion regulation strategies resulting in their experiencing emotions selectively and processing them differently. Another manner in which mindfulness reduces stress is by helping people with accepting their experiences, including negative emotions, rather than reacting to them in unhealthy ways like avoidance or aversion.
2. Boosts memory
Do you often forget where you kept your car keys or why did you open the refrigerator? Or forgot about important deadlines or missed scheduled meetings? This is another problem mindfulness can help you with. We have endless deadlines these days and even with multiple to-do lists, it is difficult to keep track of everything, including your kids’ parent-teacher meetings.
Research has found that those who underwent an eight-week mindfulness training had a stable working memory unlike those who did not undergo the training. The memory capacity was also seen to increase with the practice of mindfulness.
3. Improves relationships
If you’re looking to work on your relationship with your spouse, family, or friends, mindfulness is the answer for you. Mindfulness equips you with the ability to respond well to relationship stress, enhances your skills in communicating your emotions and protects you against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflicts. Research findings support that mindfulness is seen to predict relationship satisfaction.
4. Helps you regulate your emotions
Many clients these days come to me with complaints of being hypersensitive. They say they get emotional easily; even cry, and they would like to be stronger and not get upset so easily. Mindfulness acts as a wonderful antidote to this. It begins by helping you recognize your patterns, like when you ponder on why your ex cheated on you two years ago, or when you find yourself thinking about how you are not climbing the career ladder as fast as your contemporaries. Mindfulness helps you recognize this repetition in your thoughts.
Then it helps you label this thought or emotion. You begin to recognize that you are having the thought about not climbing the career ladder as fast as your contemporaries. This helps you recognize your thoughts and feelings for what they actually are.
The third step then involves accepting these thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness helps you accept them without being judgmental while at the same time not resigning yourself to negative thoughts and emotions. You pay attention to them and experience them without responding to them. The last step involves acting not out of emotion or an impulsive thought but on your values, the place of long-term conviction that you hold. This is important because your emotions are ever-changing while your values are stable.
5. Helps you achieve your weight-loss goals
Have you changed your diet, started an exercise regime and still aren’t losing any weight? Mindfulness might help. A survey by American Psychological Association involving 1328 licensed psychologists revealed that they find mindfulness training to be a good approach to losing weight. They reported emotional factors are important not only in causing weight problems but they also pose as a major barrier in overcoming them. Mindfulness training helps in training people to allow negative thoughts and emotions to come and go without dwelling on them. It focuses on enjoying the present moment. Doing so helps with weight reduction when teamed up with proper diet and exercise regime.
6. Helps you know the true you
Mindfulness helps you go beyond those black or rose tinted glasses and see the real you. It helps you analyze yourself objectively. It helps you conquer blind spots which amplifies or diminishes your own flaws in your eyes. Mindfulness lets you observe without being judgmental and increases your capacity to attend to stimuli. It lets you get to really know yourself without feeling any negative emotions towards yourself.
How do I start practicing mindfulness?
Well, it’s not that hard. For starters, try to stay present and to pay attention to your physical senses and your surroundings. Here’s a basic mindfulness meditation procedure to give you a little push.
- Sit in an upright posture in a relatively quiet space.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus on your natural breathing or a word (for example, ‘Om’).
- Repeat it silently.
- Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment.
- Return your focus to your breath or the word.
Why don’t you begin practicing mindfulness and let me know the benefits that you experienced?