Stress, when untreated, can kill you. It can cause heart attacks, strokes, a compromised immune system, diabetes, and obesity. Stress can cause headaches, fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety, irritability, and anger. It can undermine relationships (personal and professional), and it can bring on depression. Many of your end-users, clients, and coworkers are feeling stress right now. Some of them may even be in various stages of panic. You’re probably feeling some stress as well.
So, how do you deal with the stress of living in today’s crazy, upside-down world? There’s no denying that stress levels are higher now than in recent history. The best thing you can do for the people around you is also the best thing you can do for yourself. That’s to learn how to manage your responses to the stressors in your life. Here’s how to deal with it.
First of all, recognize that whether times are good or bad, there will always be some stress. Stress, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad. It’s our choices about how we respond to the stressors in our life that really matter.
Start by identifying the various sources of stress in your life. Make a list of everything that causes you stress.
Now, organize your list by the stressors you can control and those you can’t. Examples of stress you can’t control include decisions by government officials, actions of other people, the weather, decisions by your boss or their higher-ups. Examples of stressors you can control include relationship issues, financial problems, and job problems.
Review your list of stressors you can’t control and accept that you have no control over them and your best choice is to simply let them go. I know that can be easier said than done.
Think of the words of Louise Hay: “What you control the most causes you the most PAIN. Breathe in, breathe out, and let go of trying to control your life.” “I release the need to control my life.”
As a frequent traveler, I realized once the aircraft door is closed, I have very little control over what happens. I released my control to the crew of the jet. It was actually quite freeing to come to that simple realization.
How to Let Go of Things Beyond Your Control
Here are some techniques for letting go of things beyond your control:
- Be aware of your emotions. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling, whether it’s fear, frustration, helplessness, anger, or any other emotion. It helps to name the emotions you’re feeling. Once you name them, you can start to deal with them.
- Be intentional about the choices you make in response to the stressors in your life and your emotions. Be thoughtful, deeply thoughtful, about making choices that will have a positive effect on you and the important people in your life, whether family, coworkers, or friends.
- Start by letting go of little things, those minor annoyances that can get on your nerves, but which, in the big scheme of things, don’t really matter.
- Be willing to change. Some of our techniques for dealing with life are based on lessons we learned as children and young adults. Those lessons may have been taught by well-meaning adults, but they might not be correct, or maybe they were right at the time, but not appropriate for today’s world. Perhaps those lessons were modeled by someone we used to admire, but now realize was not a good role model. We tend to believe that our way of dealing with things is the correct way or the best way, but that’s not always true. Sometimes, a reset is in order. Hit the pause button and review how your reactions to what happens in your life are affecting you. Then, think about whether a different response might produce a more desirable outcome.
- Work on genuine, sincere gratitude. Keep a daily journal of that for which you’re grateful. Review it frequently to adjust your perspective.
- Turn to trustworthy people. Choose your influencers carefully. Avoid people who are dishonest or who just try to stir things up. Avoid rumors and gossip.
- Recognize that few things are permanent. If something is beyond your control, whatever is going to happen will happen regardless of what you do.
- Next, review your list of the stressors that are within your control and write down the steps you’ll take to deal with them. Think in terms of achieving a positive outcome for yourself and the important people in your life. Once you’ve written down the steps you’ll take to deal with the stressors you can control, start working on them and check them off your list! The act of taking action can help reduce your stress.
Stress Management Tools
Now that you’ve identified what’s outside your control and let that go, and identified what’s within your control and started to check off your action items, what else can you do to deal with stressful times?
- Carefully choose your influences. Are you listening to opinion-based broadcasts that make you angry? Turn ‘em off! Certainly, listen to news broadcasts from reliable sources (I tend to trust PBS and the BBC.) But stay away from random bloggers and propaganda types of sources that try to persuade you to believe one way or another. If you have friends or associates that like to spout information, get in the habit of asking what their source is.
- Do the activities that bring you joy. Perhaps it’s woodworking, auto mechanics, sewing, working in the garden, yoga, working out, reading, knitting, going for walks, shooting hoops, or something else. I play music, so I’ll sometimes sit down at the piano or organ in the middle of the day and play for half an hour. (There are definitely benefits to working from home.)
- Just because you’re practicing social distancing doesn’t mean you have to give up socializing. Janet and I have a close friend who lives about two hours away. For years, we’ve had Skype cocktail hours with him. Just this week, we had a virtual happy hour with our entire family on Zoom. Even though we’re avoiding close physical contact, we don’t have to avoid socializing.
- Check your perspective. We all have challenges, certainly some people more than others. I want to acknowledge that some of you who are watching or listening right now are dealing with tremendous struggles and I certainly don’t want to minimize that. Still, sometimes it can help to think of people who are struggling even more than you. Think, perhaps, of an immigrant woman fleeing an abusive relationship with her children or a family trying to exist in their wartorn homeland. Sometimes, when we reframe our thinking, we gain the needed strength to deal with our own struggles.
- As with letting go of control, be grateful. Make a list of those things in your life for which you’re grateful. Focus on them. Look for things for which you can be thankful.
- Remember to laugh. Laughter releases endorphins into your brain while reducing the level of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline. Even fake laughter can improve your perspective. YouTube is a great source of funny videos. I’ve included some recommendations toward the bottom of this blog post.
- Be flexible. Crazy times like these require us to be prepared for rapid changes of plans. Just roll with it!
- Help others. That’s always good advice. Check on your neighbors. Even a phone call to someone living by themself can make a world of difference. What can you do to make someone else feel better? Do whatever you can while still practicing safe behaviors.
- Do something physical, whether it’s walking, working out, yoga, stretching, or something else, get up and move.
Try to Be Normal
Look, these are strange times. (That’s an understatement!) No doubt about it. Everything feels like it’s in turmoil. So, try to be normal, as much as you can. These are times when people get anxious about the future and it’s understandable. But there’s not a lot you can do about many things. There are still, however, boring, mundane activities that need to be done such as walking the dog, doing the dishes and the laundry, making meals, or straightening up the house. If you’re fortunate enough to have a job, there are reports to analyze, tasks to accomplish, repairs to be made, proposals to write, systems to design, and budgets to prepare. Focus on the tasks of life to get your mind away from anxiety about the future.
Funny Video Recommendations
What are some of your favorite videos? Leave them in a comment below.