Today we’re going to look at the question, can you avoid stress, and we’ll look at 12 key steps that will help better cope with it.
Can you avoid stress? This was a question I was asked the other day. My honest answer was that even if you lived on a deserted exotic island with your perfect soul mate you still would be affected by stress. Its unavoidable.
Stress is an unpleasant element of life. We all experience it from time to time, and we all need to come up with ways to cope with it.
Imagine you’re on your exotic island and you go into the ocean for a swim and you see the large fin of a shark 100 feet away. Suddenly your pulse quickens, blood pounding in your lungs, sweat floods from every pour, every muscle in your body is pumped and your entire body is raised to its peak ability, your brain becomes super-alert. Stress has done its job. It helps you get back to shore, safely.
Evolution has given you this stress response.
It makes you able to run or fight.
But to have it all the time? That’s where it gets dangerous.
Once your brain senses there’s danger, it signals your adrenal glands to release the hormone adrenaline. Once transmitted, adrenaline raises blood sugar levels, blood pressure and circulating fats; increasing the likelihood you will have a heart attack or stroke. When it keeps happening, this danger obviously increases.
Don’t leave stress unchecked or wait until it makes you ill.
In the UK 526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2016/17. 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. Results from the Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 study showed that in the previous year, 74% of people felt so stressed that they were overwhelmed or unable to cope.
There are numerous steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of being affected by stress and many of them are a matter of simple common sense. This page contains some simple steps that you can take to help minimise or avoid stress.
Step One: Determine Your Personal Stressors
It’s time to make time to think about what stressors actually affect you. Determining your individual stressors can help you cope for several reasons:
- Uncovering the cause of your stress will help you to deal with the effects it is producing in you or its going to get you to avoid the stressor in the first place.
- Knowing why and where your emotions come from makes you feel more in control and helps lessen the stress it creates. Forearmed is forewarned.
- Most importantly facing up to what causes your stress, allows you to take specific measures to reduce it.
You will benefit from taking the time to sit down to identify the areas of your life that you find the most stressful, so that you may begin to be proactive in eliminating, or at least reducing the stress in that area. Just ask yourself what is it that causes most of my stress? This is your starting point, determining exactly what stresses you out. You must know where the problem is in order to fix it. The most obvious candidates are financial problems, struggling business, problems in relationships, ill health, and work/life imbalance.
Step Two: Learn to relax
Many people do not include any time for relaxation. Conscious relaxation is important for your body and mind and can help you deal with the negatives of stress. If you want to get yourself into a supportive mental state, feel physically vibrant and totally alive, then using relaxation techniques is essential for you. You see the way you feel emotionally affects the way you feel physically. Equally, the way you feel physically affects the way you feel emotionally. Relaxation is virtually the opposite of stress. So, when stressed you need time for relaxation.
When you relax, your muscles loosen, blood pressure lowers, and the heartbeat slows down. It is without doubt a far more beneficial and enjoyable state to be in. You need to find time for relaxation in order to countermand stress. It needs to be a regular routine that you do every single day.
Examples of relaxation techniques include Meditation, Deep Breathing and Progressive Muscular Relaxation. Over the next few weeks I will provide an audio track (podcast) for each of these and a few more so you can try them out.
Step Three: Time management
Effective time management eases the pressure on you and improves your stress levels. How many times have you said, ‘There’s never enough time in the day.’ Trying to cram everything in during the day can cause a great amount of stress. Effective time management allows you to make the most out of the time you’ve got. You can’t change the fact that you’ve only got 24 hours in a day, but it can help you get so much more out of the time you do have. Using time effectively involves making wise choices that will produce positive results and reduce the stress. This involves planning your time. Learning to prioritize is an important element to time management. Managing your monthly, weekly and daily schedule to ensure your focus is on your most important tasks or objectives ensuring you use your time most effectively. Also cutting out time wasting activities. The result of good time management is increased effectiveness and productivity. You will also feel less pressured so less stressed. Sometimes it just takes recording all your activities in a journal over a 7-day period to give you the answer to how much time you waste and how you could better organise it.
Step Four: Ensure that you get enough fun out of life
When life gets busy, it’s easy to forget that we need to take time for us. Time to enjoy life, have some fun, maybe have a laugh. A great remedy for stress.
“Live and work but do not forget to play, to have fun in life and really enjoy it.” Eileen Caddy
When was the last time you recall having fun? Can you remember the last time you laughed, played or actually escaped from daily boredom and really enjoyed life? Do you plan activities that bring you joy? Too often life I’m sure is way too busy and it can be difficult to get a good balance between work and life, which includes enjoying yourself with friends and loved ones. But you have to make time for it. Plan time to do something that gives you pleasure. Looking forward to such times helps when you have to cope with less pleasant aspects of life. When you’re busy and your schedule is packed, you can forget to schedule time for fun into your calendar. Make it a habit to look ahead and reserve regular time for family dinners, trips to the park, visits with friends, seeing a funny movie, and doing fun things alone and with others. Having fun keeps you healthy, happy, and re-energized. Fun is the enjoyment of pleasure, particularly in leisure activities. Fun is an experience often … As the adage states where “Time flies when you’re having fun”. Should be the first thing on your doctors prescription, an order to make time for fun.
Step Five: Reduce the demands on yourself
Do not over-commit yourself and be prepared to say ‘No’ if the load is too great. It is common for people to overestimate how much can be achieved in a particular space of time, so its shrewd to leave free time to cope with the unexpected. Alas too frequently many of you take on too many tasks, never able to say ‘no’ when others ask you to help, or to do something? Learning to occasionally use the word ‘no’ is one of the most beneficial habits you can develop to reduce your demands. Of course, it’s easier to say yes, but it’s not always the right thing for you to do. Often from a stress relief point of view it’s important at times to say ‘no’. Sometimes you are already piled too high with work deadlines and other obligations, that there’s no time to squeeze anything else in but you feel obliged, or think you’ll upset the person asking if you say ‘no’. Too often you try to squeeze too many activities into too little time, and this is not good for you. This creates way too much stress upon you, and that little word ‘no’ can help you out significantly.
Step Six: Positive thinking
A really important stress management method is to understand what is going on in your mind, to no longer just let thoughts wander in and out, with you remaining passive. Particularly as most of your thoughts are probably negative. You must now start to focus on your thoughts and become aware of how your thoughts hold you back. Do not dwell on failures and pessimism, instead think of your successes or at least your commitment to getting the things done that you are doing. The author Earl Nightingale puts forward that 92% of our worries are uncalled for because they are about things that will never happen, and about things that have already happened, so cannot be changed, no matter how much time you waste on them. If it is your thoughts that are bringing you so much misery and problems in your life, causing the stress that you have, then by changing your mind, you will then change your reality, and in turn will change your life. You really do need to understand that a negative mind, focusing on problems and fearing what’s ahead will make you incredibly stressed, and can lead to illness.
Step Seven: Ask the right questions
An important stress management technique is for you to take consistent daily control of your mental focus by asking better questions. You must create the habit of asking questions that are more empowering and positive than maybe you’re usually asking yourself. The ability to question yourself on an ongoing basis is a fundamental key to stress management, so long as the questions are thought provoking, and empowering. Questions are keys that unlock answers, as well as the way to focus the mind on your goals. ‘Why am I always failing’ Is the type of question that can do nothing but harm.
What you are thinking about and how you are feeling at any time depends on the questions you are asking yourself. It is these questions that determine what your mind focuses on, and ultimately affects how you feel. You are asking yourself questions all day long. Unfortunately, it is often the case that people use a pattern of self defeating, stress-producing, destructive questions to direct their mind. Have you ever heard yourself ask ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ The quality of our questions determines the quality of our answers, and the amount of stress we cause ourselves. Disempowering questions produce disempowering answers while empowering questions generate empowering answers. Much of the success we have in life is the result of the questions we ask!
Step Eight: Live with gratitude
‘Through the mindfulness practice of gratitude, you are able to rejoice amidst all life’s suffering’ Phillip Moffitt.
An attitude of gratitude is essential to stress management. Gratitude is a ‘feeling of thankfulness and appreciation’. It can give a massive boost to your emotions. You need to see every day as a new opportunity, and begin it with gratitude. Take 5 minutes early each morning to give thanks, to whoever or whatever you’re grateful for. Early morning is a powerful time of day to charge your mind. Acknowledge and appreciate what is already going well in your life, no matter how small. You can always find something to be grateful for no matter how bad things may be for you at the time.
By taking time to look at your life and show gratitude for the things you already have will give you a positive start to the day. By showing gratitude you will put yourself into a positive mindset. Gratitude will help you find some inner peace and will support you in dealing with the current circumstances of your life.
“If you learn to appreciate more of what you already have, you’ll find yourself having more to appreciate.”
Step Nine: Use positive statements that create positive internal dialogue within us
Affirmations are simple statements we say to ourselves, positive thoughts, information, and proclamations, frequently repeated to ourselves, to instil them in our mind, to inspire us and positively influence our subconscious mind. By intentionally using positive affirmations, you will give yourself the best chance to avoid negative thinking.
Everything you think and say is an affirmation. Your inner dialogue is a torrent of affirmations. You know what I’m talking about, that voice in your head. It’s always talking to you, isn’t it? Those words and thoughts are constantly, subconsciously affirming the way you are, and the life you live. Too often we say things in our minds over and over again that are negative about our situations, and the events we live, which brings about more of the same – unwanted situations. If you are constantly repeating thoughts of doom and gloom, generated by your negative self-talk you are building a life you don’t want. You’ll notice that I am giving you more than one way of spinning your mind into a more positive state and that is because it is so vital. It’s frightening really, that often it is our minds that cause so much of the stress in our lives. We worry ourselves to illness.
Step Ten: Pick Your Battles
Pick your battles means that you would be well-advised to select a few specific issues of importance to focus on, rather than trying to deal with too many things at once. If you pick your battles well, you can defuse problems along the way as you address the most important issues first. Having a scatter gun approach to life, where you try to cut yourself into little pieces so you can deal with everything is impossible. And of course, will cause stress.
The point is to reduce your stress as much as possible. Devise a plan of action that is designed to eliminate your stress, by picking your battles. You can’t do everything, no one could. Some things you just have to leave until tomorrow. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you’re not superman or superwoman.
Your time is limited. You’ve only got 24 hours in a day. Eight of those you should be sleeping through. It is so important for you, particularly when combating stress, that you are selective about which battles you choose to fight each day, leaving the others to another time or to another person. Don’t feel guilty that you couldn’t do something today. Be realistic about what you can achieve, and just be satisfied by what you do accomplish.
Step Eleven: Practise assertiveness
Asserting yourself in a positive, non-threatening way can help to cope with stress. An assertive person thinks and behaves in a way that allows them to stand up for their rights, yet still able to respect the rights of others. Being assertive will enable you to increase your self-confidence and help you control stress. It makes you have an inner strength, and this gives you the resilience to deal with the pressures in life. Assertiveness is the ability to express one’s feelings and assert one’s rights while respecting the feelings and rights of others… People who have mastered the skill of assertiveness are able to greatly reduce the level of interpersonal conflict in their lives, thereby reducing a major source of stress.
Step Twelve: Look after your physical well-being
People are better able to cope with stress when their bodies are healthy. Poor health is a major source of stress and an unhealthy mind and body makes it pretty hard to be resilient to the effects of stress. Having worked in the fitness industry for many years, it still amazes me why so many people wait until they are diagnosed with conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, or high blood pressure before they step into a gym and begin to eat healthily. Until then they don’t seem to be able to find the motivation to get off the couch and exercise or fill a plate with fruit and vegetables. To me it is essential that people begin to focus on their health and do what’s necessary to support themselves to cope with stress. Exercising for 30 minutes a day and eating a healthy diet will go along way to doing this. I write a lot on this subject at www.healthylifestylesliving.com.
Most people suffer from stress at some time in their lives. An understanding of the causes of stress and learning to avoid stressful situations will help alleviate some of its negative consequences and using these 12 steps will help you to reduce its impact. Alas there is nothing you can do to avoid stress.