Stress is a basic part of everyday life, but it doesn’t have to rule your everyday life.
It’s not an understatement to say that every single one of us is a little stressed these days. From politics to career issues, we’re constantly bombarded by things that put us under pressure. In fact, the American Psychological Association and the American Institute of Stress report that 77 percent of people report being regularly stressed, and a third of us say we're living under extreme stress. (1)
It’s easy for this stress to get away from us.
“This work presentation is so hard. My boss is going to be so disappointed. I bet I won’t even get that raise she promised me.”
We can get so wrapped up in our stressed-out thoughts, and so crushed by the sense of overwhelming anxiety and pressure, that the stress snowballs and becomes this huge, unmanageable, emotional beast.
But it’s important to note that while stress is a basic part of everyday life, it doesn’t have to rule your everyday life. If you find that your stress levels continue to accelerate, and that it grows and seems to take over every situation, try these specific steps to reset your perspective and move back into a place of balance.
1. Acknowledge You’re Stressed
Like we’re taught in many 12-step programs and rehab routines, acknowledging that there’s an issue that needs to be faced is the first step towards recovery.
The constant stream of stress that underlies so many scenarios and situations means stress can often go unnoticed, and the ways we lash out or act out our stress then becomes almost a subconscious reaction to something we haven’t given much thought about.
When you’re faced with a scenario that’s stressing you out, pause and acknowledge you’re stressed. This can be something as simple as stopping and saying out loud, “I’m feeling stressed right now.”
Simply putting it into words can help to stop the constant stream of thoughts and internal chatter, and signal to your mind that you’re present and ready to work on this.
“My son keeps getting poor grades. How will we afford to send him to a tutor when he goes to high school? What if that means he can’t get into a good college?”
2. Don’t Project Your Present Stress
One very, very easy way for stress to grow out of control, and for your reaction or emotions to grow out of proportion to the actual stressful situation, is by projecting the stress of this present moment into the unknown future.
Look, the ambiguity and nebulous nature of the future can be stressful in and of itself. The future doesn’t need any of today’s emotional or psychological baggage.
After acknowledging that the present moment is stressing yourself out, stay in that moment of acknowledgment and check in with the types of stressful thoughts and emotions you’re feeling. Where are your thoughts going to?
If you feel the pressure and anxiety growing, you may find that it’s because your thoughts are going right to the future and projecting the current moment’s pressure to things that have yet to occur.
“This work presentation is so hard. My boss is going to be so disappointed. I bet I won’t even get that raise she promised me.” (The present work presentation might truly be hard, but you have no idea how your boss will react, nor do you have any certainty on what may happen even if she IS upset by your work.)
“My son keeps getting poor grades. How will we afford to send him to a tutor when he goes to high school? What if that means he can’t get into a good college?” (Academic struggles are a reality for most children, but nothing about your child’s potential is written in stone!)
Allow yourself to feel the present stress, but keep your thoughts here in the Now.
“If your mind carries a heavy burden of past, you will experience more of the same,” writes Eckhart Tolle. “The past perpetuates itself through lack of presence. The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future.”
When we’re stressed, we often do more to make ourselves more stressed. It’s like these negative emotions need more negative energy to thrive.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or overburdened, you may be tempted to tackle even more. You might throw more things on your to-do list, thinking that if you just press on through, you’ll find relief on the other side.
But that’s not how it works. The reality is that we all have a specific amount of hours in each day, and a specific amount of mental, emotional and physical energy. Trying to do it all won’t make it better, it’ll make you even more stressed and fatigued and even less empowered to take on what you need to do.
Instead, prioritize. Make a clear list of what needs to happen and in what order. Then, begin working through that list, focusing on the present task and not letting the overall size of the list, nor the next step in your list, overwhelm you.
When everything is prioritized the same, everything is an emergency. But if you have a clear roadmap, you’ll know what destination to head towards first.
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