Life, in general, is stressful. Or, said another way, just being alive is a stressful endeavor. Our mind and body has to continuously be on alert, be ready at a moment's notice to flee from danger. Before we created society as it is, stress used to come in the form of avoiding predators, starvation, other humans that decided they didn't want us around, ensuring the survival of our young, and so on.
Some of these things still ring true, but as a species we've done a pretty darn good job of significantly reducing the big stressors. We've also done a fantastic job of creating lots of little stressors, and lots of engineered ways to block them out, usually in a very unproductive fashion, that can actually create stress in their own right.
It's important to realize at this point one very important truth: You stress yourself out. The stress that arises in your body is not created by an external factor or person. How you perceive the external factor or person, and then think and feel about the external factor or person, creates the stress in your body. Think about someone in your life that does not get stressed or upset about the same things you do. That's because your brains are thinking different thoughts about the same thing.
Circumstances just are. We're each personally responsible for how we react to them. With that being said, if you want to reduce your stress, you've got to identify the things that trigger stress for you personally.
Identify what stresses you
People - Other people can be stressful. It's natural to want to fit in, to be concerned about what others think of us. But being overly concerned about this can cause a lot of stress. And at the root of this is trying to control other people, either by pleasing them, or pushing them.
When it comes to pleasing, or not saying no to someone else, the control comes in the form of appeasing another person so they don't think badly of you. In this situation, it is very easy to blame the other person for asking you to do something in the first place, and be blinded to the fact that you are the one creating the stressful situation by agreeing to something you don't want to. Sure, you avoid the disapproval of someone else, but you let yourself down.
When it comes to pushing, the control comes in the form of trying to manipulate someone else. This stems from a fear of lacking control. Life can get scary when it's chaotic, so people pushers try to keep the boundaries of their lives nice and neat by controlling everything they can. This can be highly stressful though, because life is naturally chaotic, so there are no moments of true rest if you try to control everything.
Habits - Daily habits that work against your growth as a human can be stressful in a sneaky way. You might not even realize they are stressing you out. That habit of pushing the snooze button one too many times in the morning. That habit of eating or drinking a sugary snack in the afternoon. That habit of binging a show, and staying up far later than you wanted. That habit of biting your nails too low, to the point of causing pain. That habit of getting distracted far too often, so much so that you've not been able to reach the goal you set a while back. All these little things can add up to a lot of worry, the constant companion to stress.
Work - I would be remiss to leave work out of the stress equation. Work can be stressful because it can be demanding, is tied to our sense of security, our sense of worth, our livelihood. Even for people that love their work, it is not stress free. And nor should it be. In a situation at work where you're being challenged to grow, stress can be a good thing. But if you're in the habit (there's another one of those pesky habits) of stressing about your job, and no goal is attached to that stress, you're just heading for burn out.
Stress is a habit
As I mentioned above, stress can become a habit, just like any other behavior. Think about it; what did your parents stress about that you now stress about? Money? Health? Self confidence? Other people? Politics? The environment? World peace? Donuts? Seriously, what stress habits did you grow up watching, and adopting?
Thinking on this can be eye opening, and the first step to letting go of some of that stress. Reliving your childhood to pick out all the stress habits you picked up may not be the easiest way to reduce stress, but I'd definitely recommend this exercise if you want to do some deeper work in order to let go of some stress habits. Recognize them, realize that your brain is just doing one of it's main jobs by keeping you alert to stressful things that could cause you harm, then actively choose to keep or let them go.
There are some very simple techniques for letting go of stress. Here are my favorites.
Deep breathing - Yes, you've heard this before, but hear me out. When your body becomes stressed, the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is activated. One of the FASTEST ways to reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest) is to utilize breathing. Think of this like a reset button, or ctrl+alt+delete. Granted, the thought you are thinking that's stressing your out (see, you stress yourself out) won't just disappear, but breathing deeply cue's your body that you're in a place that you can close your eyes and relax. If you were being chased by a predator, the ultimate utilization of our sympathetic nervous system, you could not close your eyes and breath deep.
And when I say breath deep, breath DEEP. Make it noisy. Pull in a lot of air through your nose, and blow it out of your mouth. Make some noise with your vocal cords if it feels good. Do this until you start to feel your body calm, then continue to breath in and out through your noise for several repetitions.
Movement - When you get stressed, as long as your adrenal glands are functioning properly, cortisol is released. Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol cue's the cells of your body that poop's about to hit the fan, and high amounts of energy is produced. All of this energy creates vibrations in your body that feel pretty uncomfortable. You can just sit with it, and sweat (because all that energy is creating heat) and stress even more because you feel uncomfortable, or you can move so some of that energy is released. This movement can be super simple. Just stand up and shake your body around as if you were a toddler having a cow. Or ask Alexa or Siri to play a great song to dance to. Jog in place. Do some jumping jacks. Go for a brisk walk. Do some line kicks. Whatever. Just move.
Practice meditation - "Hey," you're saying, "I thought you said these were easy ways to reduce stress!" Yes, that's exactly what I said. Meditation is easy, insofar as it only takes a couple minutes to implement, and can have a profound impact on stress management. Granted, meditation can feel hard when you first start it. But think about it, you're sitting down with your eyes closed, concentrating on your breathing for a few minutes. Have you ever learned to drive? Broken a bone? Spoke in public? Given birth to or raised a child? That's hard. Meditation is not.
Meditation can completely change the way you think about and relate to stress. I'm a huge meditation proponent because I implemented a practice a year ago, and it has been life changing for me. I know many people that say the same. And it's easier than ever to do with apps like Headspace, Calm, and 10% Happier. If you say you have no time, that's a habit. (Perhaps one you picked up as a kid?) You wouldn't say you have no to time to brush your teeth, would you? Give 10 minutes of your day to meditation, and before you know it, you won't let anything else take up that time.
Connecting with nature - When I say nature, I mean everything in the natural world. Plants, animals, other humans, the sky, clouds, bugs. Why do this? Because it takes you out of your own head, and creates a feeling of wonder. In moments of stress we can feel very isolated, because we get trapped inside our own thoughts. Take a moment to realize that there is an incredible world around you, teeming with the same energy that you are made of. Give yourself a momentary vacation from your ego, and relax into the awesomeness of it all, remembering you're an important part of it.
Stress is a part of the human condition, part of the deal we make. But if you can become objective about your stress, recognize what circumstances trigger the thoughts that bring on stress, and then take steps to both changes those thoughts, and also release stress from your body when it arises, you can start to change how often you feel stress, and how stress affects you.
If you feel caught in a cycle of stress, I can help you break out of it. Just fill in the form below to start a conversation with me.