Stress is an old friend of mine. I was sure I haven’t packed it in my suitcase when I moved to Mauritius, yet, one day, I woke up and there it was. I stress out that I don’t work hard enough on my project and I can’t work because I stress out… It’s a viscous circle… I realized that stress is mostly fear, so the only way out is to face it.
It’s true that stress is part of life and we can’t get rid of it completely. In some cases, stress works to our benefit, giving us an adrenaline rush and helping to pull through a crisis. It’s good in moderation but unfortunately we often serve ourselves an un-swallowable doses of it. I also think, that stressing out has become something to be proud of – If you are not stressed, you are not ambitious enough, you don’t care, you are not productive… – and also an excuse for not dealing with own feelings – I’m so stressed, I can’t work, I’m so stressed I can’t focus on anything…
So how can we notice stress and deal with it, so it doesn’t stop us from achieving what we want in life, and actually from living?
- Pay attention & notice when you are stressed – The first point is to notice when you are stressed! I used be able to go for days before I realized I’m worried and tense. Usually it was at the point, when I was actually exhausted and couldn’t push any longer. Your body is your compass, all you need to do it to pay attention! Notice the pain between your shoulders, the stiffness in your knees, the headaches, the constant feeling of exhaustion, the upset tummy. Chances are that these are symptoms of stress and the sooner you notice them, the earlier you can do something about it. If you diagnose it early, stress is completely manageable. The symptoms of stress are also actions: not talking at all, picking a fight with a spouse, shouting at children, having the runs, overeating, drinking or smoking excessively. Often we repeat these behaviors and they become habits. It’s very important to stop and notice why is this happening. Is it a normal behavior for me or am I overreacting because I’m stressing out about something else?
- Stress is fear – I believe stress is a fearful reaction to life’s changes. We are doing something new, maybe we are in a new environment and we get stressed instantly. In reality, most likely we are afraid of something – That we won’t perform well enough, that we will fail even, that people will notice, we don’t know what we are doing or will find out that we are afraid. It’s OK to be afraid when you do something new. Remember when you were learning to drive or ski, or your first days at school? You don’t have to admit it to everyone around you but it’s important you admit it to yourself. Once you do, you can define what is scaring you and try to deal with it. When you understand what you are afraid of, you can either allow yourself to 'feel the fear and do it anyway', or decide the fear is bigger than your willingness to do this new thing and don’t do it (or, alternatively, find your own middle ground). The key is that once named, fear loses a lot of its power over us.
- Move your body – The best way to reduce stress and/or fear is to move your body. Honestly, I can not recommend this enough. It’s so simple and relay works magic. Stand up, do some sit ups, go for a walk or a run, if you are in an office go to get a tea but please move your body! If you can, you can even do a crazy dance – that works best for me – one Shakira, 'Hips don’t lie' and I feel less tension in my muscles and have more energy to deal with the fear.
- Do one thing at a time – This works as both mindfulness and productivity tool. When you’re stressing out that you won’t finish the project/report on time [notice you stress out but most likely you are afraid of the possible consequences], first make a good plan that will help you logically put the steps in order in your head. Then do ONE thing at a time and do ONLY this. No Facebook, checking email, answering phones, starting other tasks. If you need to go to the loo, then go but think about the way there and feel the coolness of the water when you wash your hands – don’t try to work while in the toilet;) This strategy also helps to deal with the waves of stress that come to you, for example, at home. You are cooking dinner and you start worrying about work and stressing out. Try not to. Just concentrate on the dinner. It will give your mind a break, make you more productive the next day and I’m sure the dinner will also taste better!
- Trust life – We stress out because we worry about the future. What if we trust life instead? What if we say: Universe/God/Jesus/Allah/Nature, I know you will take good care of me. I will do what I can and I’m delegating the rest to you. Would that not help us to sleep better at night? It definitely helps me. I always underline the importance of us doing our bit in that scenario, as I believe life is a beautiful mixture of magic and hard work.
I’m sure that there are millions of reasons to be stressed about and everyone reacts to stress differently. The important thing is to notice the symptoms of stress but deal with the cause not the effects. I hope that the above list will give you some ideas and help you find your own way to deal with stress.