Traffic jams, household chores, bills, bosses, bullies. There is no shortage of stressors in life.
And it’s not getting any easier. I’m married, raising a 9-year-old daughter, working full-time and caring for a geriatric cat during a cray-cray presidential campaign. Don’t think stress is going to disappear for any of us, anytime soon.
But while there are lots of stressful things going on I don’t get all that stressed out anymore. I’m learning to respond to it differently. I use my 10 easy-peasy strategies to manage the moment rather than get stuck in the stress.
Do I still freak out, worry, stress? Of course. But I’ve gotten a whole lot better at NOT doing that and that has made me healthier, more patient, productive, creative, and happier.
10 Easy Ways to Ease Stress
1.Get Gratitude. You knew I was going to say this because it’s one of my faves. Probably because this is the absolute easiest, most powerful way to tweak the moment just enough to feel better and less stressed. It also changes our physiological stress response by dropping our blood pressure and boosting immune function so we really do feel physically better. To practice gratitude notice something you are grateful for and express your thanks for it. It’s hard to get your freak on when you are focused on the goodness that is all around.
2. Optimism. Realistic optimism helps us get stuff done, which means we are not sitting around getting stressed out. Optimism is more of a behavior than an attitude, so when things feel HARD,STRESSFUL, SCARY, UNCERTAIN – choose some behavior that will help you do something to improve that circumstance. Call for help. Go for a workout. Take a break. Create a new solution. Believe you can make a positive difference and then do something to make it happen. When we do this we feel more capable, positive, powerful, and a whole lot less-stressed. Even if you are having negative feelings adopt a “well-I’ll-give-it-a-try” attitude and behave your way to better feelings.
3. Chunk it. So much to do, so little time to do it, right? That feeling alone is a major source of stress for me. So, to counteract that, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by a large project or long to-do list, I break the tasks down into chunks by organizing them into short 20 or 30 minute work intervals.
For example, when writing my books, I break the book into chapters, and chapters into small sections, then I work on one of those small sections for about 20 minutes, before I taking a break or moving on to something else. Just 20 minutes.
This feels manageable to me and not nearly as stressful as contemplating writing a whole book or taking on a whole project.
Chip your big projects off into small chunks and take them on a few minutes at a time. You’ll wind up with a lot of work done, without a lot of stress.
4. Park It. Last week when I was feeling overwhelmed by my To-Do List my Creativity Coach, Andrea Mather told me to Park It. This really worked for me. I always have a pile of notes, books, studies, and other not-ready-to-throw-away stuff on my desk. Stuff piling up all over. I’m not ready to discard this stuff, but they are also not priorities or things I can get to every day. Instead of shuffling them around, which winds up causing me stress because of the clutter, I parked them. I took those notes, ideas, loose papers and Post-its put them in a folder, and filed the folder.
I pull that folder out twice a week to deal with the time-sensitive stuff and I can let the rest of it go. It no longer occupies space on my desk or in my head. I don’t worry about forgetting either, because I know I’ll circle back to that folder when I have time.
5. Seek Awesome. Awe actually goes to the root of several of the things that can cause stress AND it elevates our good feelings. Win/Win.
When we experience awe, we feel more generous and connect with others in a positive way, which helps improve relationships and ease stress there. It also changes our perception of time and makes us feel like we have more of it, which helps diffuse frantic feelings and boosts well-being. AND it alters the physical stress response in our bodies so we feel calmer.
Seek out the awesome. Identify the amazing things already working in your life (your heart beating without conscious thought, the bird on the branch outside the window, the stars) and you’ll be less stressed.
6. Invoke your curious nature. Wonder is an antidote to worry and plays well with awe. Next time you are ruminating, stressing, worrying, ask yourself “I wonder how I can work through this in a positive way” and feel your brain and body respond to the inquiry. We are creative problem solvers by nature, when we pique our curiosity by doing something different or noticing something new we tend to find greater meaning, enjoyment, and purpose — stress-fighters to be sure.
7. Try a ritual. Our brains and bodies feel better when we are doing something familiar. This is why we tend to gravitate toward habits and routines and we feel stressed when that routine is threatened. Uncertainty freaks us. But, a ritual, an established go-to behavior can help us during those times of change and uncertainty by creating some familiar, healthy behaviors that can pull us from the firy feelings of stress before we become trapped in them.
Here’s how you do it: Choose a set ritual to use when stress threatens. This should be a three or five step process, that can easily be replicated. For example, taking a deep breath, naming three things you are grateful for, and then saying “Thank You” aloud before going back to work is a good ritual. Or taking a deep breath, and slowly, mindfully washing your hands for 30 seconds, while saying what you are letting go of. Or lighting a candle and repeating an encouraging quote.
One of my rituals is to stand up, stretch and take 100 deliberate, slow, methodical steps around the house (I work at home but you could do this anywhere) and with each step, I’ll give thanks aloud (or you can do this silently) for a different thing, person, happening. I love this ritual. It is easy to do. Slows down my breathing and other stress reactions and reconnects me with the positive.
8. Reach out. There are plenty of times we need to vent, or share our experience with another. Do it now. Send a text or email or call up a friend and say “Hey, I just need to vent this, to get it out, and be done with it.” Keep it short, no need move into complaint mode, but often just by sharing our stress aloud to someone we trust, and being validated for it, can help us move beyond.
Find that friend who will listen, go to a support group, counselor, or coach. Someone who will allow you to blurt out your concern, then let it go.
9. Look outside, or better yet get up and go outside. Simply looking and nature, or even pictures of green landscapes turns our stress response on its ear and leaves us feeling better and more hopeful. So, when you are feeling upset stare out the window, or go for a stroll outside at lunch, or eat on a nearby picnic table, or pull up a beautiful naturescape for your monitor’s wallpaper and reconnect with the green in your life.
10. Be kind to someone else. Tough to worry about our own troubles when we are helping someone else with theirs. Give yourself over to an act of kindness. When you do something to make another feel better you will feel better too.