Does your mind race uncontrollably? Do you feel all wound up inside? Does it seem like you just can’t think straight? Do you feel overwhelmed? If you experience these and other symtoms, you are likely suffering from chronic stress. You are going down a very dangerous road. You are running your engine into the danger zone, well past its design limits.
Are you getting more done by moving at such breakneck speed? Probably not. But, one thing is certain. You are wearing out your car! And, unlike your actual car, you cannot replace your body when it wears out. You just have to live with it.
And how do you handle stress management? Do you self-medicate with alcohol and other vices? Do you take medication to control your stress levels? How’s that working for you?
Stress comes at us from all directions. Unexpected events, loss, traffic, finances, and relationships all contribute to your stress levels. Even the daily challenges of taking care of yourself and your life is stress inducing.
Do you want to live your life in a weakened state? To you want to be more susceptible to weight gain, and virtually all forms of disease? Do you want to have a greater chance of developing anxiety disorder and even mental health challenges? Do you want to age quicker?
If the answer to these questions is “No,” I advise you keep reading. I’m going to give you 6 stress management secrets.
1 Stress management is about time management
Do you race around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, trying to get as much done as possible? In today’s society, we place much value on multitasking. However, this attitude is the cause of much of our stress management challenges. I once saw a car going down the George Bush Turnpike in Dallas. The driver was texting with one hand, and in the other he was eating a hamburger AND holding a soda. If that’s not multitasking, I’m not sure what is! Unfortunately, that type of behavior could be deadly. If he’s not killed on the road, the stress will eventually catch up with him.
Effective stress management often comes down to time. Many people don’t allow enough time to get from place to place, so they have to rush. Rushing around greatly contributes to your stress levels. If I’m talking about you, then you will need plan your time more carefully. Allow plenty of time to get from one appointment to the next. Add in extra time for traffic and unexpected situations.
Tame your to-do’s
Another source of stress is your to-do list. You should have a good idea based on experience how much you can expect to get done in one day. Most people simply put too much on their plate. Keep your to-do list reasonable.
Types of time
There are two more types of time you should plan in your schedule. First of all, you want to allow time to practice specific stress-reduction techniques, which I will talk about later in the article. Finally, plan your downtime. Not very many people plan time for relaxation, and as a result, they have none.
Plan for the following types of time:
- time for work/appointments/productivity
- travel time
- stress management time (to practice techniques)
Put them on your master schedule and honor them just like you would any other appointment. Be precise with your planning and follow-through, and you will notice yourself feeling better.
2 Prioritize by focusing on your values
Your personal values are like a blueprint for your ideal life. When you arrange your life in a way that you are regularly expressing your most important values, you will feel better. This is because living your life according to your most important values creates a feeling of “being on the right path.” Such a feeling enhances your overall feeling of well-being, thereby reducing stress.
The opposite can also happen. For example, if you value family but it seems like you never have time to spend with them, your stress levels will increase. You may feel guilty about not expressing your values. Something may just feel “off” because your actions and values are not aligned.
Many people get so caught up in their day-to-day obligations that they lose sight of what’s important. Being clear about what you value in life makes planning and prioritization so much easier. When you live your life according to your values, you will see what things to prioritize. I’m not saying that it’s reasonable to ONLY do tasks that fit with your values. There will still be some basic obligations that need to be met that may not directly align with your values. However, your stress levels will be much lower if you keep your values in mind when planning your daily activities.
A great exercise to do is to take a full sheet of paper, and write at the top “I value…” Then, complete the sentence with the first things that come to your mind. Keep going until you get 50-100. Then, sort through those and identify the ones that are most important to you. Then, when you are planning your day, keep your top 5-10 values in mind. You may want to ask yourself, “Which of my values does this task express?” If it doesn’t contribute to any of your values, you may want to questions whether or not that task really needs to be on your to-do list. Here’s an external article to help you with identifying your core values.
3 Release the past for stress management
Your past informs you daily choices and behaviors more than you might think. When you have unresolved issues from the past, it makes present-day stress management more difficult. Have you ever become overwhelmed or anxious about an event that , on the surface, wasn’t even that stressful? Have you ever been surprised that your stress response was suddenly triggered for situations that didn’t seem to justify it? When an exaggerated response happens, it’s probably because something about that event is triggering a past issue that you have not yet resolved.
One way to release the past is regressive hypnosis
How do you keep the past from stressing you out in the present? Release the past. Releasing the past involves examining the subconscious decisions you made about yourself in the midst of that past stress or trauma. Regressive hypnosis is one of the best way to do this. You will need to hire a hypnosis professional, as this type of emotional work is beyond the scope of self-hypnosis.
Other types of therapy can also work well. Just make sure that the emphasis is NOT on re-experiencing the traumatic event, but examining the decisions and attitudes that you subconscious made at that moment. How do you know if you should work on clearing your past? If you experience the same negative patterns over and over again, or experience exaggerated stress responses, there is probably something from your past that is being triggered. In this case, regressive therapy would be beneficial.
What’s needed to be free from the influence of past events
Whether or not you hire a therapist, releasing the past involves doing several things. First of all, give up seeing yourself as a victim. Even if you were hurt in the past, that person was doing the very best they could at the time with the limited knowledge they had. The same goes for yourself. Most people have made mistakes in their lives, even serious ones. Seeing those mistakes with understanding, knowing that you were just doing the best you could at that time to meet your needs. Developing compassion for yourself and others is essential for stepping away from the influence of past events. I talk more about compassion in this article. (See tip #7)
Another component of releasing the past is forgiveness. Many people struggle with forgiveness because they assume forgiveness means condoning the behavior of the other person. However, it’s not about that at all. It’s about releasing yourself from expending energy on a past event that you can’t change. The reason you forgive someone is not for them, but for yourself, so you can get on with life.
Clearing the unresolved issues of your past is a great way to reduce stress and eliminate negative patterns from recurring in your life.
4 Control your mind for effective stress management
Many people who suffer from chronic stress report their mind racing and the inability to think straight. Sometimes thoughts of worry spiral out of control until the situation is unmanageable. Ultimately, it is your mind that tells your body what to do. When your mind is out of control, it triggers your body’s fight, flight , or freeze response. This stress response is how the body responds to a perceived threat or acute danger. By better controlling your mind, you will be able to manage stress before it turns into physical expression.
How do you control your mind? Studies have shown a notable reduction in the physiological stress response occurs during contemplative practices such as meditation and hypnosis. In fact, these practices trigger the exact opposite response in the body. With just a few minutes of hypnosis or meditation each day, your nervous system automatically balances itself out. Every function in your body returns to a state of homeostasis. (balance) Furthermore, your immune system’s functions are enhanced. To put it simply, your body begins to do its own stress management naturally when you practice meditative techniques.
Many authors who write on stress management advocate the use of mindfulness. There was even a recent article in Time magazine advocating the benefits of mindfulness. Being mindful involves being fully aware in the present moment. For example, you might stop reading for a moment and just focus on your breathing. Without consciously trying to control it, just notice it. You will soon find that your breathing begins to regulate itself. That is your body’s natural stress management response kicking in!
You will find that by focusing your attention on one thing at a time, it quiets your mind and reduces stress. It takes practice to be able to reliably evoke your body’s natural relaxation response. However, the results are worth it. In fact, it has been documented that such practices have even successfully reduced blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure. Over time, your overall health can be greatly improved with just 10 minutes a day of mindfulness practice.
There’s also self-hypnosis, which many people find easier to do than meditation. Self-hypnosis can be done as easily as closing your eyes, and counting backwards from 50 down to 1. Just tell yourself you will become more relaxed with each number you count and on or before the number 1, you’ll be in a pleasant state of hypnosis.
With any contemplative practice, its best to not get overly concerned with how you’re doing. Simply follow the instructions, and when a distracting thought emerges, just say to yourself “Oh, Well!” Then, return your attention back to what you were doing. Each time you bring your attention back to the present, you are refining your mental state. Make self-hypnosis part of your daily lifestyle and watch your stress levels melt away!
When is the best time to practice stress management techniques?
I was working with a client on stress reduction. This young man was an IT professional who was dealing with an enormous amount of stress. I gave him a recording to listen to after the first session. At the second session, I asked him how he was doing. He said that he didn’t notice much difference in his stress levels. I asked him when he was listening to the recording. He said he was listening at night right before going to bed. I suggested that he listen in the morning, before going to work. Sure enough, the next week he came back and told me that he felt a lot better!
The right time to practice stress management, is before you experience the majority of the day’s stress. Practicing stress reduction at the optimal time for you will make a big difference in how you handle the stressful situations in your life. Of course, each time you practice your body learns how to manage stress more effectively, so practice everyday!
5 Journaling for stress management
It can sometimes be difficult to get a handle on your emotions. In fact turbulent emotional states is a huge source of stress for some people. A good way to get a handle on your emotions is to dissociate yourself from them. Journaling is a great way to do that.
When you journal, you are releasing the your emotions and putting them on paper where you can view them more objectively. Doing so also allows you to disassociate yourself from the stressful aspects of your daily life, and respond more resourcefully.
6 Take control of your life by being assertive
One of the main causes of stress is the feeling of being out of control. Some people resort to blaming others for this lack of control . They blame their boss, spouse, or anyone else in their life for being the source of your stress. However, no one has the power to stress you out. You are the only person to blame for your stress levels. Most the time, when it seems like stress is coming from an external source like the people in your life, it’s actually because you didn’t communicate your needs assertively.
As a result, the people in your life make unreasonable demands because they don’t know your boundaries. Make your boundaries clear to others and ask for what you need. My article on confidence also talks about assertiveness.
Summary: secrets for effective stress management
Let’s face it, you won’t be able to get your stress under control unless you take action. No amount of reading replaces actually implementing these practices into your life. So, instead of just moving on to the next stress-reduction article, think about really implementing these practices into your life. Let’s review:
- Manage your time to manage stress
- Live your life according to your most important values
- Set boundaries and enforce them
- Release the past to remove its influence from present day life
- Control your mind to control your stress
- Journal o process your emotions
Thanks for reading! And please, share this content with that stressed-out person in your life!
by Sean Maness, CHP