How To Make Friends With Stress (Since You Can't Avoid It Forever)
I’ve read so many articles about “conquering stress” or “overcoming stress.” I, myself, have lectured countless times on how to manage or reduce stress most effectively.
But let’s be perfectly honest here — even those of us who’ve studied stress extensively still throw our knowledge out the window and turn into raving lunatics from time to time.
Whether we like it or not, stress is always going to be part of our lives.
So I’ve got a radical proposition here: instead of vilifying stress, let’s make friends with it.
Let’s acknowledge that in many cases stress is the only thing keeping us going. It’s the only thing tightening our muscles, sharpening our vision, and giving us the energy to survive an emergency.
So want to make stress work for you, not against you? Just follow these five tips:
1. Differentiate between productive and unproductive stress.
The smoke steaming from your ears during a business meeting is the same stress that kept humans alive from large predators once upon a time. But the fight-or-flight response isn’t much help when you’re stuck in a sea of traffic. So learn to distinguish between productive stress, in which you can use the body’s response to meet a deadline, versus unproductive stress, which may keep you tossing and turning the night before a meeting, but won't get you anywhere.
2. MOVE IT or lose it.
Ever notice what people do when they’re stressed? They pace back-and-forth. Your muscles are tightened, your blood sugar’s spiked, and the cortisol’s pumping. So take the instinct, get up, and move your body. Walking meetings, midday workouts, or the occasional spontaneous office dance party can do wonders to use up that nervous energy and bring you back to baseline.
3. Take the message and learn from it.
If it’s unproductive stress, then it means you’re putting yourself in unrealistic or negative situations. So take the message and learn from the experience. You may be taking on too much, not giving yourself enough time, or filling your head with limiting beliefs. Stress is a wonderful way to identify your issues and learn your boundaries.
4. Go to B.E.D.
For the acute stress attack, try my BED method:
- Breathe deeply to activate the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system to calm your body down
- Eat sugar-regulating foods, such as nutritious leafy grains, fibrous whole grains, and clean protein sources, to normalize the stress jitters
- Drink some water to help flush out that over-accumulation of stress hormones in your body
And, lastly, actually go to bed early after a stressful day to give your nervous system a rest-and-recharge break.
5. Reward yourself.
You did it! You survived another stressful event. Before violently throwing yourself into some more stress, take a moment to reward yourself on a job well done. Perhaps a massage to relax those muscles or a guiltless day on the couch watching a few bad flicks.
Whatever your luxury, choose a rewarding activity that both acknowledges the wonder of your stress response and gives you the relaxation you need before you get back up there and do it all over again.