Stress is part of the human condition. It has been a part of our lives ever since we first climbed out of the trees, and will continue to be a part of how we live well into the future. However, that doesn't mean you have to let it run your life.
With the proper techniques, you can learn how to manage your stress so that it doesn’t run your life and prevent you from living the life you love to live. The way to do this is quite simple actually.
You see, stress is part of your natural programming. Whenever you receive information, a small part of your brain called the amygdale decides if you are in danger or not. If it thinks you are in danger, it tells your brain to jump into a fight or flight mode [i.e., stress]. This was an extremely useful tool 40,000 years ago when we were in a constant state of danger. But in today’s world, rarely are you being chased by a large beast. So instead, it just sends you into a fit of stress, most times for no real reason.
In order to break this cycle, you need to learn how to hit the pause button before your amygdala and your 40,000 year old programming can send your blood pressure soaring, and you into a full bore panic that is just not necessary. So the next time you feel your blood pressure jump or your brain start to spin out of control, hit the pause button, slow the world down, and let it spin at your pace.
Here are some easy exercises that can be done anywhere to help you do just that.
1. Breathe. I cannot stress enough how beneficial proper breathing is. If you feel yourself start to race, take three deep breaths into your stomach as you focus you attention on your belly expanding and contracting. Feel it move against your clothing as you slowly count to eight on each inhale and each exhale. It will center you and help you regain your mental footing.
2. Progressive Relaxation. Stand erect. Scrunch your shoulders straight up to your ears. Don't let your shoulders collapse forward. Pull them back and try to get your shoulder blades to move together. Hold it there for a count to ten, then pull your shoulders straight down. Again pull your shoulders back as you do this. Hold it for another count to ten before raising your shoulders again. Don’t tense them so much it causes pain, just enough that you feel them contract. Repeat this three times
3. Ground yourself in your setting. Rather than trying to escape, close your yes and listen to the world around you. Listen to the hum of the lights, hear the sounds of the people and equipment wherever you are. Embrace your environment as a reality, but not your reality. Know that you are separate from it, that the fear and angst it breeds is not something that you need to be a part of. Relax in the knowledge that when you open your eyes it will al l be there, but that it will only touch you if you let it. You, and only you, have control over how you respond to the world around you.
4. Learn Your Triggers. Identify and monitor the triggers that cause you stress. The next time you feel your stress growing, think about what happened to cause it. Turn your mind inward and review the emotions that were set off when that trigger was activated. Try to remember another time in your life when you had the same emotional response. Remember, the way an event affected you is as much a part of your past as it is your present. Use that insight to help you separate the present event from past associations to reduce the way you escalate a small event into greater stress.
5. Learn to politely say no occasionally. Be honest, but be upfront about why you cannot do something, and always offer an alternative. This can be another, more realistic time when you can deliver a project. Or it can be an alternative deliverable all together that is more realistic.
6. Own your stress. Don't try to pretend it doesn't exist. Admit to it and embrace it. Then let it go with a great big inhale. Running from a problem only makes it worse, and only prolongs the stress it brings.
7. Pick up the phone and make a call. Ask your network of friends and family for help. Talk to someone you trust and let them help to air your stress. It can give you the pressure valve you might be looking for. Who knows they might even have a solution.
Stress is part of life. But it does not have to ruin your life. Let it out. Release it. Fill the empty space it leaves with the kind of positive energy that will help you live the life you love living.