A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at an event about how to effectively manage and prevent stress. One of the attendees asked me whether I get stressed and seemed to assume that I don’t. Because that can’t be further from the truth, I think it’s time to show you the techniques for reducing stress and anxiety that I use in case-study fashion.
But I do know that, although I still experience stress, I rarely allow it to take over.
Today, I’m covering the EXACT stress-management strategies I use (almost daily) and how they’ve helped me transform from a high-stress worrier into someone who’s calm under pressure (and rarely worries). And I’ll also share with you something that happened recently (that was incredibly stressful) and how I handled it to get back on track.
Hopefully this will give you a better idea of how to use these stress-busting strategies in your life.
Table of Contents
What You Need to Know
Before I go too far, you need to know that I used to be an anxiety-ridden stress ball.
I Used to Be a Stress Ball
My childhood was difficult, making me a pretty emotional kid. I didn’t like how they made me feel, so I buried them and pretended they didn’t exist. Although I was good at hiding from my emotions, it caused me a lot of stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, there are negative consequences to not dealing with your emotions.
To read more about my childhood and how it affected me, take a look at How I Found Happiness By Facing the Past I Worked So Hard to Escape, which was published at Tiny Buddha.
And I used to stress over anything and everything that didn’t go exactly right or that was unexpected. What’s worse is that I behaved in ways that caused and exacerbated stress. Most of this resulted from trying to people-please and worrying over what people might think.
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:
- During the first few months of my legal career, someone rammed into my car and totaled it. I received a whopping $1,200 from my insurance company and had to buy a new car (which meant taking on new debt). Because I had a ton of student loan debt, this stressed me out.. . and I couldn’t let it go. I complained incessantly – over something I had zero control over.
- I often took on too much work (because I had trouble saying “no” to people). This got so bad that one year I worked consistent 90+ hour weeks and could count on one hand the number of days I didn’t work (including holidays). This made me feel resentful, angry, and overwhelmed. I tried to ignore my feelings, but they eventually forced their way out and manifested in me crying on my way home every night for months (just so I could release some of the stress within).
My Metamorphosis From High-Stress to Stress-Less
After living in misery for what seemed like an eternity, I finally realized that I needed to take responsibility for where I was. I needed to take control.
Being in control of your life has nothing to do with controlling the external stuff that happens to and around you. It’s about taking responsibility for yourself and your emotions. And that means acknowledging your thoughts, processing through your emotions (which includes feeling them), and facing your fears.
That’s what taking control is all about. And honestly, that’s a large part of what stress management is about too. Because most of what’s stressing you out is what’s going on within you (not what’s happening to you).
What Stress Management Is Really About
Stress management encompasses:
- being aware of what’s triggering your stress and how you behave when under stress;
- utilization of proper techniques for reducing stress and anxiety when you need quick relief; and
- learning how to prevent stress from ever happening in the first place.
The order of importance for these three things isn’t what you think. Awareness and prevention are more important than quick stress relief. Why? Because they’re how you drastically prevent stress from ever happening.
For how to become more aware and what to pay attention to, read How To Reduce Stress and Anxiety Quickly: 10 Easy Tips.
And for how to take control and prevent stress, learn to develop the right mindset. Because stress prevention is about changing the way you think.
Want to Prevent Most Stress?
Your mindset is the foundation to preventing most of your stress. Your thoughts and feelings are ultimately what create your reality – how you perceive everything in the world around you (and even yourself). And that affects how you experience stress and respond to it.
For example, take a look at the following scenario and consider how you’d react to it:
- You’re on your way to an important client meeting. It’s make-or-break for your career. You’re prepared and ready. You even left 30 minutes early so that you can get there with plenty of time to spare. But then…
- Traffic comes to a halt. After about ten minutes, you’re getting nervous because you’ve moved maybe one car length forward. The closest exist is one mile ahead, so you’re stuck.
- Another 15 minutes later you’re in the same place, which has you frantically checking the radio for traffic updates. You hear that a major accident has shut your area of the freeway down. There’s no telling when you’ll be moving and you’re quickly losing all hope that you’ll be able to make any meeting today.
How Would You React?
The scenario above is stressful (even to me!). The question is how would you typically respond to it? Because it’s not one-size fits all. Here are a few ways you could respond:
- Dive head-first into negativity-land and worry that you’ve lost your big chance forever;
- Frantically call your client (while sounding angry and stressed) to get your meeting moved to another time and then continue to be agitated while not-so-quietly seething over the obnoxiously loud music coming from the car next to you; or
- Take a few moments to breath deeply, settle down, think more clearly and let go of all the emotions before calmly calling your client to reschedule and then listening to a favorite podcast (because if you’re going to be stuck in traffic for the next hour, you might as well enjoy it to the best of your ability).
At the end of the day, your mentality is what really determines your stress levels. It’s what makes, breaks, and prevents stress.
How I Cultivated a Stress-Less Mindset
Once upon a time, I would have reacted to the scenario above by either getting extremely agitated (and being negative) or by going into a downward spiral of worry. Both reactions would have created yet more stress and made me feel more out of control than ever.
But now I would choose option #3 because it’s the best way to be in control and happy. Quite a change, isn’t it?
To be perfectly honest, my metamorphosis didn’t come overnight. And it didn’t just happen either.
I chose to change my mentality so that I could become more mentally resilient and perceive stressful events differently. And then I adopted various practices to help me transform over time. This required patience and persistence (along with some trial and error).
Step 1: Choose
Most people seem to believe that people are born mentally resilient. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t believe it. I believe – KNOW, actually – that you can choose to be mentally resilient because I’ve done it.
Becoming mentally resilient involves:
- Prioritizing learning and curiosity over being right. This helps you to let go of worrying about what others might think or stressing too much over so-called failures.
- Adopting a fail-forward attitude. Failing forward means being open to taking calculated risks and even open to potential failures because you understand that there’s growth and learning to be had in those experiences.
- Facing your fears and negative thoughts so that they don’t hold you back. I’m not saying that you’ll get over all your fears or obliterate all negative thoughts. That’s not possible (after all, you’re human). But what is possible is choosing to move forward despite these thoughts and fears (that’s what courage is).
[Recommended Reading: learn how to challenge and move past your fears and negative thinking with 7 Effective Tools for Building Self-Confidence & Taking Control of Your Life].
Step 2: Adopt Simple Mindset-Shifting Practices (and Be Consistent)
The thing about mindset is that it takes time and consistency. And for me it took a lot of trial and error to figure out what works, which is why adopting a fail-forward attitude is so important (otherwise, I would have given up too quickly).
The good news is that (1) modern neuroscience and positive psychology are confirming for us what truly does work, (2) I’ve done a lot of the trial-and-error (and research) already, and (3) you’ll start seeing real benefits as you begin these practices. Although they provide greater rewards the longer you practice them, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll see positive results with consistent practice.
Here are my top 5 mentally-resilient boosting techniques for reducing stress and anxiety:
#1: Be Grateful
This one is amazingly simple and powerful, so please do it. Find 3 things to be grateful for every day (and write them down). Be specific, don’t be too general, and don’t repeat yourself. So, instead of being grateful for my kids, the sunshine outside, or the nice warm weather, I’m grateful for the…
- Bright pink flowers outside my window because they bring a smile to my face every time I see them.
- The conversation I had with my son Zachary this morning about guitars because I learned something new from it and got to hear about something he’s passionate about.
- The sound of the chimes that just went off on the ship’s clocks we have downstairs because they remind me of my uncle Hal and grandfather Charlie.
Instead of looking at the negative side to everything, re-frame (1) by looking at stressful situations as challenges, and (2) finding the positives. For example:
- Instead of focusing on how much you hate folding laundry, focus on how organized and productive you’ll feel when you’re done putting everything away.
- When a work deadline is making you stressed, identify what you’re getting out of the experience. Will it help you move forward in your career or get you a promotion? Are you developing new skills through the experience?
- After your boss moves an already-aggressive deadline closer, frame it as a challenge to be met as opposed to a threat.
Additionally, ask yourself every day “what did I fail at and what did I learn from it?” Looking at it from this perspective will foster a fail-forward mentality and help you to be more positive even when something doesn’t go the way you wanted it to. Plus, it will keep you growing and learning.
Re-framing isn’t about ignoring the negatives, but changing the story you tell yourself about the experience or circumstance so that it doesn’t drag you down. You get to choose how you feel about and respond to it.
#3: Always Be Curious
Be curious about the world and people around you. When in line at the grocery store or coffee shop, waiting for your table at a restaurant, or sitting at a stoplight or on the subway, mindfully observe other people. Pay attention to their emotions and behavior. And then ask questions about:
- How they might be feeling; or
- What they might be thinking.
Then, take it another step further and imagine what they fear, hope for, and want out of life. Imagine what their lives are like and get curious about them.
This will make you a more intuitive reader of people (which will make you a better leader and person). And it will also make you more compassionate towards others, especially people who are different than you (something we need more of in the world).
For more about how to use these and other practices so you can (1) take control of your thoughts, (2) drastically reduce stress, and (3) be more calm, clear, and self-confident, download 5-Minute Stress Solutions.
#4: Be Kind
Find ways to be kind and add value to others’ lives. You can do this in small, simple ways. For example, you add value to someone by:
- sending a kind email to a friend or family member who’s going through a tough time;
- bringing dinner to a friend battling cancer;
- smiling to a stranger on an elevator; and
- complimenting a co-worker on their haircut or new outfit.
Find ways to be kind to everyone, from people you know well to those you see a lot yet don’t know well. And also to strangers. This will change you. It will make you more positive, happier, and help you to see others in a more positive light.
#5: Stay Connected to People
I wasn’t even on Facebook until a couple of years ago. The truth is, the ONLY reason I’m on it is because of my new business. Although I don’t hate social media, I’m not a fan of how it changes people. And I’m definitely not a fan of how many folks consider it a way of connecting with other people.
Here’s the thing: you don’t make real connections with people online (or via texting).
Human beings crave human connection. That’s especially the case when you’re stressed. If you don’t have strong connections, then who can you turn to when stressed and down?
Reduce the time you’re on social media and replace it with real, human connection time. You’ll be happier for it and will have people to go to when you’re stressed and need a positive boost.
A Quick Note on Developing Mental Resilience
Please note that the practices above won’t make you eternally happy or stress-free. But they will help you develop the mentality necessary to deal more appropriately and quickly with stress. And that will make you happier and less stressed over time.
Also, all of the practices mentioned above must be adopted for the long-haul (pretty much for life). It’s the only way they’ll stick.
Case-Study In How Several Common Techniques for Reducing Stress and Anxiety Really Work
Now that you know what I do over the long-term, let’s get into a specific stress-inducing scenario that recently occurred. I want to share with you how:
- I used common techniques for reducing stress and anxiety to quickly relieve my stress; and
- My mindset helped me to quickly take control.
I recently received a notification that my website had been hacked. Initially, I thought “no way”. You see, I’ve done everything I can to protect myself. But unfortunately, hackers are relentless and sometimes they can still get through.
As an incredibly non-tech person, I gotta tell you: this is something that terrifies me. Although I’m pretty good at dealing with website issues, cleaning a hacked website isn’t something I’m willing to take on.
Luckily, my hack wasn’t all that bad. There wasn’t any information that they could get to via my site that’s sensitive and it didn’t really harm anyone (heck, you couldn’t even tell that I’d been hacked). However, it cluttered my site, slowed it down, and could have led to additional vulnerabilities over time.
How I Quickly Decreased My Stress and Anxiety In the Moment
What did I do when I found out I was hacked? Initially, I froze. But then I realized that I was going into a stress-induced panic attack that needed to be reversed so that I could deal with the situation calmly and rationally. Here’s what I did as soon as I realized it:
- I took a few calm, slow breaths through my nose to stop the stress response that was going on in my body.
- I gave myself permission to be emotional and feel whatever needed to be felt, but limited myself to 10 minutes.
- When my 10 minutes was up, I left my computer and walked around for about 5 minutes. During this time, I used a stress relief ball on my back (it’s where my stress always shows up first and my shoulders and upper back were really tight).
- Once done with my stress ball, I came back to my desk and asked myself what I had control over moving forward. The answer was to find the right company to clean my site, fix vulnerabilities, and tell me how the hackers got in so that I could protect myself in the future. So, I researched that and hired the right folks.
- Once I hired the right people, I meditated for a few moments and proactively decided to let go of worrying about it or dealing with it until my site was cleaned. I then joined my husband downstairs for the rest of the evening.
- Any time my mind wandered to what had happened, I reminded myself that I’d already done what I could to fix the situation.
[Recommended Reading: 3 Things That Reduce Stress and Anxiety That High-Achievers Should Do EVERY Day].
How My Mindset Helped Me Let Go and Not Stress
One of the first things the company I hired to clean my site was to NOT touch it. Otherwise, they might not be able to clean it appropriately.
Unfortunately, I typically write 2 articles per week (which had to be dumped while they cleaned my site). And I had planned to make some changes to my site that week, which couldn’t be done. This one event changed my entire week and pushed off a bunch of work that I wanted to get done (that I’m still catching up on as I write this).
Yet I didn’t let it bother me. I couldn’t do anything about it, had done what I could, so chose not to stress over it. And I chose to work on other things.
There was a time when I would have stressed over it every day – maybe even given myself an ulcer. But what point is there in that? I chose to move on and let go of it. And the reason I was able to do it is because I’ve paid such close attention to my mindset, which created within me the ability to make that choice.
Final Thoughts for You
You too can choose to be less stressed, regardless of what’s going on in your life. If this girl – who once carried stress around like it was a badge of honor – can do it, then so can you.
Get started now by making downloading 5-Minute Stress Solutions. In this free resource, you’ll learn how to manage (even prevent) stress, take control of your thoughts, and cultivate a mentally resilient mindset. 5-Minute Stress Solutions will help you to: (1) drastically reduce your stress levels, (2) feel calmer and more in control, (3) be more self-confident.
Download it here:
Until next time…