Today I’m covering 5 unusual (and rarely discussed) stress management strategies for how to avoid stress. Because stress management isn’t just about stress relief but also about prevention.
And although the strategies you hear about all the time (such as mindfulness and meditation) do help to prevent stress, you deserve more.
What you need are strategies that go deeper by changing how you think, live and behave. And that’s exactly what today’s stress management strategies will do for you. They’re a powerful (and positive) game-changer for you and your life.
Before we jump into today’s topic, be sure to get your free copy of 5-Minute Stress Solutions. This free resource contains 8 strategies for cultivating a strong, resilient mind (which means it won’t just help you to manage stress but will help prevent it as well). Get your free guide here.
Table of Contents
How You Think & Behave Matters When It Comes to How to Avoid Stress: Here’s Why
You already know that what you eat, how well you sleep and how often you exercise are important for effective stress relief and stress management. And you’re also likely aware that meditation and other mindfulness strategies help you to relax and manage stress (especially when in the midst of a stressful situation).
But here’s the thing: stress management isn’t just about applying relaxation techniques and developing healthy habits. It’s also about the choices you make.
[Recommended Reading: Learn how to use mindfulness and other healthy habits to effectively relieve stress when in the middle of a stressful situation in 20 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress Naturally and Quickly (and Keep It Low)].
Why Your Choices Matter
Although external circumstances cause some stress, most of your stress comes from within.
Stress is created every time you grind over a decision, uncertain about what to do. And it’s exacerbated when you second-guess the decision you’ve made.
If you don’t have strong boundaries, you won’t be able to prioritize what’s truly important to you (which creates overwhelm, stress and anxiety).
Your decisions, and how you make them, matter. They’re ultimately what determine your stress levels (and hence how happy you are).
What Empowers You to Make the Right Choices
At the end of the day, the foundation for making the right decisions (and hence how to avoid stress) revolves around:
- Knowing what you want and why it’s so important to you, and
- Having a mentality that’s grounded in strength, growth and resilience.
When you understand exactly what you want (and why), the right answer is more obvious. You’re less likely to grind over (and then second-guess) decisions.
A strong, growth-oriented mentality will empower you to create and enforce strong boundaries, protect your true priorities and let go of everything else.
And that’s exactly what we’re covering today.
Although today’s strategies aren’t typically talked about for stress management purposes, they should be because they’re the foundation for how to avoid stress in your life. Implementing these 5 strategies will (1) help you make decisions that feel good (even the tough ones), (2) enable you to simplify your life, and (2) empower you to create a path of your own.
5 Unusual Stress-Management Strategies for How to Avoid Stress
We’re going to cover the following 5 strategies:
- Align your life around your core values.
- Make deeper connections.
- Cultivate a fail-forward mentality.
- Replace perfectionism with good enough.
- Change the stories you tell yourself.
Let’s go over each one in-depth.
Stress Management Strategy #1: Align Your Life Around Your Core Values
Imagine having a deeper understanding into what motivates and gives you purpose. How would that affect your stress and anxiety levels?
Think about how it would feel to be confident in yourself and your decisions. [Hint: it would feel amazing and you’d be much less stressed]
Understanding who you are, what you want out of life, and how to make decisions that feel good all start with your core values.
What Are Core Values?
Your core values are what make you uniquely you. They:
- Give you your identity and act as a guide to all decisions you make, and
- Are the main lens through which you see the world and your place in it.
You determine what’s right and wrong, good or bad using your values. The problem is that you probably aren’t consciously aware of them (or haven’t given them much thought). It’s time to change that.
What Happens When You Don’t Fully Understand Your Values
Not knowing your values creates uncertainty. You end up unclear around what’s the best decision and even your path forward.
When you don’t have a deep understanding of your values, it’s difficult to determine what to say yes or no to. And you end up grinding over decisions, worrying about whether you’re making the “right” call (and then second-guessing later).
This self-doubt will make you feel like you don’t have control over your life, which isn’t just stressful but anxiety-inducing!
When your choices and behavior don’t align with your core values, you’re creating an internal struggle within yourself. A struggle that quickly leads you to feel stuck and without answers. And it often leads to guilt around not making the best decisions for yourself and/or your family.
Why Aligning With Your Values Leads to Less Stress, More Happiness
Living your values will make you proud of yourself and your decisions, while empowering you to define your self-worth through them (as opposed to having a primarily achievement-based self-worth). You’ll feel like you’re being the person you were made to be.
Plus, your values are your road map for making decisions that feel good. You’ll have clarity about what you want, what motivates you (and why) and your purpose.
When your life is aligned with your core values, you’ll feel more fulfilled and passionate about life. That’s important because having meaning in life results in better overall well-being.
Understanding your core values creates a pathway to simplified living. It’s what will give you the self-confidence to create boundaries (and say no with authority) so that you can prioritize your true priorities and let go of the rest.
[Recommended Reading: for more about how your values leads to happiness, read How to Redefine Yourself Into Happiness].
How to Identify Your Values
So, how do you determine what your core values actually are? I have a guide to help you do that below but you can get started by asking yourself a few key questions:
- What consistently brings you joy?
- When have you most felt at ease (and most you)?
- Who and what do you want to be known for as a person?
When answering these questions, ask yourself what values are showing up. And then identify patterns (the same values will likely show up again and again).
How to Live Your Values
You live out your values by aligning your behavior and decisions with them. Get started by:
- Setting goals that align with your values,
- Getting involved in activities that help you to express your values (through hobbies, your work, and/or charitable activities), and
- Using your values as a filter for big decisions, the people you choose to be close to, and how you behave.
[Recommended Reading: For how to set values-based goals, read How to Set Personal Goals for Work and Life That You’ll Actually Achieve.]
Stress Management Strategy #2: Make Deeper Connections
Have you noticed that people aren’t very connected these days despite the numerous ways in which to “connect” with one another?
It feels like many of us are living stand-alone lives that we like to post about on social media yet have very little real connection with our fellow man – even those we love. And this is true even for those who don’t spend much time on social media. Life has become busy and we’re rarely present with one another.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients is that they have trouble being present (their brains are in overdrive all the time and they’re unable to be truly present in almost anything they do).
How Connected and Present Are You?
Let me ask you a few questions:
- When was the last time you made eye contact and struck up a conversation with a stranger (such as in the Starbucks line, at a restaurant, or in the elevator)?
- Did you hug or kiss your kids or significant other this morning as you left for work?
- When was the last time you held your significant other’s hand?
- Do you truly listen to what people say to you or does your mind wander to your long list of to-do’s, work projects or personal worries?
- How often do you sit down for a full meal with friends and/or family without any electronic devices?
I know what you’re thinking… You’re too busy and there’s too much to do (right?). And you can’t control that your mind often wanders.
But is that true?
Is it really more important to check your email every 15 minutes, answer the phone while at dinner, and/or send that text than it is to prioritize basic human connection? And are you utilizing proven strategies to slow down and be more present?
What Happens When You Don’t Feel Connected to Other People
Research shows that lack of social connection is detrimental to your health. It leads to declines in both psychological and physical health (and even antisocial behavior).
That makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? Just look at Millennial’s, who suffer from higher than normal levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, even though they’re the most technologically connected generation.
One of their problems is that they’re lonely. Because of the world they grew up in and social trends, they struggle with human connection.
Why Connection Matters
On the flip side, having strong social connections has been shown to lead to longer life (as much as 50% increased longevity). But even more importantly is what it does for your quality of life.
Being socially connected leads to lower stress, less anxiety, higher self-esteem, lower inflammation levels, and even stronger immune systems.
But there’s more to it than that! I believe that one of the reasons so many people feel like they have no purpose is this lack of connection.
Human beings are wired to connect with fellow humans. And the less you do what you’re pre-wired for, the more lost you’ll feel.
It’s time to prioritize human connection. In person (and real) because you’re not truly connecting via text, email, or through social media.
What It Means to Connect Others
Before I recommend some exercises for you to try, I want to note something important: connection is about connecting with loved ones and your fellow man. It’s not just about having strong ties to a few people, but about feeling connected on a bigger-picture level too.
And you don’t have to mesh with people to make a connection with them. You can make valuable connections with strangers and acquaintances who are different from you (you can even become good friends with some of these folks).
Moreover, you can’t connect if you’re not present, you’re judgmental and/or you’re closed to different points of view. Being closed and judgmental will only increase your stress levels (and prevent you from feeling connected). The point is to be more understanding and open.
How to Avoid Stress Through Connection
Create a support system of go-to people that you can talk to. Be sure that your go-to support network has people who can help you with personal and professional struggles (you’ll probably have different people tagged for different types of issues). And then reach out to them to talk often.
You can train your brain to be more focused, attentive and present, so utilize strategies designed to do that, such as meditation and mindfulness.
[Recommended Reading: Mindfulness For Leaders]
Strive to connect more deeply with everyone. That includes family, close friends, colleagues, and even strangers.
How? Here are a few ideas to help you…
How to Connect With Strangers
When it comes to making connections with strangers, you don’t need to spend hours trying to get their life story. Find simple ways to make a connection on a human level. Here are some examples:
- When on the bus or train to/from work, put your phone away and talk to someone.
- Smile and be kind to your waiter/waitress at lunch. Ask them a question or two about how their day’s going (just be human).
Making Deeper Connections With Acquaintances
For people who you’re familiar with but don’t know well, strive to make a deeper connection. Get curious about who they are.
Here are some ideas:
- Take a colleague to lunch and practice the ABC’s (always be curious).
- If you regularly go to the same coffee shop, grocery store, or restaurant, ask an employee you often see there about their day (while looking them in the eye and giving them your undivided attention).
How to Connect Deeply with Family and Friends
When connecting with people you’re already close to, follow these important rules:
- Turn off (or put away) all electronic devices.
- Ask questions and then listen, don’t talk.
- Physical touch is powerful. Hug, kiss, hold hands, or put your hand on their shoulder or back (assuming it’s appropriate, of course).
A quick note: don’t over-complicate or over-think this! You’re around people EVERY DAY. It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t take much time or effort.
Make eye contact. Say hello. Ask questions (and not in a cursory, don’t-really-want-to-know kind of way).
Stress Management Strategy #3: Cultivate a Fail-Forward Mentality
Failure is a necessary part of success. Instead of stressing over whether you’ll succeed or fail, adopt a growth-oriented mentality that encourages doing your best while learning as much as possible along the way so that you can strive to always be better.
How to Avoid Stress With a Fail-Forward Mentality
At the end of the day, what causes a lot of your stress is how you think. When you feel like you have few choices or don’t have control, you end up stressed.
The problem is that most people try to control all the wrong things, such as circumstances and other people. And they don’t control the one thing they can: their mindset. This creates a spiral of stress and anxiety.
Changing your mindset to one that’s growth-oriented will give you control over what you can while empowering you to let go of the rest. It will naturally increase your self-confidence, enabling you to act out of courage despite fears.
Failing forward is about accepting what is with grace and moving forward no matter what happens. This mentality is freeing. It creates inner strength and resilience, which empowers you to let go of:
- Comparing yourself (and your results),
- Fear of failure (and the unknown), and
- Worrying about what others think of you.
So, how do you adopt a growth-oriented, fail-forward mentality? I’ve talked about it extensively elsewhere so won’t go into it here. Go read How To Be Confident Again After Failure (5 Strategies)].
Stress-Management Strategy #4: Replace Perfectionism With Good Enough
Are you a perfectionist? If you’re anything like my clients (who are fellow high-achievers like you), then I’m willing to bet you are (but you may not realize it).
Quick note: if you think you’re not a perfectionist, but have “high standards”, you’re probably fooling yourself. In my experience, “high standards” is code for perfectionism.
The Relationship Between Perfectionism and Stress
You may believe that your high standards are helping you to achieve more. But they’re really holding you back.
Perfectionism leads to:
- Over-planning and over-preparation, which means you’re wasting time and energy,
- Being less willing to try new things because you fear not being “perfect”, and
Perfectionism tends to trap you into a box. What’s worse is that it’s an impossible standard that you’ll never meet.
In my experience, perfectionism often lowers self-confidence and can lead to impostor syndrome. And it also makes you double-down on trying to control things that aren’t within your control. That’s a recipe for a never-ending cycle of stress and anxiety!
How to Avoid Stress By Replacing Perfectionism with Good Enough
First, get honest about your perfectionist tendencies. Identify where you tend to hold yourself to too-high standards.
After that, be honest with yourself about how impossible they are. And then identify what’s behind your perfectionism. Ask what you’re trying to gain or achieve by being perfect.
One common culprit is control: wanting to control your results. But remember that you can’t control results. You can only control your input, so focus on that instead.
Note that living your values and working to cultivate a growth-oriented mindset will help you let go of perfectionism (so be sure to follow those strategies above).
Stress Management Strategy #5: Change the Stories You Tell Yourself
Did you know that you have a story? What I’m talking about are the things you tell yourself about who you are, what your experiences mean and your place in the world. Even if you’re unaware of this, your subconscious is constantly telling stories.
Some of your stories are positive. But many are negative (unfortunately, the human brain is wired for negativity as part of its survival instinct).
Why Some of Your Stories Create Stress and Anxiety
A good story about yourself is empowering. But the negative ones cause frustration, anger, and even hold you back. And they also bring added stress and anxiety.
Your stories are narratives around who you are as a person and what you are (and aren’t) capable of. They’re a BIG DEAL because they are a part of your current identity. Not only do you perceive yourself this way, but you’re telling other people the same thing.
That means that there’s a ripple effect to the stories you’re telling yourself, as they directly affect how others perceive and treat you.
What’s worse is that these negative stories aren’t really true. No matter how “fact-based” they are, they aren’t WHO you are unless you make it so (you choose whether to make them true for you or not).
An Example of How Negative Stories Cause Stress and Anxiety
I’ve always been the go-to in my family. Honestly, I encouraged it for years. And this inhibited me from taking care of myself (I didn’t think that I could take good care of myself while also serving everyone who came to me for help).
It was such a part of the story that I told myself that it became a part of who I was. So, when I first started my legal career, I fostered the same thing in my clients, peers, and partners.
I’d jump if a partner or client called (no matter when) and said yes anytime my peers asked for help, regardless of how busy I already was. Deep down, I knew that this would eventually cause big problems. And then it happened…
I missed an important deadline at work and (on the same day) realized that I’d made a huge mistake in a contract review for a client.
That’s when I realized that I had to come first – and the story I told myself around how to serve others and myself needed to change.
Why Changing Your Story Helps You Avoid Stress
Changing your story is one of the most powerful strategies for reducing stress and anxiety.
By changing my own story around how to serve others and myself, I was able to prioritize my well-being and drastically reduced stress. It’s what enabled me set clear, reasonable boundaries (at home and at work) and say no without guilt. I was finally able to prioritize my real priorities (and greatly simplify my life).
And guess what? I did a better job at work and was more respected by my peers.
How to Avoid Stress By Changing Your Story
How can you change your negative, limiting stories into empowering ones? First, pay attention to negative thoughts (you need to be aware of how and when they tend to show up).
Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking:
- “Why does this ALWAYS happen to me”
- “I HAVE to be the one to…”
- “I can’t because [insert quality or characteristic that you believe to be true about yourself that’s limiting you]”?
That negative voice is connected to a story that you’re telling yourself. Start paying closer attention to it.
Once you become aware of your negative thoughts, ask questions about how they’re limiting you. And then ask how you’d like to rewrite them to empower you to act differently.
It’s important that you don’t ask whether you can, but instead focus on HOW you could. This forces your brain to admit that it’s possible and explore the possibilities.
Next, ask yourself what would be different for your life if you changed your story to something more positive and empowering. Finally, choose how you’d like to change your story. Ultimately, you must be the one to do this (no one can choose for you).
To help change your story, use self-affirmations and effective tools to bust through any fears (if you’re having trouble, then there’s likely a fear holding you back).
[Recommended Reading: Learn how to challenge and move beyond your fears with 5 Effective Tools to Stop Living in Fear and Worry].
BONUS Stress Management Strategy for How to Avoid Stress: Redefine Success (Your Way)
By adopting these 5 unique stress management strategies to help you avoid and prevent stress, you’ll be redefining what success means to you.
Take it even further by proactively redefining success. Instead of including other people’s expectations or the typical societal definition (that’s achievement-based and mostly about wealth), create your own definition. One that’s grounded in your core values, focuses on your input and is about how you live (as opposed to being purely destination-based).
Not only will you feel less stressed but you’ll be happier too!
Unusual Stress Management Strategies That Shouldn’t Be So Uncommon
The 5 stress management strategies discussed herein for how to avoid stress are different. They’re not the typical recommendations you’ll find elsewhere for how to release and prevent stress (like journaling, meditating, exercising and so on). But that doesn’t mean that they should be unusual.
The fact is that these 5 strategies are the foundation for how to avoid stress for the long-haul. And they’re the most effective stress management strategies available. So do yourself a favor and start implementing them right away!
Before you go, don’t forget to download your free guide of 8 science-backed strategies for cultivating a less stressed, resilient mind. Download your free Guide here: