Stressed moments—at least the kind most often felt at work or home—start in the mind. That’s why it’s important to combat them by becoming aware of how and when they’re likely to build, learning to shift your perspective, and taking quick and effortless action. Any one of these tips would be well worth practicing for a few weeks, a few months, or even all year long until they become your go-to habit in stressed out times.
1. Create your anchor. Perhaps it’s a friend, an affirmation, or a quiet little patch of green outside. In the stress management coaching I do I encourage clients to cultivate a habit of going again and again to whatever gives you instant calm and shifts your perspective. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” Look up at the sky and notice how quickly your worries fade into the background when observing the expansive space of this world.
2. Take a neutral stance. Neuroscientists are now starting to demonstrate that negative thinking slows judgment and increases impulsivity, making it more likely for you to react with a smart retort or scavenge for sweets—and further compound your problems. The first step is to become aware of your thoughts—to “listen to your own listening.” Journaling is one tool. Next, move from negative to neutral thinking (or even positive thinking, if you can make that stretch.) i.e. Instead of saying, “I don’t like this assignment, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” say “I’ll feel accomplished when this assignment is done” or even “I could probably make this assignment more engaging if I asked for input from my co-workers.”
3. Express gratitude. Another way to become aware of how you may be generating additional stress through your negative thinking is to notice the words you use. Are you complaining more about your situation, or criticizing even loved ones? Gratitude for your life and appreciation of others are some of the best ways to reverse this trend. In the moment, list 10 things for which you are grateful, or compliment someone.
4. Connect with others. The etymology of the word “anxious” is “choke,” as if you are choking yourself with worry. The best remedy? Focus your attention outward, rather than inward. Relationships boost your emotional satisfaction and sense of security. So take time to talk your stressors over with someone and look for extra opportunities to physically connect. Hugging, in particular, can help lower blood pressure and boost levels of oxytocin, a relaxing hormone.
5. Use your body to calm your mind. Rather than think your way out of your circumstances, resource your body to access moments of peace. Set a clock (download a mindfulness bell to your computer) to go off at intervals and when it does, take 3 to 10 deep breaths. Practice progressive relaxation (squeezing and releasing your muscles from head to toe) or simply stretch. And it’s amazing what effect smiling (especially when you don’t feel like it!) or using a calmer tone of voice can have on your mood.