Just by virtue of being alive, you will find yourself confronted with stress. It is inevitable. A defining aspect of the human experience is to care, but for every instance in which you emotionally invest, there is the chance, however small it may be, that something might go awry. As ubiquitous as that situation maybe, it is a rare individual who truly and completely handles the stresses of life with total ease. Learning to manage the hurdles that come your way are is an essential component of a happy adult’s skillset. Fortunately, there are several ways in which you can push yourself to better engage with stress when you are confronted with it. Although some of these tips may be more easily adopted by you than others, all offer insight into how you can live a happier, less stressful life.
Identify the Source
The first step to solving any problem is to recognize there is one. The second should be to find its root. Much like a gardner’s approach to weeds run amok in a yard, if you only focus on attacking the visible symptoms of your stress without addressing the underlying cause or causes, little sustainable progress can occur. It may well feel like the stress is coming from every possible direction, which can be overwhelming. You might even find yourself ascribing to the old aphorism, “when it rains, it pours.” However, an honest investigation of the situation at hand is likely to reveal that the real aggravation boils down to at most one or two truly pressing issues that is metaphorically poisoning the other facets of your day-to-day duties. Take time to really get to the bottom of this. Pinpointing the causal stressor is a critical step in organizing your thoughts and taking real action to resolve the problem.
Make Peace with Your Locus of Control
One of the most humbling experience of getting older is realizing that although you have remarkable agency in this world, there is only so much of it that can actually bend to your will. Regardless of your intentions or efforts, there will always be much that is beyond what you can impact or influence. Depending on your situation, this limitation will vary, but identifying and making peace with it is crucial. It is upsetting and unproductive to spend your time stressed about what is not in your power to change.
What is always in your power to change, you may wonder? The way you react to challenges is. Instead of wasting your mental capacity by focusing on what is outside your ability to improve or solve, dedicate those efforts to stressors you can control. Do not hold yourself to impossible standards by demanding you do everything to fix a situation, or your stress will flourish unabated. Instead, hold yourself accountable to doing everything in your power. That small but incredibly important distinction can move you forwards to a healthier state of mind, and allow you to feel empowered and invigorated.
Make Time Your Friend
One of the most common sources of stress in people’s life is a lack of time. It often seems that as to-do lists grow, time just slips away. Take a moment to step back from the apparently insurmountable projects that are stressing you out and reconsider your perspective. Everyone in the world is working within the same 168 hour time frame. Logistically speaking, the fact is that many of people are able to accomplish at least as much as you need to do, all while getting enough sleep and living satisfying lives. Review your schedule and critically analyze where you are losing so much time. It may be as simple as learning more about how long tasks take you to complete, or being generally more cognizant of how you use your time between tasks. It is not uncommon for people to find they waste much more time on their phones or distracted online than they expect. Make it a priority to time yourself, so you can be armed with the information you need to manage your time better. Once you have a good idea of how spend your day, you can plan for how you should spend your day, and then execute that plan.
Trim the Fat
In learning more about how you spend your day, you will also likely notice you not only spend longer than you need to on certain tasks, but there are things you do that are completely unnecessary for you to have a happy and/or productive day. Simply put, you may be spreading yourself far too thin, which does not ultimately serve anyone’s greatest benefit if it is causing you stress. Weigh all of your daily activities and seriously evaluate if they not only cater to your goals and values, but also give you meaning or make you happy. For individuals predisposed to being busybodies or over-achievers, it can be difficult to accept that you cannot do everything. However, selecting a smaller number of activities and having the time to not only excel at them, but enjoy them, is a much more rewarding way to approach your life.
Know the word “No”
As an intensely social species, human beings love to collaborate and communicate. It is just part of our biology. We generally derive great joy from being able to work together, which is how we can accomplish feats much greater than we ever could alone. A real sense of pride comes from working well in a team. However, this means that it can be very difficult sometimes to say, “no.” For a people-pleaser or otherwise committed team player, the idea of refusing a request can feel akin to abandoning the other party or letting them down. However, taking on more than you can handle never serves you in the long-term. As a result, it diminishes your ability to positively contribute to a larger, combined effort beyond the issue immediately at hand. So, while you may be able to bend over backwards today, the increasing amount of stress is likely to handicap your ability to serve the greater good tomorrow. It may be an initially uncomfortable skill to develop initially, but learning to protect your boundaries and be defensive of your time is highly beneficial to decreasing avoidable stress and increasing your overall happiness.
Care, Don’t Worry
One of the best ways to fight stress is to just be aware of it. Similar to appreciating what you can and cannot impact, the way in which you frame the stressor in your brain can make a huge difference. It is great to care about the things with which you fill your day. However, worrying is nowhere near as productive. Worrying is when you try your hardest to control or impact the future just by thinking about it. This is, of course, impossible. Caring is defined by taking whatever action we can to support the best interests of a person or thing. Worrying is useless and will not result in change. So, make the decision to care and take action.