Is “managing” stress the best way to deal with it?

Personally, I’d rather prevent stress than manage it after the fact.  Managing stress is a trendy concept, but in reality, we have a lot more control on our stress level than we might guess.

Preventing what you can, then managing the rest. Your main goal is to prevent stress from building up to dangerous levels instead of managing it once it’s right up there.  You can either let stress build up and then try to manage it, or you can prevent it from happening in the first place.  And whether we’re talking about stress or a broken arm, prevention makes more sense than managing the aftermath.

Most stress doesn’t just land unexpectedly.  It often feels like it’s generated by external events, but your very own internal climate has a lot to do with how your perceive life events – whether you define them as small annoyances… or as life-and-death situations.

Self-induced stress.  You might feel as if the next deadline holds life-and-death power over your life, but it probably doesn’t, and 85% of your stress load likely comes from your own beliefs and perceptions.  An example?  Whether what stresses you is morning traffic, your email box or your partner’s shoes cluttering the hallway, in the bigger picture of life, these are small potatoes.  They are not life-threatening events; they are merely tiny irritants you won’t remember within hours.

You and only you determine whether something is worthy of stress.  Once you see shoes or emails for what they are, simple ordinary annoyances, but definitely not life-and-death issues, you can relax and not allow them to affect you.  Simple.  Stressing about shoes or traffic?  Not worth it.  Take a breath; focus on something else.  Find ways not to focus so much on them, whether it’s by listening to an audio book while driving, or dumping the shoes into a basket out of view.  Yes, it’s easier to fume and blame, but trying to control traffic, emails and your partner quirks won’t make much difference, aside from stressing you out.

Here are five suggestions to prevent stress from building up:

  1. Step away mentally: look at the situation as if it belonged to someone else.  Whether traffic, email or shoes in the hallway, once you look at the situation from the outside, it’s pretty small.  Why get so worked up about something that you can’t change (such as traffic), or so small (shoes in hallway)? Take a deep breath.  Focus on something else.
  2. Reduce caffeine!  Simple and super-effective.  It’s obvious: too much caffeine makes you feel revved up and anxious.  Not a good mix if you’re concerned about stress.  What’s too much?  More than 3 cups a day (8 oz cups – not giant cups) is too much.  Drink decaf, or half-decaf.  Excess caffeine doesn’t make you more performant or productive, it makes you more stressed.
  3. Get enough sleep: sleep deficit is probably the most under-rated stressor.  When you’re short on sleep, life is stressful, as your body gets into a stress loop to keep you going.  Sleeping less is not how to get more done – you might be up and thinking you’re doing more, but you’re far less productive.  Aim to sleep at least 7 hours a night and see how less stressed you feel.
  4. Deal with what is.  You can’t control traffic, but you can take another road, leave earlier or later, or simply relax. Take control of your feelings about a situation: being late is not life-and-death, don’t make it so.
  5. Stop trying to control everything and everyone to “perfection”. Maybe you believe you’re in perfect control, and that everyone should be as perfect as you are… It’s exhausting. Neither you (or life) are perfect.

Reducing stress is best addressed in four ways:

  1. Prevent self-induced stress (what we explored today)
  2. Deal with what stresses you, head on (look for this in my next blog post)
  3. Allow yourself relaxing, restorative time off-demands
  4. Use energy instead of stress to fuel your life.

Don’t let stress build up and control your life.  Try one or a few of the above suggestions today, and keep them until they become a new habit.  This will take some time and practice, but if you don’t like where stress is taking you, be aware that you need to make changes – the world won’t change for you.



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