Knowing how to overcome the effects of stress can be an important tool in using it effectively. According to research at Stanford, a meaningful life is almost always a stressful one; the more we care about, the more stress we are likely to feel. We simply can’t have one without the other.
But a stressful life doesn’t have to mean a troubled, or unhappy life. While we may not feel control over stress, we have more control than we think when it comes to how we experience stress, what we do with it, and how we cope.
Managing stress is how we overcome its effects on us. These 7 strategies can help turn your stress around.
- Change your thinking: How you think about stress is more important than how much stress you have when it comes to how it affects you. In this surprising study, positive attitudes about stress were correlated with better health outcomes than any other factor, even when stress levels were high and chronic. Knowing you can handle stress is a key way of protecting yourself from its potentially harmful effects. For more reading on how to rethink stress, see Kelly McGonigal’s Upside of Stress.
- Rest and sleep: When we’re sleepy it is hard to think of how stress is positive, and for that matter think positively at all, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to helping restore our thinking capacities, sleep (link to my blog on sleep) is critical in helping our bodies recover from stress, and prepare itself for whatever challenges lie ahead.
- Stay organized: Stress can take a toll on our resources, especially our working memory, making it easy to forget things and fall off track with other important goals. Predicting where you may have trouble, and planning what to do, is a classic way to leverage classic contingency planning. Keep contingencies easy and straightforward, using reminders, checklists, and planners.
- Let stress motivate you: Stress is a natural energy source that can be put to good use. Rather than bemoaning its existence, or worrying about its negative effects, why not use it to take control and fuel solutions? Knowing you are putting your stress to use for you can help you feel more positively about it, which in turn can help you deal with it better.
- Relaxing Distraction: Research supports many strategies of reducing stress, including deep breathing, talking to a friend, massage, journaling, listening to music, laughing, and even drinking tea. Pick a few classic stress-busters and sprinkle them into your routine – you may be surprised how helpful they can be to rebalance your energy.
- Socialize: Whether you meet up for a walk with a friend, snuggle your kid on the couch, or chat with your spouse while you commute, prioritizing social contact can help you manage the effects of stress. Strong social relationships improve our overall coping and help us feel connected, and stay strong.
- Maintain a sense of control. The perception of control is well understood to moderate the effects of stress. The more control we perceive, the better we cope with stress. When you find yourself focused on what is happening to you, look instead to what you can control. Feeling control keeps us in the driver seat and at our best to manage stress.
Stress can be challenging, even exhausting at times, but is a normal part of a fully engaged life. The more we care about, the more likely we are to feel stress. Meaning and stress go hand in hand.
But as predictable as stress may be, its effects on us don’t have to be. How we view stress, and what we do with it, can transform it into something useful. Taking control of our relationship with stress is how we overcome its effects, and make peace with it.