You are running, running around with thoughts in your head bouncing around at a million miles per hour! You’ve had days like this, but things have gone too far, you notice you are experiencing more stress on a daily basis, more than you used to. Everywhere you go, there it is, waiting for you. Stress in every aspect of your life and you haven’t the slightest clue on how to better cope with it.
Stress is evident and seems to always be present. You know your situation and your life better an I ever will. Therefore, you will know much better than I will about what causes stress in your daily life. The strategies I will share with you here aren’t just applicable to dealing with job stress, they are applicable to dealing with stress in any area of your life. My goal here is to share with you some background on stress and how to manage stress better.
Let’s first begin with some background information on stress. Chance are you probably are experiencing or have experienced at some point the two types of stress:
- Psychological (emotional) stress- aka perceived stress
2. Physiological stress
b. Thyroid issues
c. Drastic blood sugar swings
d. Gut inflammation
e. Food intolerances
f. Essential fatty acid deficiencies
j. Circadian disruption
Not all the stress you experience is bad; I am sure you have heard of the concept of eustress; this is beneficial stress such as exercising, and intermittent fasting. The opposite of that is distress, that is, stress that disrupts homeostasis and depletes your metabolic reserve and resilience.
Physiological stress is often times easier to figure out by working with a functional medicine provider who can complete the necessary labs, help in diagnosis and provide treatment and strategies for proactively handling an imbalance that is discovered.
Let’s zoom in on psychological stress as this can be the most abstract of all stress. Psychological stress is often a result of how you perceive the situation or challenges in your life. In other words, it is a result of what you are focusing on. You can get stressed from what someone said or did to you. You can get stressed from being in a particular environment or place and finally you can get stressed from projects you have to work on or deadlines that you have to meet.
Psychological stress is perceived stress, it is a result of you focusing on something in particular; whether its people, places or projects. That’s not to say that you are imagining things, at least I hope you are not. Better said, it’s about choosing (making a decision) to focus on one thing in particular and choosing to ignore (delete) everything else in existence at that moment in time. Often in life; your frustrations, disappointments, anger, annoyance, irritations, and sadness has less to do with other people, places, and projects and more to do with how you are choosing to interpret what happens to you.
“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been” Marcus Aurelius
I don’t expect you to have a revelation after reading that quote, I certainly didn’t. This sort of thing takes practice, in other words it takes time (it still does for me). The important thing is to bring it your awareness. You have to take it from what Abraham Maslow described as the learning process by moving from unconscious incompetence (you don’t know that you don’t know) to conscious incompetence (you know that you don’t know something).
How do you manage your perceived stress?
- Reframe the situation
- Lower your standards (make it really easy to succeed and really hard to fail)
- Trade your expectations for acceptance
- Practice gratitude
1. Reframe the situation
“Nothing in life has any meaning except the meaning you give it” Tony Robbins.
You are giving meaning to things that are happening to you on a daily basis. You are doing it all the time except what you are choosing to focus on is causing you stress.
Let’s use a simple example to give you some context. Let’s say that you hate running but you know should be doing it. You get really frustrated, unhappy and annoyed every time you think about running or actually take action on that thought. Let’s face the truth, you hate it! One way that you can reframe this situation is, “this is an opportunity for me to listen to a podcast or a book that I’ve been putting off or that this is an opportunity for me to listen to my favorite music while running”. Another way is to focus on the long-term outcomes of why (the purpose) you are running on the treadmill. This could be things like, to feel more alive and increase your stamina and energy. To be in the best shape of your life so that you have more to give to your family, friends and work.
This is a minor shift, but it can have a great impact on your ability to reduce stress in your life.
2. Lower your standards
You read that right!! Lower your standards! Why do you constantly sabotage yourself? Why do you make it so hard for you to feel successful and yet so easy for you to feel like a failure? Why do you have these rules about what has to happen for you to feel relaxed, happy and distressed?
I’m not telling you not to have goals, not to have dreams, not to perform well at your job. I’m saying to learn to dial it down a little about what has to happen for you to feel good about yourself. What happens when you don’t meet all those high standards you have set for yourself? You become stressed, irritated, frustrated, and annoyed with yourself and everyone around you.
What sort of stress are you experiencing because you have been too hard on yourself?
There is always something more that can be done, there is always something that can be improved. You already know this, yet you use that knowledge to beat yourself up instead of using that knowledge to free yourself. Understand that you and everything else in your life is constantly evolving and growing. Where you are today is not where you were yesterday, and it certainly won’t be where you will be tomorrow. Have faith and trust in this natural evolutionary process and embrace it.
3. Trade your expectations for acceptance
“I expect nothing and accept everything” John Gary Bishop
Are you struggling with yourself because you refuse to accept your current health problems? You refuse to accept that you are overweight, that you have type 2 diabetes, that you have high blood pressure, that you experience chronic stress and fatigue and that you eat unhealthy foods and that you don’t exercise. In other words, you have been refusing to accept the reality!
You have expectations about how our health should be, expectations to have a healthy and normal weight, to have well controlled blood sugar levels (and be free of type 2 diabetes), to have normal blood pressure, to experience less or no chronic stress and fatigue, to eat healthier and exercise more.
How it is (your reality) = How it should be (your expectations)
What problems is this causing you?
- Stressed out
You say, “wait a minute Maamoun! How is having expectations for how my health should have been a bad thing, aren’t expectations the same thing has having goals for my health?” The answer is no. Let me explain…
Your expectations aren’t relevant and it’s your refusal to accept your reality that is taking your power away! The power you have to take action, to make change happen, to build better habits!
How are goals different than expectations?
Goals are stated in the positive and are future based (i.e. I must lose weight, I must exercise more, I must eat better). Your expectations are past tense. Think about it, when you make goals you have accepted your reality and are actually beginning to take action to make change happen. It’s liberating, it frees you and it gives you power to act.
4. Practice gratitude
Showing gratitude for what you already have in your life instead of just focusing on the struggles is a great way to help reduce your stress.
Positive Psychology research into gratitude shows that practicing gratitude is associated with (link for reference: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/in-praise-of-gratitude):
- More happiness
- Experience of more positive emotions
- Improved health
- Better ability to deal with adversity
- Better ability to build strong relationships
Out of all the benefits of gratitude the two I find interesting are these. The first is that when you show gratitude you are shifting your focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have. It’s about looking at the present and being thankful for all that you have in this moment. The second interesting thing is that showing gratitude is not necessarily about the other person/thing/or place. It is actually about you! When you show gratitude, you are bringing to your awareness all the things others do for your, how easier they make your life, how helpful they are to you and how blessed you are to have what you’ve got in this life.
There are multiple strategies for practicing gratitude: gratitude journal, praying, and thanking someone in person or in writing etc.
You are running, running around with thoughts in your head bouncing around at a million miles per hour! You suddenly realize symptoms, the symptoms that you are stressed. You take stop, take a few deep breathes in and you tell yourself that you its all alright, its going to be all alright!