Friends often ask me how I deal with stress. I’m no expert, but I know what works for me. It didn’t come naturally, though, and it wasn’t easy at first. Over the years, however, I learned that I control my actions and – vitally important – that my actions have consequences.
So, how did I go from being a poster child for how to build stress to learning to live as close to stress-free as possible?
Here are my go-to techniques to vanquish stress:
Stop trying to be perfect.
I used to think that I had to be the best in everything I did. I had to do it better, faster and smarter than anyone else or it didn’t count. Part of why is that I had a very competitive brother, part was trying to please my parents.
The downside of only accepting perfection is that there’s never going to be a perfect outcome. Improvement is always possible. What’s considered success today may be failure tomorrow.
My therapist helped me recognize this self-defeating tendency and gave me wise counsel: You don’t have to be perfect. Just do the best you can.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But when the advice finally sunk in, a lot of stress disappeared. Striving to do my best was not only enough, it was life-affirming, motivating and made me feel better about myself.
Create a schedule.
When too many conflicting demands began to intrude on my daily life, with a consequent dramatic uptick in stress, my therapist recommended I create a schedule. I didn’t want to since I found schedules too confining. But I agreed to try it out. After all, with kids and school and work demands, I needed help keeping everything organized.
To my surprise, scheduling did help me put some breathing room into my life. It cut down some avoidable stress and gave me the self-confidence I needed to tackle other projects. Yet I had to get comfortable with my schedule before I began to alter it. Like prioritizing tasks and creating lists of goals, schedules must be able to evolve and adapt.
It’s OK to ask for help.
I never liked asking for help, thinking it made me seem weak. But after several tragedies, unfortunate experiences and heartache, I gradually accepted the fact that
there’s nothing wrong in asking for assistance. If I was willing to help others in need, asking for help when I needed it was OK.
Today, while I don’t make a practice of asking others to help, if I really am in need, I won’t hesitate to do so. And, I firmly commit to being there for others when they request my assistance. This is all part of being genuine, living up to commitments, wanting to help when it matters.
Do what you love.
It took me a long time to be able to love what I do. I went to night school to earn several degrees. Like millions of people, I had to work at jobs that weren’t necessarily gold standard, didn’t match my goals and dreams, but they did help me buy put food, clothes for the kids, pay the rent and car payment.
I held firm to my dream of working in a field that allowed me to make use of my talents and landed wonderful jobs. Capitalizing on both my studies and my love of writing was incredibly beneficial. Every day brought new challenges, new opportunities to do what I love.
Here’s a secret I learned about doing what you love. It crushes stress.
Make time for play.
People get stressed because they grind endlessly without a break. Or, the only downtime is when they fall exhausted into bed. I know. I’ve been there. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that any human being will reach a point of no return if they fail to insert time to relax and recharge into their life.
I love movies, reading, walking nearby nature trails, gardening, cooking, and travel. Any one of these I consider play. And they work wonders for dissipating stress.
After breaking for play, come back and take on the next item on the schedule, today’s to-do list, or address a pressing or unexpected problem. You’ve put harmony and balance back into your life. Stress doesn’t have a chance against this dynamic duo.
Exercise gratitude daily.
I’m lucky and grateful to have learned how to rid myself of stress. Express gratitude for all that you have daily, for there’s a lot to be grateful for. You’re alive, you have friends and allies, and another day to receive the blessings and gifts today brings.
A few more tips I’ve found helpful include:
- Know when to say no.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals.
- Drink lots of fluids, especially water.
- Cut down (or cut out) alcoholic beverages.
- If you smoke, quit. Nicotine is addictive. While it may create initial calming or soothing, once cravings set, the stress increases until the urge is again satisfied.
- Tap into spiritual renewal through prayer, meditation, yoga, self-reflection.
- Nurture a positive attitude.
- Follow your dreams.
- Love wholeheartedly, deeply, and without reservation.