They say there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The same is true of managing stress. Stress sets off a vicious cycle where each thing that goes wrong causes more stress that makes you more prone to make mistakes so more things go wrong. It can make you feel you are losing control of your life and even your mind. But do not lose hope because there is a way out.
In fact, there are many solutions to the problem of stress in our lives. Here are 7 tips to help you find your way out of the vicious cycle.
1. Recognize that stress has a place in your life
Make stress your friend! Stress has a genuine biological function that can be used to good effect. Based on the body’s natural “fight or flight” response, that burst of energy will enhance your performance if focused at the right moment. I’ve yet to see a top sportsman totally relaxed before a big competition. Use stress wisely to push yourself that little bit harder when it counts most.
2. Avoid catching the stress ‘virus’
Stress can be infectious. A stressed person tends to make life difficult for others in various ways, so those people become stressed too. To protect yourself, either give them space and keep away, or practice relaxation techniques to ward off the infection. You may even be able to help them to relax – but the way to do that is to stay relaxed when you are around them, not add to their problems by handing out advice.
3. Learn from the best
If you are not yet able to be the person who keeps calm when everyone else is losing their head, then look for that person and learn from him or her. What are they doing differently? What is their attitude? What language do they use? Are they trained and experienced? Figure it out from afar or sit them down for a chat. Learn from the best stress managers and copy what they do.
4. Use your breathing
This is something I’ve learned from a gym instructor: You can trick your body into relaxing by using deep and slow breathing. Breathe in slowly for a count of 7 then breathe out for a count of 11. Repeat the 7-11 breathing until your heart rate slows down, your sweaty palms dry off and things start to feel more normal.
5. Give stressy thoughts the red light
It is possible to tangle yourself up in a stress knot all by yourself. “If this happens, then that might happen and then that might happen and then there’s no hope for any of us!” Most of these things never happen, so why waste all that energy worrying needlessly? Give stress thought-trains the red light and stop them in their tracks.
Instead of indulging your imagination by figuring out all the worst case scenarios, take the attitude that for every problem, there is a solution. Okay so that first thing on your list might go wrong – but how likely is that, and what can you do to prevent it?
6. Know your trigger points and hot spots
Presentations, interviews, meetings, giving difficult feedback, tight deadlines, background noise, travel, criticism from others … there are many causes of stress and they are not the same for everybody.
Make your own list of stress trigger points or hot spots. Be specific. Is it only presentations to a certain audience that get you worked up? Does one type of project cause more stress than another? Did you drink too much coffee?
Knowing what causes you stress is powerful information, as you can take action to make it less stressful. Do you need to learn some new skills? Do you need extra resources? Do you need to switch to decaf?
7. Burn the candle at one end only
Lack of sleep, poor diet and minimal exercise wreaks havoc on our body and mind. Kind of obvious, but worth mentioning as it’s often ignored as a stress management technique. Listen to your mother and don’t burn the candle at both ends! Make sure you get plenty of rest … and if you find you lie awake worrying, learn to switch your thought patterns with relaxation techniques.