Who likes stress?
If I were to poll our readers right now, I am certain that not a single one of you would pick the option: “Yes, I love being stressed out.”
I mean, how could you? We’ve all heard that stress makes you sick, stress is bad for your health, stress is linked to insomnia… the list goes on and on.
I start to cringe at even the thought of this dreaded 6-letter word, so today, I am here to teach you how to hack stress. We found 6 simple tips to make stress your friend instead of the enemy. Yes, I know this sounds a little crazy. Stay with me, science is on our side.
But first, Kelly McGonigal’s “How to Make Stress Your Friend” TED Talk offers an eye-opening perspective on how stress affects us, and how to use it to our advantage:
How to Hack Stress
It’s the things that we cannot control that stress many of us out more than anything else. Control is safe, control is comfortable, control allows us to know exactly what will happen where, when and how. But here’s the hard fact: there is so much out there that’s out of our control. How can we make peace with that?
It’s simple: rewire your brain.
When things don’t go as planned, our brain releases cortisol, the stress hormone. This causes our bodies to respond reactively. It makes us feel panicked and unsafe. With practice, we can train our brains to know that everything is going to be okay when things don’t go our way. This will in time, create new neural pathways to replace the old cortisol circuits.
How to Rewire Your Brain:
#1 Do the opposite of what you would normally do
If you need to make your bed and organize everything neatly before you leave the house in the morning, let it grow messier by the day instead. Cook dinner without a recipe or switch out random ingredients. Color outside the lines, complete your tasks out of order, throw all the rules you used to follow out the window. If you’re someone who likes order in your life, you’ll soon see that there’s beauty in the chaos.
Bonus: Understanding the 5 factors of your personality can help you identify trends in your behavior.
#2 Take down the clock
Keeping track of time is an easy way to take control. We allot ourselves specific time increments to complete tasks throughout the day and can become stressed out if things take longer than usual. It’s important to accept that we cannot control time. Pick a day to never look at a clock; just go about the day doing chores and performing routines as you see fit, but do not monitor the time. Choose parts of a day to spend with no plans. Stop thinking about time so much and you’ll see that it doesn’t matter as much as you think.
#3 Put yourself first
Trying to people please is a stressful habit. Before you know it, you’ve soon put everyone around your first and have forgotten about yourself.
I am giving you permission to put yourself first.
Only help your friend or coworker when everything you need to do is finished first. Don’t overexert yourself if someone is asking too much of you. Make sure your mind and body are well-rested, well-fueled and recharged. Putting your needs before someone else’s will help keep those stress levels down.
Bonus: Are you in a funk? Are you exhausted or overwhelmed? Here’s out to beat burn-out.
Being stressed can often make you feel weak or insignificant, so it’s important to stay positive and know that you are enough. If you can take a step back from whatever stressful situation you’re in and recharge, you will be able to switch back to a healthy, more beneficial mindset, which allows for more productivity, creativity and motivation to keep going.
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#4 Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety by focusing on what we’re experiencing in the moment, instead of keeping our worries and dreads in the forefront of our attention.
While at work, instead of focusing on upcoming deadlines or how much time you have until your break, direct your attention to the rhythm of your fingertips typing on your keyboard, or how your slow, even breaths calm your body before you lead a presentation. Stop trying to multi-task, and instead, take care of one task at a time and be fully aware of all that your mind and body is doing for you to get it all done.
Bonus: Struggling with balancing work and play? Here’s how to be selfish the right way.
#5 Create a “break” list
A new to-do list is one my favorite things to create before I start the day. The fatal flaw with them, however, is that they are never-ending. The more you add on, the more daunting it seems, the more you get stressed just taking a look at the list, no matter how many tasks you check off.
A way to break up your day in a more manageable way is to… create another list!
Yes, a second list called a ‘break’ list. Create a list of short, pleasurable activities to give yourself breaks throughout the day to avoid burn-out and to motivate you to get more done. This can include a walk with the dogs, reading a chapter of your new book, giving your mom a call, it can be anything that brings you happiness. Write down the activity and how much time you plan on allotting for it, and voilà, you’ll find your days to be less stressful, more productive and generally more fun.
You can keep track of your lists by writing them down on a notepad, or if you find that apps or electronic reminders work best for you, Wunderlist is a great app to keep track of it all.
#6 Distract yourself
Yes, really. It’s important to allow yourself outlets to deal with and understand everyday stress. Don’t suppress it. There are plenty of positive and healthy ways to take your mind off the stressors in your life.
- Write out your thoughts in a journal: If you’re having a hard time processing how you’re feeling, write it out. Writing is a great way to express what you’re going through, to make notes of your mental health and feelings and to notice patterns later on about what may be causing the stress in your life.
- Go outside: Changing up your environment is a perfect way to give yourself a quick distraction. Take a walk around your office or hit up the gym for some quick exercise. Going outside can give you a mental break from stress and allow you to think more clearly once you return.
- Take up a new hobby: This is the time to do something you’ve always wanted to do–work in the community garden, join a book club, take cooking or kickboxing classes. These are perfect, post-work distractions to do something you love and to reduce your stress.
#7 Coloring meditation
Meditation by itself can be a hard practice to cultivate. One way people are finding the mental zen is to break out coloring books, for adults! One study found that simply coloring in shapes can reduce anxiety. My friend, Dr. Samantha Brody, has even created free adult coloring pages that you can download and print out. I loved coloring as a kid, and it’s even better as an adult.
Once you employ a few of these tips, it will be much easier to see that stress is not the enemy here. Once we understand it and how we respond to it, stress can be manageable and not nearly as dreadful as it once was. Stress may be a necessary evil, but there are plenty of fun ways to handle it every day!
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