Stress is a primitive, fight or flight, emotion. In early human history, it is what kept us alive. Stress is what got us moving when being chased by a lion, and what caused us to get out of bed to work our fields before the first frost ruined our food supply.
In modern times, our needs are not often so immediate. While this can be considered an improvement in quality of life, there are some drawbacks to this modernization. Our human evolution has not kept pace with our industrial one. We still experience those primitive emotions, but without actual life-or-death threats being present.
Stress, on the other hand, has evolved like a virus. It has shifted from being a useful survival instinct into an abstract, lingering, pressure to do something better than we are doing, already. It can come from our own desires to achieve, or from outside sources of expectation. Failure to get a handle on it can be deadly. Stress ensures that your bodily and mental systems are always running at full steam, even while you are sitting still. The earlier you learn what stress is and how to reduce it, the better chance you have of living a long, healthy, life.
Name The Stress
One of the most stressful things in life is fear of the unknown. Unidentified sources of stress can sneak up like a ninja and grab you from behind. They can creep up slowly, like a snake, and entangle you before you know it. They can buzz around your head like a small gnat, keeping you from focusing on what is productive. Knowing what form your stress takes, and knowing how it gets into your space, to begin with, is often the first step toward being able to protect yourself from it.
It can even be useful to give your stress a name. Ancient sages recognized, long ago, that naming something is a way that humans gain power over the unknown. Personifying our individual fears through naming them can also help us to realize that the stress is not a permanent part of ourselves. It is an unwelcome intruder on our daily quest to find joy and to be at peace.
Some of the more common presentations of stress include Fear of Failure, Fear of Rejection, and Fear of the Future. Your particular stresses might be more intricately named. It might feel silly, at first, but try speaking to your particular stress, by name, as though you were telling an unfriendly person – or a naughty pet – to leave your room. The silliness of doing it can actually take some of the pressure off, immediately.
Let Go Of the Uncontrollable
One of the hallmarks of stress is that it involves things which we don’t have immediate control over. In some cases, the stress is due to worrying about something that we will not ever have direct control over. This can particularly be the case when the stress involves the actions of others, or when it involves worry about things that haven’t happened, yet. Recognizing that we are wasting our energy on issues that we can do nothing about is a gives us the ability to change our approach toward the problem.
After identifying the characteristics of your stress, take some time to write down all of the ways that you can possibly eliminate the stress. Then, cross all of the unrealistic or undesirable tactics off of your list. If you are left with no possible solution once you are done crossing things off of your list, then you know it is time to just toss that particular worry to the wind, and let the cards fall where they may.
Make Some Plans
On the flip side of letting go of things we can’t control is doing something about what we can. Sometimes, our stress is due to not paying attention or giving energy to what we actually need. In these cases, it can even be considered an uncomfortable ally. Stress which motivates us toward change is working as it was originally designed to.
One useful approach toward reducing stress through taking action is to design SMART goals. While there is often some variation to the acronym, it generally stands for setting plans which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time constrained. The basic steps contained in this goal outline can bring the intangible weight of stress under the control of your conscious mind.
The power in making a goal very specific is similar to the power which is gained when identifying and naming your stress. It provides a clear picture of what target you are aiming at. Making it measurable provides you with a tool for knowing when you have met your goal. Creating a goal which is achievable means that you are not setting yourself up for failure, and relevance reminds you of your purpose in setting the goal to begin with. Creation of a timeline for reaching your goal can call upon healthy measures of stress to keep you on track with the tasks that it takes to get there.
Change Your Part In It
Some of our experiences with stress are brought on by our own bad habits and ignorance of what we need to change about our approach to life. We may be prone to let other people have too much influence over our daily experience, or we may be prone to procrastinate our duties to the point that we cause trouble for ourselves. Spend some time in reflection, and consider whether there are any identifiable patterns involved in what factors repeatedly stress you out. Where there is a pattern, there is usually something that we can change in our own perspectives and behaviors.
Sometimes, all of our seeking, planning, and pondering simply does not provide enough relief from the stress. We may not be ready to throw in the towel and let the problem go, but we do need regular breaks from it. Your change in approach may be as simple as adding some healthy distraction time to your problem solving routine. Regular self-care can mitigate some of the intensity of a stressful situation.