Physical health and balance
First make sure that your lifestyle is healthy. Lack of sleep, too much sugar, alcohol, drugs or medications, lack of exercise, as well as physical disorders can cause stress hormones to get out of control. Revitalizing your physical health strengthens your ability to handle stressful situations.
Expectations, thoughts, and worries
Much of our stress and anxiety results from dwelling too much on our expectations—negative and positive. We live in fear of our negative expectations coming true.
“He’s going to be angry.”
“I won’t be able to pay the rent.”
“I’m never good enough.”
We feel let down when our positive expectations are not met.
“If I were thinner, he would love me.”
“If I had gotten the promotion, I would be happy.”
Our thoughts cause much of our physical and emotional stress. Imagine seeing your new boyfriend with another woman. The bitter disappointment felt in your body reflects your thoughts—that he’s cheating on you or that he’s no longer interested in you and too selfish to be honest with you.
Later he calls to invite you over to meet his sister who’s in town visiting. Suddenly all the stress vanishes and you feel relief and joy, simply because your thoughts have changed. Or perhaps he really was cheating, but many months or years later, your life takes a wonderful turn and you realize how fortunate you were to leave that relationship.
Refocus your thoughts
If you could learn to think differently, much of your stress and unhappiness would vanish. If you could live your life without wishing things were not as they are and without fearing the worst, you would be more fully present to the moment and not overcome with fears about the future.
Letting go of your expectations does not mean that you shouldn’t have personal goals, that you shouldn’t have boundaries and consequences for bad behavior in your relationships, or that you shouldn’t be prepared for potential risks in the future. It means that you should stop trying to control aspects of your life that you cannot control.
Make room for the unexpected
When you actively expect the unexpected, you can more easily handle whatever comes your way with equanimity. If you are over-scheduled, then whenever something unexpected occurs, you will experience frustration. If you have no space in your life for the unexpected, then when someone calls, drops by, needs you, or when you forget something, it will cause unnecessary agitation.
Avoiding over-scheduling your life will give you room to accept the inevitable unforeseen challenges, opportunities, and adventures that life offers us. It also allows you time to relax, enjoy, be creative, and engage with other people without feeling rushed.
Try and enjoy or at least be accepting of whatever happens. If there’s a traffic jam on the freeway on your way to the airport, you’ll either make the plane or you won’t. You might as well make the most of the time you have in your car rather than panic.
Some of the worst disasters turn out to make the best stories. Some of the most unwanted outcomes lead to great adventures and opportunities. The more quickly you can accept the inevitable, the less time you lose fighting reality.
When you become willing to accept reality, you can base your decisions on what is rather than on what you wish were true or what you dread might be the case.
Embrace some stress
It turns out that having a moderate amount of stress as well as some control over your life is healthier and results in more happiness than having no stress or no control in your life. Thus, the goal should not be to eliminate stress but to focus primarily on things you can do something about. Taking control requires taking positive steps to deal with challenges. So, do not ignore problems, suppress stress, or allow yourself to be consumed by stress.
Taking control includes prioritizing your life and changing your situation. Equally important is relieving your stress in healthy ways such as exercising, finding a way to laugh, and relaxing with friends or family. In situations where there is no course of action to take, try slow deep breathing and consciously change your attitude and perspective about the situation.
by Dr. Alison Poulsen