The work emergency that only you can fix. The full glass of water splashing across the laptop. “Mum, I need a costume for school TOMORROW!”. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet come across a magic cure for the curveballs life likes to surprise us with from time to time.
What I can share are some simple mindset shifts to help you handle the day to day dramas – and prevent stress from growing from a one-off spike in heart rate to a chronic, and serious, background to your life.
What is stress?
Stress can be characterised as your body’s response to a perceived threat of some kind, whether physical, emotional or mental. It creates a “fight or flight” response that helps us react quickly and effectively when we need to. Think about that burst of mental clarity that helps you meet a tough deadline, or the surge of adrenaline behind your just-in-time sprint to catch your train.
New research has indicated that stress can actually be positive in some instances. In one University of Berkeley study in 2013, rats exposed to moderate stress appeared to demonstrate enhanced neural function and ability to learn. There’s also some evidence that reframing stress as positive – for example, seeing a raised heart rate or faster breathing as a sign of excitement or energy rather than fear – can help mitigate its effects.
But when stress becomes chronic or long term, its detrimental effects are well documented. It’s a key factor in burnout, as well as contributing to insomnia, high blood pressure, lowered immunity, and a whole heap of other conditions.
These 5 mindset shifts to control stress can help prevent day to day stress from becoming chronic. See if any of them feel relevant to you right now.
Judgment comes from the part of us that makes things right or wrong, good or bad.
For example, you might feel that being landed with an additional project on your plate at work is “wrong” or that the driver holding you up on the way to pick up the kids from school is “bad”.
The trouble is, the way we look at events is subjective – it’s only from our perspective.
What if you discovered that in fact your boss had given you that extra assignment to bolster your chances of a promotion they’re lobbying for on your behalf?
Or that the dithering driver was struggling through a devastating day, just doing their best to stay safe and focused as their world crumbled around them?
Judgment can stop you seeing what’s actually happening, and add a layer of stress that doesn’t need to be there.
Where could you let go of your perceptions and look at the neutral facts, rather than your interpretation of them?
“Comparison is the thief of joy” goes the saying, and there’s a lot of truth in it. Whether you’re comparing yourself favourably to others, and feeling superior, or feeling inadequate and ordinary next to the shining star on your social media feed, comparing yourself to others is unlikely to be serving you.
Comparison gives us the illusion of separation from one another, and increases our tendency to feel lonely, isolated or misunderstood.
When do you tend to compare yourself to others?
How can you gently remind yourself that everyone has their own challenges and struggles, and that no one of us is more valuable than any other?
When we discover what feels like a real “issue” – perhaps it’s with trust, or commitment, or self-confidence – it can feel like we’ve unlocked a mystery. And to an extent, it really is helpful to get a handle on our deep-rooted motivations and fears.
The problem can arise when self-reflection starts to tip into self-obsession, or we begin to define ourselves by our “issues”. It can be stressful to navigate life feeling as though the issues that trouble us are insurmountable, and it removes our power to change.
How can you acknowledge your amazing resilience, and your capacity to change and let go?
Can you find a balance between honouring and accepting your experience, and moving on from it?
Many of us have an “Inner Critic” who can be increasingly loud at times when we’re stressed. And it can really impact our ability to rest and unwind, when it tells us we’re “lazy” or “weak” for taking time out to care for ourselves.
If you notice you tend to slip into a discouraging mindset, try imagining what a really supportive friend would say instead. Perhaps they’d encourage you to take time out, or reassure you that everything will work out.
Or maybe they’d simply tell you how amazing you are just for being you.
Try checking in with their voice instead.
One of the biggest causes of stress can be our expectations.
You’re picturing a perfect reunion of your laughing family… except your mum’s her usual critical self and your brother still has the emotional maturity of a toothbrush. You daydream of hitting a six figure profit… except your business is just starting up and you’re still ironing out exactly who your ideal clients are.
Coming back to reality can help us let go of expectations that just end in disappoinment. Mindfulness is a technique that we can use to bring ourselves back to the present moment. It allows us to be present to what is, instead of being swallowed up by past regrets or future expectations.
Researchers are exploring the impact this can have, with positive outcomes. One study at the University of Surrey reported a 40% reduction in perceived stress after participants completed an online mindfulness course.
How could you be more present in your day to day life, and less fixated on what might happen – whether it’s an outcome you long for, or dread?
If you’d like some support to introduce mindfulness into your life, take a look at Be Happy Now – a video course to help you put mindfulness into action in all areas of your everyday life.
How do you beat stress?
Stress has been described as a modern epidemic. In the largest known study of stress levels in the UK, a 2018 survey of 4619 people, 74% of people reported that in the last year they’d felt “so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope”.
So it makes sense that ensuring your day-to-day experience is as stress-free as possible will better help you handle the curveballs life likes to lob at you from time to time.
I’d love to know which of these 5 mindset shifts makes a difference in your life. Leave a comment below, let us know.
About Annie Stoker
Psychotherapist. Author. Property Investor. Dog-Lover. Chilled-Out Friend.
Annie Stoker is perhaps the UK’s most educated coach and trainer in what it takes to be happy. She has distilled 27 years experience in diverse psychological and spiritual perspectives into a simple but profound manual for the mind: The Personal Development Handbook.” She has coached influential figures, and been featured widely on TV, radio and in print.
Having experienced not just health and sickness, but also success and failure, marriage and divorce, wealth and poverty, Annie now knows that real growth is not another ‘let’s make it all ok’ campaign. It’s about finding the truth at the core of ourselves so that we have the inner freedom to deal with whatever life throws at us.
Annie is our Master Trainer and Head of Coaching at One of many.