“There are often great lessons to be learned at the roots of stress, drama, and heartache. Don’t let the magnitude of the circumstance blind you to the value of the lesson.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
This is part 2 of the 2-part series on getting beyond stress. Here is part 1.
Here is a short summary of Part 1:
1. Become Aware of the Role of Stress in Your Life.
2. Scratch Below The Surface and Understand The Deeper Reasons Behind Stress.
3. Turn the Tables on Stress: Develop Your Specific Stress Management Toolbox Or Set of Practices.
4. Let Go Of Judgment And Comparison And Replace with Acceptance and Letting Go.
5. Have reasonable Expectations, Understand your realm of Control and Set very clear Boundaries.
Let us move on to part 2!
6. The Role of Gratitude and Appreciation, and Laughter
“And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart: Your seeds shall live in my body, And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart, And your fragrance shall be my breath, And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.” ― Kahlil Gibran
Research studies have shown the powerful role that gratitude plays in well-being. In a study by McCullough et al. in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it was shown that grateful people differ from non-grateful people in having higher positive emotions and greater life satisfaction.
They were also shown to be more “prosocially oriented” and displayed higher levels of empathy, support, forgiveness and help. The study also showed that higher gratitude levels allowed people to be less materialistic and more focused on spiritual goals.
According to the authors of the study:
“Compared with their less grateful counterparts, grateful people are higher in positive emotions and life satisfaction and also lower in negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, and envy.”
Studies done in the University of Warwick by Wood et al. have shown the positive co-relation between gratitude and higher levels of social support. Gratitude was also negatively correlated with stress and depression and a state of gratitude decreased stress and depression levels.
According to the authors:
“Overall gratitude seems to directly foster social support, and to protect people from stress and depression, which has implications for clinical interventions.”
Appreciating what is going right in your life instead of acute focus on the things that are going wrong is a great alleviator of stress and stressful situations. Classic psychology literature describes the “negativity bias.” The negativity bias as the name suggests is the predisposition and excess focus on negative circumstances and the potential for the limbic or sub-conscious brain to ruminate in those negative ideas.
A deep and heartfelt practice of being grateful and appreciating what you have in your life effectively breaks the cycle of negativity and stress.
The choice to step off the cycle of stress involves a decision between appreciating aspects of the current moment and stressing out about getting more stuff in the future. Decide to appreciate the moment and enjoy it in its entirety and remind yourself not to get enmeshed in the stress about how the future ought to turn out.
Laugh away the stress: Reconnect with the Inner Child, play and increase the silly in your life!
Make an assessment of how much laughter is present in your life. Besides being associated with numerous health benefits, laughter is a great stress releaser. It is not enough to delegate the occurrence of laughter to chance incidents but I think it is very beneficial to schedule in laughter.
You may want to join the local laughter yoga club or identify what makes you laugh heartily and consciously increase the incidence of those events.
Deep laughter is a wonderful counter measure against stress and anxiety.
Set up a regular practice of deep, heartfelt gratitude.
Appreciate the current moment and count all the blessings that you already have in your life instead of focus and stress about what you do not have.
Laugh away your worries and stress. It is difficult for stress and laughter to co-exist simultaneously.
7. The Power of Community and Deep Meaningful Connections in Stress Management
“One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.” Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extent a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
Research studies have indicated that having meaningful social connections and not feeling exceedingly alone or beaten down by problems result in nourishing people mentally, physically and emotionally. Social connections and getting the assistance that you need allows you to not internalize the stress since there is a support structure available.
I have previously written about the Rosetan community and the Harvard men’s study and the power of social connections here. In short, the studies indicated that deep happiness and having a lifestyle with reduced stress lead to a sense of flourishing and were intimately and inextricably connected with love and meaningful social relationships.
In the busy urban lifestyle, we often feel a sense of accomplishment by getting and staying stressed and a lot of times work takes priority over family and deep meaningful connections.
I am reminded of the story of the rich businessman and the fisherman. A rich businessman comes across a carefree fisherman on a beach. The businessman is surprised to find out that the fisherman worked just enough to catch the fish that he needed for his family.
The curious businessman questions him further to find out that he sleeps in, takes the time for siesta with his wife, spends quality time with his children, takes strolls to visit friends and relaxes on the beach.
The businessman eager to teach him a thing or two about business urges him to spend more time fishing and buy more boats and eventually build a fishing empire and had a plan all laid out for him.
The amused fisherman humors the businessman by asking him what would happen next each time the businessman presented him with the scenarios. Finally, exasperated, the businessman said that the fisherman would retire a very wealthy man, live on the beach with his family, fish when he wanted to, enjoy the company of his friends and relax on the beach.
In his attempt to teach the fisherman his business ways, the businessman did not realize that the fisherman was already living the dream lifestyle that he had planned out for him and also without the stress.
This story is a great example of priorities and the fact that we may be spending too much time and effort on the wrong things in order to do something in the far away future that is appealing to us.
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. Then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present: the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”-The 14th Dalai Lama.
Reduce stress by forming meaningful social connections and relationships.
Allow yourself to give and also receive from your social network.
8. Reduce Clutter, Simplify and Focus
“Life is 10 percent what you experience and 90 percent how you respond to it.” – Dorothy M. Neddermeyer
There is little doubt that excess clutter and electronic chatter can be a source of continuing stress in your life. Most of us want to live a relatively happy and stress free lives but engage and practice habits and activities that do not support this goal.
Watching the news or bad news TV before going to bed is an example of this. Not to mention, we take the alerts from all the social networks, apps and from virtually every other source and place it into our pockets and purses and feel obligated to respond immediately. It was as if we were perpetually on call. I love technology and am constantly amazed by its limitless power.
However, if the technology is inducing stress in your life, it may be time to set some boundaries and allow yourself some unplugged time. You can never quite feel the grass on your feet or the wind in your hair by an app or by looking at a picture. It is immensely relaxing to reduce the electronic chatter and enjoy more real life experiences.
I love the philosophy behind the TV programming telecast by PBS. They encourage you to turn off the TV after the programming and go out and do something.
Having excess physical, mental and emotional clutter can also be a source of great stress in your life. I have always found it very rewarding and fulfilling to share and give away things that I have not used for a while.
Whenever I cluttered my life up with objects that I was not using, I did not allow and have the space to get the stuff that really mattered for me. And I was constantly stressed out about maintaining and keeping up with them.
The same goes for emotional and mental clutter. If you fill your mind with thoughts and feel emotions that do not support well-being and induce stress, it is very difficult to be happy and flourish.
Since our conscious minds can only process 50 to 60 bits of information per second, it is difficult for stressful thoughts to exist if you replace them with ones that support your goals and well-being. Thoughts and emotions drive and fuel the desire to take consistent actions and remain enthusiastic in the face of failure and disappointments.
If you clutter your mind with stress inducing thoughts, it is going to be difficult if not impossible to be enthusiastic and stay inspired. Having too much to do and running in different directions causes unnecessary stress. The solution is to focus and to simplify your life and your task lists to the extent that they are highly pleasurable to do and not stressful.
Declutter the areas in your life-mental, physical and emotional that make you tense and cause you stress.
Let go of the thoughts that are not serving you, simplify your life and develop focus.
9. Reframe Failure and Difficult Situations and Look at Them in a Favorable Light: Slow Down and Enjoy the Journey
“It isn’t stress that makes us fall – it’s how we respond to stressful events.” ― Wayde Goodall
One of the most challenging things that you will ever do is being in the middle of a difficult situation and developing a different perspective to manage the stress and despair. While this may have become a cliché now and you may have heard the “learn from failure” and other motivational mantras before, it is best to acknowledge that it is never very easy to do so.
It is one thing for someone to write about failure and intellectualize it and another to experience difficulty and have your world fall apart all around you. The stress of the difficult situations is almost unbearable at times and acknowledging suffering and stress is the first step towards transcending it.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
Recognizing the and becoming more at ease with the duality of life, the yin and yang, the fear and the excitement, the sadness and the joy transforms the stress associated with difficult moments and makes you see them in a different light. When you give up on the victim idea of “why me” to the empowered “this too shall pass,” stress becomes bearable because you have light at the end of the tunnel.
Difficult situations and failure cause a lot of stress and to deal with them more effectively, you may need to adapt the perspective of a scientist. If scientists were to be crushed by failure, difficult situations and stress, there would be no progress in the field of science.
A lot of experiments that scientists perform on a daily basis do not have the desired outcome or in other words they “fail.” Scientists develop a dominant hypothesis and other alternate hypotheses and every failed experiment feeds into advancing the understanding of the topic. This strategy could also be termed “failing forward.”
In fact many significant discoveries have been the result of experiments that had failed and did not seem to have any value. The discovery of Penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming is a famous example of an “accidental” discovery.
Reframing failure and allow it to be a learning experience may be the first step towards reducing the stress associated with difficult situations. In the book Mindset, famous psychologist and Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University explains that a simple shift of belief and mindset has the power to transform your life.
“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”- Carol Dweck
The two mindsets according to Dweck are “the fixed mindset” where you believe that your qualities and your intelligence are limited and set in stone and The other mindset is the “growth mindset” where you believe that your qualities and intelligence can be increased and cultivated through efforts.
“Yet those people with the growth mindset were not labeling themselves and throwing up their hands. Even though they felt distressed, they were ready to take the risks, confront the challenges, and keep working on them.”
This is a wonderful insight from Dweck and she says that the fixed mindset leads to thoughts and actions that are very different from the ones resulting from the growth mindset and eventually resulting in very different roads in life.
I think that from my own experience, I have seen that a fixed mindset and inflexibility and trying to keep up with a fixed image of yourself leads to a lot of stress. The other option where the mindset allows for growth and flexibility gives us options to decrease the amount of stress by changing the situation.
Changes in perspectives of difficult situations and failure along with slowing down and doing less allow you to savor the journey. If you find yourself running from task to task and do not have the time to do much, you may want to re-prioritize what is really important for you in your life.
“Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last. Just kicking down the cobble stones. Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.”- Simon and Garfunkel, 59th Street Bridge Song
Constantly running at great speeds after your goals and desires is bound to eventually tire and burn you out and it comes inherent with lots of stress. The other option is to conscious slow your pace down and savor and enjoy fewer quality tasks and actions. When you slow down, you automatically drop the stress of trying to get too much done in very little time.
Change your perspective on difficult situations and failure.
Consider every setback an opportunity to hone your skills and make you better through effort and by having a growth mindset.
Slow down and focus on what is really important. If you cannot savor the beauty and adventure of the journey right now, you may find it difficult to do it in the future.
10. Develop an Action Habit and Manage Procrastination and Perfectionism
“Behind every stressful thought is the desire for things to be other than they are.”-Toni Bernhard
Lack of action is very stressful, especially when the inaction permeates all aspects of your life. The list of things half completed or needing attention builds up over time and brings a lot of ninja or hidden stress with it. Have you had the experience of completing something that you have been wanting to do for a while and feeling a huge sigh of relief and fulfillment?
It is also a matter of accountability, not to anyone else but to you. When you repeatedly procrastinate and stop yourself short because of perfectionism, you cannot depend on yourself. This is a big inducer of stress in people because they now have to find workarounds from the lack of an action habit.
According to Gay Hendricks, author of the book Five Wishes:
“My second wish was all about completing-tying up the many loose ends in my life. I soon discovered a magical surprise: any significant act of completion unleashes a hidden power, a rocket fuel for manifesting your heart’s desires. Every time I completed anything that had an emotional charge, I liberated a new wave of energy that increased my velocity toward my cherished goals.”
Developing an action habit and tying up the loose ends by either completing them or letting them go gives you a huge sense of relief and significantly decreases the stress associated with the incompletion. Once you realize that the things from the past are weighing you down and causing stress, you can take action to get beyond that problem.
Understand that procrastination in the current moment becomes a huge problem with lots of stress later on. Sure, you may want to creatively procrastinate some things but developing a habit of putting everything off for later signifies a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. When you begin to assume the role of an active participant in your life, take full responsibility and make no excuses, you will have effectively released the stress associated with those aspects.
Make action a priority and understand that inaction increases stress.
Let go of procrastination, excuses and perfectionism that increase stress by assuming a lead role or the role of an active participant in your own life.
Now over to you! Please leave your comments below if you found this post to be useful and let me know what habits and structures that you have in place to manage and release stress?