Just don’t do something because it causes a lot of stress, or lower your expectations. Two examples of ways to reduce stress. No, it is not an act of weakness to skip something. On the contrary, it shows balance to take such a deliberate approach to stress management. It takes guts, self-knowledge and a certain degree of awareness. (Ideally) you don’t care (a lot) about what others think, or your own critic. You just want to reduce stress. Because a certain dose of positive stress is helpful, but negative stress can really be bothering. And long term stress is harmful anyway.
Be ready for 6 simple yet intelligent tips to reduce stress.
To reduce external stress causers
In this blog I focus on the tension that arises as a result of external stress triggers; we call it the Demand.
There are also many things you can do to develop your stress tolerance; your strength to handle stress. That is the internal part of the stress equation. This part of reducing stress we cover in ‘10 tips on how to handle stress and increase your stress tolerance’.
And are you really eager to learn more about stress? In our Big Guide ‘Coping with Stress’ we cover quite some interesting stress angles: what stress is, the difference between positive and negative stress, stress triggers, how to respond in case of acute stress, stress coping strategies, the 4 ‘A’s’ everyone should know and more coping-with-stress related stuff.
6 tips to reduce stress
Let’s talk about the Demand part of stress. On what is coming at you from activities, events, mind patterns, goals and schedules. That annoying pressure you feel and causes stress sensations. In 6 tips we cover the topic of reducing stress and pressure, and how to reduce external stressors. So you can relax more, and have a more positive stress experience, or even no stress at all.
Tip 1 – to reduce stress
>> Not wanting too much
Simple but true: the more you want the greater the tension that can arise.
- Getting x, y and z done in your job.
- Or maintaining a huge group of friends next to your sport and your work.
- Always want to cook a complete 4-course meal yourself when you have guests and the house has to be perfect too and you also want to exercise every day.
- Everything you do has to be perfect
You can skip things. Choose the most important priorities and just don’t do the rest. What a wonderful peace and quiet that is going to bring. Your future-you is grateful for it!
In the beginning it may feel a little awkward to let things go or to miss things. Gradually you will get used to it and you will notice how pleasant it is to have a lower stress level. Also, do not make the mistake of starting to plan things again as soon as you feel better and have more space. This nice feeling and reducing stress was exactly the goal, well done!
>> Adjust your goals
Often we think that the environment causes our stress and wants everything from us. But most of the time we ourselves are the ones who put those goals on us. Be aware of that and realize that you are the one who can adjust those goals.
Do you read in the other person’s eyes, “why haven’t you finished that yet”? Probably that is not that person’s opinion, but your own view of yourself. This principle would be witty if it wasn’t also so frustrating at times.
Much of the pressure you experience you do to yourself.
This may seem hard to believe at first, but take it from me.
It may be true that a task is yours or that you have agreed on something. But the ”how” is partly up to you and that is often where the difference is made between negative stress or no / okay stress. You often see that pressure slowly builds up in people who experience stress. And that is a pressure that is usually – unconsciously – created by the person in question.
You are the one who can adjust your goals, also about the way you do something. How fast, how well, etc. Adjust, and experience less stress because of less pressure. Adjust your goals, also meaning adjusting your standards, and reduce stress.
Tip 3 – to reduce stress
>> Apply the A of Avoid
By simply avoiding situations, people and schedules that you know will stress you out, you prevent a lot of stress in your life. Self-knowledge is required for this. And also the guts to look at yourself honestly. Because maybe you want to be something that does not really suit you. What makes you really happy?
What are things that you do to keep something up that you secretly look up to? Just don’t do it!
An example of Avoiding to reduce stress
For example, there is a group of people you have looked up to for years and every now and then you get invited to a party or other event. You don’t feel comfortable, always get a lot of stress before the party, and actually don’t think they suit you very well. They do have a lot of status and that beautiful image is very tempting to rub up against. On the evening itself you walk on your toes. And you are always glad when you get home. Yes you can go on with this for years. But why would you do that? Why not choose what suits you better and apply the A of Avoid? That will surely make room for things that fit you better, and cause less stress.
The magical ‘A’ of Avoid is a member of the magical foursome the 4 A’s. Together they make up for 4 stress coping strategies you can use (mix & match) to deal with stress. They are powerful, and easy to remember, once learned about them. Put them in your pocket and use them in case of stress to reduce stress. And to do the smartest thing in a specific situation. Highly recommended!
Blog: 4 stress coping strategies to Mix & Match. Bye stress!
>> Discuss and influence the conditions of what is asked of you.
It is the A of Alter. Yes, also this ‘A’ is a member of the 4 A’s.
If you can’t avoid or prevent something, there is often room to make adjustments. Do you absolutely have to do that stressful project of your boss; then discuss the conditions under which you want to do that. For example, a hard limit on not working through the weekend. Or you agree that you can ask your boss for feedback once a week. Or that you would like to do the project together with someone. Just to name a few options to alter the situation and make it more manageable for you. Look ahead, know yourself, and engage in conversation about the conditions and frameworks.
Look ahead and influence the circumstances in a smart way. That way you can avoid a lot of stress beforehand, and do that thing anyway. You get both: less stress, and you deliver what your promised.
Tip #4 is all about expanding your Circle of Influence, for less stress and more focus. (if you don’t know how to use the Circle of Influence, make sure you read the blog)
>> Plan realistically with margin
Sooooo obvious right? But how do you do it in practice?
Incorporate breathing room into your schedule. Don’t give in to the temptation to cram everything in. While planning things, a week in advance it seems to work out, but the day itself you walk around stressing. Because everything simply always turns out differently than you think it will when you plan it! And because so much fuss is not pleasant at all. Theoretically feasible, but desirable in practice?
As simple as it may seem, realistic planning is an important part of reducing stress in your life. Plan your rest as well. Also consider your travel time and departure time. And most of the time applies: a slightly less busy schedule than you think is possible four weeks before, is more comfortable. Make yourself happy, and plan less and with more space.
Is it so bad to do every now and then just nothing?
Tip 6 – to reduce stress
>> Examine the pressure that you feel/perceive
The external pressure you experience is often a feeling. It starts with you experiencing stress in your system and from that point on the emotions have already taken over. Don’t approach stress as a gray cloud coming at you and being taken in, but face it, and examine it.
These questions you can ask yourself:
- What is the situation?
- What are you reacting to so (emotionally)?
- Are your images of what is being asked of you realistic?
- What feels threatening?
- To what extent are you magnifying the burden yourself?
- What is really being asked of me?
- What demands are you apparently making on yourself that are causing stress? Peel off the situation.
I’m going to use an example to expose the stress factors in a situation where I have a lot of stress.
An example of unraveling the situation to reduce stress
Tonight I have a meeting with Leonardo Dicaprio. Don’t ask me why.
I feel agitated all day, run around like a headless chicken and feel very chaotic.
But why then?
I’m afraid I’m going to be late and I have so much to do and my clothes have to be tip top and so does my hair and I want to appear relaxed. But why?
Because I’m so stressed it’s very difficult to get everything done on time, and I want to look perfect and look good.
But then why?
Because I want him to like me. He impresses me and I feel intimidated.
Do I stand behind this? Well, actually no. Probably how I do my hair makes little difference in how I come across anyway. Besides, what does it matter what he might think of me. I am who I am. It’s not about impressing. There is no performance to be put down. And I’m not dependent on his judgment either. I just enjoy meeting him. These are all things that are in my head and I impose on myself. I’d better calm down. <
Why this works
Peeling off all those layers of your stress, takes the sting out of the strong emotion you are feeling. There is a good chance that after peeling off everything you feel (and think), your stress has been reduced. Because the whole situation is not as threatening as it looked at first sight.
When you feel stress, the emotional part of your brain is in the lead. The rational side takes a break.
This technique I describe helps to control the wild emotions, and bring back some fact checking and realism. And makes you reconsider the threat and pressure. And probably even laugh about it. This example about meeting Leonardo DiCaprio makes me laugh after reading. And I probably would be stressed if it would happen one day. Silly me.
Most things are not as serious, severe and threatening as they appear to be. Great you have discovered that for this particular situation.
Good luck reducing stress and accelerating your personal growth
The fact you are reading this blog already means you are personally growing. Real learning is mostly accompanied by a certain amount of pain. True learning doesn’t feel comfortable. Because you are on new territory, things are changing and moving, and you don’t totally master the topic. Yet.
But we believe this is the way to go. Personal growth is a lifelong recipe for staying motivated, balanced and curious. Learning how to reduce stress makes you benefit in other areas in your life as well. Your relations might improve. As will your self-knowledge. Your confidence, joy and many other things. And then we even didn’t mention the reduced stress. Good luck and feel free to reach out with a question or remark.
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