Friends often ask me my secret to being free from stress. I’m no expert, but I know what works for me. It didn’t come naturally, though, and it wasn’t easy at first.
When I was younger, I did it all wrong. Like a lot of young adults, back then and still, I seemed to constantly get involved in activities and pursuits that created a perfect petri dish for the development of stress.
- As the old saying goes, I burned the candle at both ends.
- Not only that, but I also engaged in risky behaviors.
- To add more complicating factors, I hung out with questionable friends.
- Naturally, I had poor self-care because of my bad habits.
Over the years, however, I learned that I control my actions and – vitally important – that my actions have consequences.
So, how did I go from being a veritable poster child for how to build stress to learning to live as close to stress-free as possible? Here are my go-to techniques to vanquish stress. Maybe they can work for you.
I used to think that I had to be the best in everything I did. I had to do it better, faster and smarter than anyone else or it didn’t count. Part of that had to do with being the younger sibling to a very competitive brother. Perhaps part of it was trying to please my parents, although I think every child wants that.
The downside of accepting only perfection is that perfection is an elusive target. There’s never going to be a perfect outcome. Improvement is always possible. What’s considered success today may be failure tomorrow.
My therapist helped me recognize this self-defeating tendency and gave me wise counsel: You don’t have to be perfect. Just do the best you can.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But when the advice finally sunk in, a lot of stress disappeared. Striving to do my best was not only enough, it was life-affirming, motivating and made me feel better about myself.
Create a schedule.
When too many conflicting demands began to intrude on my daily life, with a consequent dramatic uptick in stress, my therapist recommended I create a schedule. I didn’t want to do this, since I felt schedules were too confining. But I agreed to try it out. After all, with kids and school and work demands, I needed help keeping everything organized. If a schedule could accomplish that, I’d become a convert.
To my surprise, creating a schedule did help me put some breathing room into my life. It cut down some avoidable stress and gave me the self-confidence I needed to tackle other projects. In other words, to put different items into my schedule. All in good time, of course. I had to get comfortable with my schedule before I began to alter it.
That’s the other thing I learned about creating schedules. Like prioritizing tasks and creating lists of goals, schedules must be able to evolve and adapt.
It’s OK to ask for help.
I never liked asking for help. I thought it made me seem weak. But after several tragedies, unfortunate experiences and a lot of heartache, I gradually accepted the fact that there’s nothing wrong in asking for assistance. If I was willing to help others in need, asking for help when I needed it was OK.
In fact, for me, being able to ask others for help turned out to be a lifesaver. There was a time when I was so despondent, I didn’t know what to do. My therapist offered some consolation, but I needed more. He encouraged me to talk with a trusted friend, which I did. Just having another person listen nonjudgmentally was instrumental in lifting a crushing weight of stress. That we could laugh and do things together, like go to a movie or out for a pizza, helped as well.
Today, while I don’t make a practice of asking others to help, if I really am in need, I won’t hesitate to do so. And, I firmly commit to being there for others when they request my assistance. This is all part of being genuine, living up to commitments, wanting to help when it matters.
Do what you love.
It took me a long time to be able to love what I do. I went to school at night to earn several degrees, each with an emphasis on what I consider my strength: writing. Like millions of people, I had to work at jobs that weren’t necessarily gold standard, didn’t match my goals and dreams, but they did help me put food on the table and clothes on my kids, pay the car payment and rent.
I held firm to my dream of working in a field that allowed me to make use of my talents. I was fortunate to work in public relations for a major automaker and then become a freelance writer once I retired. Capitalizing on both my studies and my love of writing was incredibly beneficial. Every day brought new challenges, new opportunities to do what I love.
Here’s a secret I learned about doing what you love. It crushes stress.
Make time for play.
Part of why people get stressed is they grind endlessly without a break. Or, the only downtime is when they fall exhausted into bed. I know. I’ve been there. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that any human being will reach a point of no return if they fail to insert time to relax and recharge into their life.
I love going to movies. I also love reading, walking the nearby nature trails, gardening, cooking and travel. Any one of these I consider play. And they work wonders for dissipating stress.
After breaking for play – doing what you enjoy for leisure, recreation or educational pursuit – you can come back and take on the next item on the schedule, today’s to-do list, or address a pressing or unexpected problem. You’ve put harmony and balance back into your life. Stress doesn’t have a chance against this dynamic duo.
Exercise gratitude daily.
I’m lucky to have learned how to rid myself of stress. In fact, I consider myself extraordinarily grateful. The concept of expressing gratitude for all that I have and all that I have learned is so strong that I recommend doing it daily. There’s a lot to be grateful for, no matter what the personal situation or circumstance. For one, you’re alive. For another, you have friends and allies. You have another day to receive the blessings and gifts today brings.
These tips aren’t all-inclusive. A few more I’ve found helpful include:
- Know when to say no. It isn’t necessary or conducive to well-being to take on more than you can handle.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Avoid excessive intake of sugar, fats and salt.
- Drink lots of fluids, especially water.
- Cut down (or cut out) alcoholic beverages.
- If you smoke, quit. Nicotine is addictive. While it may create initial calming or soothing, once cravings set, the stress increases until the urge is again satisfied.
- Tap into spiritual renewal through prayer, meditation, yoga, self-reflection.
- Nurture a positive attitude.
- Follow your dreams.
- Love wholeheartedly, deeply and without reservation.