12 Ways to Reduce Your Stress
These tactics have been effective for my clients...and for me.
Posted Apr 16, 2015
In these seemingly ever more stressed times, we all could benefit from less stress.
Here, I present the stress reducers that have worked best for my clients and, okay, for me.
1. Excise your stressors. It’s difficult to change your personality. If you’re stress-prone you’ll probably always be stress-prone so, if possible, remove or reduce some stressors from your life.
For example, can you reduce your amount of interaction with someone who stresses you, for example, your boss, a coworker, a client, friend, romantic partner, or even child who pushes your buttons?
A client of mine has a teenage child who, despite good parenting is simply difficult. He and his wife have tried everything and their son is still very challenging. They’ve decided to accept that there’s only so much they can do and so have relinquished some control—He's no worse and they’re less stressed.
2. Tweak your work environment. Another example of changing your externals is where you work. Can you make your work environment less stressful, for example, by working in a quieter part of your office’s cube farm? Working from home at least one day a week? Listening to music while you work? Something else?
3. Know when it’s time to replace rumination with a try-out. Many people analyze a problem to death: analysis paralysis. After a moderate amount of thinking, try something. It’s easier to figure out an alternative approach when you've gotten feedback on what you’ve tried.
So, for example, if you're worried you'll remain single for the rest of your life, place an ad on a dating site, ask friends to set you up, hang out at Starbucks, whatever. Then do more of what’s working, less of what’s not. Think less; try more.
When you’re stressed about something, remember to ask yourself that obvious but often not-asked question: "Is there anything I can do to address the problem?" For example, if you’re afraid your boss will give you a bad performance review, should you explain that you’re trying to keep growing as a professional and so would like a suggestion for what to improve?
If there’s nothing you can do about the problem—for example, you’re waiting to hear about a job you’ve applied for—try to distract yourself by immersing yourself in some other project.
4. Take mini-breaks. When you’re feeling stressed, can you give yourself mini-breaks: A two-minute walk around the building, perhaps while listening to your favorite music? Play with the dog for a minute? How about calling a friend? Even two deep breaths can help.
I look out for early signs I’m getting stressed: for example, if I'm starting to feel antsy, I take lessons from the yogis: I make sure my posture is good and take two slow deep breaths.
Right now, would you like to try one of those simple, quick stress reducers? Or, how about trying this right now: Stand…stretch… shake out your hands and legs, and take two deep breaths. Feel any calmer?
5. Take micro-breaks. Some “breaks” can by done on the fly, while you’re working, for example:
- Have a song rolling in your head. "It's a Small World After All" works for me.
- As you get each tiny part of a task done, say to yourself, “Okay."
- Think, “Baby steps. What’s the next baby step?”
6. Nip anger well before you explode. I used to think that showing upset proved that I cared. In fact, it just makes me look out of control. When I watch C-SPAN, I see our most successful government, nonprofit, and corporate leaders remaining calm even when talking about such serious matters as terrorism. Calm works---if you can pull it off.
But what if you have a short fuse: You go from calm to exploded in two seconds. Such people usually find themselves looking back and thinking, “I wish I hadn’t said that.” If that sounds like you, get in the habit of-- the second you start to feel angry--taking at least one deep breath, remind yourself that you usually pay a price for getting angry, and if another person is the target of your anger, leaving the room; Deep breath, picture the cost, and leave. When you’ve left the room, ask yourself, "In the long run, will I be better or worse off if I blow up about this?" Picture yourself furious, red-faced, flailing your arms. Do you want to be seen like that? If, on reflection, you conclude it’s worth exploding, fine. You’ve made a conscious choice to do it rather than letting your adrenaline dictate your behavior. But fact is, you'll rarely decide it’s worth getting angry.
7. Do stress-reducing recreations. Do your recreations reduce or increase your stress? I’ve seen streetyard basketball players get more stressed and angry than most people get at work. If that’s you, consider less competitive recreations such as hiking, gardening, writing, painting, home repair, or playing a musical instrument.
8. Ritualize. Ritual can be calming. I’m not necessarily talking religion or even spirituality. Do you have a comforting ritual for what you do when you first get up in the morning, as well as before bedtime? I have a CD clock radio next to my bed and, before turning out the light, I read something lightweight while listening to the same gentle CD every night. It's one that was created to calm dogs but it calms me too: Through a Dog's Ear.
Then there are stress reducers that do require an attitude change.
9. Restrain rushing. Might it be possible to train yourself to rush less? When I was 20, I visited Europe for the first time. I recall standing in the Louvre at 2 PM thinking, “If I can get through the Louvre in an hour, I can probably fit in Versailles before the end of the day.” That was typical. My addiction to adrenaline, fed by trying to cram in as many activities as possible, kept me from enjoying whatever I was doing and made me a more stressful person.
Lesson Learned: I try, not always successfully, to do everything at a comfortable pace. Rarely is rushing is worth it. Even good emergency room doctors rarely rush—they proceed with focus but without rushing. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would always tell his players, “Be quick but don’t hurry.”
10. Try to live by The Serenity Prayer. It is ”May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” We’ve all heard of people with terminal diseases who appear unworried, seeming to enjoy every moment. Yet many people get upset by trivial things we can’t change, for example, driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
11. Accept humankind's fallibility. This is a corollary of the previous tip. We all encounter people who are stupid, thoughtless, even mean. One may even be in our family. People are very hard to change—even PhD-toting psychotherapists often fail to fundamentally change their clients.
If you decide you’re not cutting-out the person from your life, or if its someone you’ll meet only once—a slow clerk for example—try—and it’s easier said than done-- to view the person with charity than with judgment: “We all have flaws. He’s doing the best he can. Perhaps I was luckier in who my parents are.” People who are angered by or try to fix other people usually live stress-filled lives and rarely change them much. We can refine but rarely remold.
12. Don’t look back. We all have reasons to be upset about things in our past. Thinking about them rarely helps. Rather, it usually increases our stress. Stay in the moment.
My father rarely talked about his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp and when I asked him why, he said, “Martin, the Nazis took five years from my life. I won’t give them one minute more. Never look back. Always take the next step forward.” I can end this article with no better advice.