Not all stress is bad stress, but constant stress is bad for our health. We live in a stressful world, and we are all exposed to more and more stress with less and less time to recover from it. However, there are things we can do to lower our stress, or at least lower the negative effects stress has on our bodies and our lives.
- Go outside. Being in nature is very healing. It’s not necessary to make this complicated. Just go outside and take a walk, or sit on a bench, or open the doors and let fresh air in. Yes, it’s nice to visit the mountains, the beach, or the national parks, but really, you don’t have to go on vacation to start getting the benefits nature has to offer right now. Wherever you are, just go outside.
- Practice mindfulness. Once again, it’s not necessary to meditate for a long time. Just decide to be completely present for a short time and simply pay attention. Pay attention to how the cat’s fur feels on your cheek, or how the soapy water feels on your hands, or simply pay attention to your own breathing. Practicing mindfulness actually changes your physiology and makes you healthier and happier.
- Pay yourself first. Put your needs closer to the top of your list. Don’t worry. Being selfish won’t hurt your friends and family. By consciously taking care of your needs, you are less likely to erupt with frustration and take it out on those closest to you. You are in the best position to know your needs, so you are in the best position to take care of those needs. Practice pampering yourself and putting yourself first. Your stress, anxiety and frustration will diminish, and your health and outlook on life will improve.
- Practice reframing the negative. Pollyanna taught people to play the “glad game”. This is basically what reframing means. I remember watching a story about a mother and her children who almost died in a freak accident. Now when she hears her children arguing, she says it’s “music to her ears” because she is so glad to still have her children. Before the accident that same bickering caused her to feel extremely stressed. The object of the glad game is to find something to be grateful about. For example, if your husband annoys you because he isn’t paying attention to you, you could decide to be grateful that he took out the trash. It is much easier to notice negative things and harder to really notice and be grateful for positive things. We are all this way, and it has helped us to pay attention to the saber tooth tiger instead of how the clouds look like an ice cream cone. So we have to consciously choose to really notice and experience the positive. Practicing reframing will really lower your stress and help you experience joy and happiness.
We can’t always get rid of the source of our stress. Sometimes it causes more stress to try to get rid of the stress, especially if it is in the form of a difficult co-worker, a demanding boss, a depressed spouse, critical in-laws, a parent with Alzheimer’s…you get the point. And it really isn’t necessary to have everything to our liking to start feeling calmer and happier. I hope these four practices will help you get started on your way to better days.