Updated: Mar 2, 2020
I still have to finish this paper! I'm late! Is that person angry with me? Have I left the light on at home? Will my boss approve of my work?
Do you recognize any of these questions and sentences? Yes? Do you unconsciously spiral into a toxic thought pattern? Does that thought pattern stress you out? Yes?
Well I have some good news: You don't have to stress anymore! With the following tips you will catch yourself before you are at the end of the thought spiral.
We all know stress. Stress is something very natural. It helps us survive. When a wild animal comes running at me or a car suddenly pops up from behind that corner, I want to be experiencing stress. If you wouldn't experience stress in these situations, there would be a big chance that you would die. So having stress in certain situations is very good!
But we don't experience this on a daily basis. 95% of our lives we are not in these situations and we don't need stress, but we still do experience stress! In stead of having to worry about wild animals like we had to a lot more often about 500 years ago, we now worry about things like: 'My train is late, will I be fired?' or 'This person didn't say hi to me, is he or she mad at me?'. Our brain can just run WILD in with self made stories about how this person hates you because he or she didn't say hi. Usually, we all think it's our fault but maybe this person was just thinking about his or her sick grandma and didn't hear you.
The point of all of this is: we stress about a lot of things that are so unnecessary! Our society has changed and there are no constant threats that could kill us, but our thought patterns haven't changed. It's not healthy to experience constant stress, it throws your hormones out of balance and it might even cut off some years of your life. We don't want that! We want to make the most of e-ve-ry-day! So you're probably wandering: How can I stop stress? Here are some tips to reduce stress.
You probably already saw this one coming: Meditate! Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress immensely. It's actually the reason I meditate. It has brought me só much! The meditating itself reduces stress in the moment, but you also develop a broader consciousness about your own body during meditation that you can use in your daily life.
For example: I struggled with a 'stress shoulder' for years. I thought it had to do with my posture which it eventually did but the cause was stress. During meditation I started to notice that my shoulder was tense and I was stressing my body, even though there was nothing to be stressed about! I was safe and meditating, why would my shoulder be tense? So during meditation I started to focus on relaxing my posture and at a certain point you start focussing on it during the day. So when I was sitting behind my desk at work I would notice that my shoulders were tight again and I would relax my body.
In this situation you see that I was implementing something that started during my meditation practice, but that eventually I could use in my toolbox for daily life.
Breathe in your belly... 1, 2, 3... and breathe out... 1, 2, 3. Breathing is cleansing, but sometimes when we are stressed, our breath moves up to our chest and it doesn't reach our bellies. When you breathe into your chest you will become short of breath. Hyperventilation can start that way. Breathing in your belly actually relaxes you. I've put a reminder in my phone to breathe everyday at 1 p.m. so I don't forget. Try it, just breathe in for a moment. Don't you already feel better?
The cool thing about breathing, is that it's a tool that you always carry. You always have your breath! Use it!
3. It's all about perspective
Think of a situation that is stressful to you. Is this situation really that bad? What could really happen? Will you die? If the answer is no, then there is no reason to stress. Okay, when you're in university, you just want to finish in the last year, but sometimes that doesn't happen. What if you have to be at uni for an extra year? That will cost you more money and you might not want this to happen. This could be a very good reason to stress. But can you do something about it straight away? No? Then don't stress! What will happen will happen. If you can influence it, then do something about it. When you're doing something about it, there is no reason to stress.
If you can't influence it, then it is going to be the way it will turn out. You can't influence it, so no reason to stress. It will happen, so don't ponder about it too much! It's not good for your health.
You might have answered yes to the question 'Will you die?'. Some people experience being sick or very heavily ill. There might be the chance that you will die in some cases. I'm sorry to hear that and I send you healing energy! You deserve to live a full, happy and healthy life! If there is a chance that you'll die, that can be stressful. But stress is probably one of the reasons that you got sick.
Thankfully I'm not talking from my own experience, but I have read articles and listened to podcasts about people who were sick and healed. What I've gathered from most of them is that it is not good for you to stress over the fact if you will survive or not. It is best to focus on healing. Even if you don't believe it's possible, tell yourself that you are healing. Try and focus on the healing and not on the stressful part, because that might mean that your illness will get even worse. A really great documentary to watch about focussing on the positive and healing is called 'Heal'. This is really powerful and gives you great tools to put mind over matter and focus on healing, with people talking from real experiences of being sick.
4. Practice mindfulness
Check out my other blogpost about being mindful for more information, but I will explain it in a short paragraph for now. When you do something 'mindful', you do it with great attention and intention.
For example brushing your teeth. Try to focus on brushing your teeth. Notice everything, the flavor, the texture, the vibration, the movement and the sound. What's important is to not judge! Don't judge the moment. If you skipped brushing your teeth and you feel a lot of dirt coming off: don't blame yourself for that. Just focus on the brushing.
You might be thinking: how does this reduce stress? By focussing on what is happening, you are really in the moment. Very often our mind slips away from us and we end up in to that familiar thought spiral. You might be thinking about something that happened in the past, or something that might happen in the future. That is what will cause stress. You can't change the past and you can't make the future, so don't stress about that. When you practice being mindful for a while, you might notice that you will start to live in the moment more. That will help you reduce stress!
5. Go and do something you love!
This can be anything! Go and randomly dance in your underwear, go and do yoga, go and sing, go and read a book, go and exercise, go and drink some tea, go and bake... Basically: Get a hobby that relaxes you! I love to sing and dance in my underwear at home. I can literally feel all the energy that is stuck leave my body and it makes me more free. It relaxes me. Get out of that head! Sink in to your body! What ever it takes for you to come back to this current moment instead of your made up future.
6. Manage your time properly
You might think, duhh... But this is an issue for quite a few people I know. If you leave late, you will be late. That is basically your own responsibility. So leave on time! Saves you a lot of stress.
7. Get to know yourself
Learn what your stress triggers are. For me, for example, I know that my digestion has to wake up in the morning. That is why I do not eat breakfast before I arrive at work. If I do eat breakfast before I leave, my digestion gets started whilst it's not ready for it yet. I've sat in the car feeling like I had to throw up a few times and that felt stressful. This is especially stressful in a traffic jam. So now, I don't eat before I leave for work and I know the chance of me having to feel stressed in the car has decreased!
Ah, sleeping. LOVE-IT! But so many of us don't go to bed on time and don't get enough sleep. It's easy for me to say as I'm a morning person, but seriously, go to bed on time! If you can't sleep, read a book or something. If you are constantly depriving yourself of sleep, this will stress your body and it might cause disease. In your sleep your body restores.
Can't sleep at night because of that thought spiral? A friend of mine advised me to count the vegetable alphabet. The what? Yeah! The vegetable alphabet. Go past every letter in the alphabet and think of a vegetable that goes with the letter. A for artichoke, B for beans, C for cabbage etc. Finished the alphabet and still can't sleep? Do the fruit one! And so on and so on. Don't get frustrated with yourself when you can't sleep. You are in bed resting, that is better than not resting at all!
9. Go in to nature
This is an absolute must. We come from nature and it's extremely relaxing to go and hike in nature, or swim, or run or what ever works for you. Nature often just 'is' and it reminds us to just 'be'. A tree just is. Water just does what water does. A plant just is. It shows us how to just be, they're great examples! So throw on your hiking shoes, walk outside and take a deep, cleansing breath.
10. Get a pet
Watching your pets is a great way of decreasing stress! They make you laugh and they are the perfect example in how to just be! Dogs and cats can just chill for hours on end. Of course we can't do that, as we have lives to live, but you can learn from your pets. Please only get a pet when you can really lovingly care for it though! Don't just do it because it seams fun. Having a pet comes with a whole load of responsibilities.
I hope these tips will help you have a more relaxed life! Let me know what you think of it.