Stress is a terrible thing that overpowers thought, senses and emotions. It brings in its wake anxiety, panic and loss of control: all emotions that can sabotage happiness.
Here are five simple tips that, if practiced regularly, can become reflexes that can enable you to avoid stress:
- Pack loose
Has this ever happened to you:
You are travelling abroad tomorrow morning. It is 8 pm and you have finished packing already.Yes, it was difficult getting the shoes to match all your outfits to fit the space and your baggage allowance but you have done it. Now you can relax and enjoy the farewell dinner your bestie is treating you to at nine.
You are halfway through your medium rare fillet mignon when your friend casually remarks, “I hope you won’t mind taking three text books for my cousin. I have told her to come to your hotel and pick them up. You won’t have to do a thing! I’m really glad she told me before you left.”
This “casual” remark leaves you holding your fork in mid-air. An overwhelming feeling of stress sets in, soon to be replaced by full blown panic: how on earth are you going to pack thick text books in your already bulging suitcases. You have the following choices:
- You can refuse to take the books and risk offending the friend you’ve had since kindergarten.
- You can pay a hefty amount in excess baggage and take the blessed volumes.
- There really isn’t a third option.
All through the rest of the meal you keep mulling this over as your friend chats away, oblivious to your inner turmoil. As you say goodbye and receive the offending package, you realize with a sinking heart that the only way of dealing with this situation is to suffer the hole in your pocket that excess baggage cost is going to make. Offending your friend was never a real option.
This kind of stress is the last thing you need on the eve of a trans atlantic flight. The next time you travel, you pack fewer items, leaving room for last minute essentials.
Sometimes we pack our days the way we stuff our bulging suitcases. We plan too many things to begin with. When something unexpected comes up we become overwhelmed. This leads to a lot of stress and anxiety, the two most common maladies of our time.
A good way of dealing with this is to pack your schedule loose. Allowing a whole hour for a task that you estimate would take only 45 minutes is a good idea. If something unexpected (like an unexpected phone call) comes up, or your task is more time consuming than you imagined, you have the cushion of the extra 15ķ minutes.
If you finish on or before time,the extra time can be used to rest and relax. If you are feeling energetic, you can begin your next project/errand early and save time at the end of the day.
I am the last person to micro-plan and micro-manage my day allocating exact time frames and then allowing extra minutes for each task. But even for me it is not difficult to make a rough estimate of whatever I begin to do and allow 10-15 minutes on top of my “guesstimate” thus avoiding being overwhelmed.
- Be prepared
Be prepared is the motto of Girl Guides. You can’t prepare for every eventuality but you can anticipate and prepare for most of them. Survival kits, first aid kits and the ever popular Swiss Army knife are all based on the concept of being prepared for everything. This preparedness precludes many potentially stressful situations.
Being prepared for what you have planned is even more important than preparing for the unforeseen.
Being prepared for an exam, a presentation, an interview or board meeting takes a lot of the stress out of these situations, hence avoiding the feeling of being overwhelmed.
3. Look at the Big Picture
Have you ever wondered how easy it is to give advice to others? I often find myself distributing pearls of wisdom to my friends but invariably get bogged down by the simplest problems of my own. This happens because we are looking at our friends’ problems from the outside, where the view is much clearer.
As kids most of us must have seen a doll’s house, the kind where the whole front of the house swings open like a door. This allows you to look into all the rooms at once. Some of you might be familiar with Katherine Mansfield’s story of social discrimination which is set around just such a “Doll’s House”.
A person looking at such a doll’s house from outside gets the whole view or the broader picture. This is true of another person’s problem or life: we look at the bigger picture when we look from outside.
When confronting our own problems we are looking from within (seeing only one room of the doll’s house). The narrow view from within does not allow us to analyse our situation objectively making us incapable of an objective and rational approach.
A good way around this is to practice the “Doll’s House view” or Bird’s Eye view of your problems/situation. I am trying to use this technique with little relatively non stressful situations and hope to use it in overwhelming ones. If this doesn’t work out, your failsafe is always there: the input of a sincere friend.
4. Push away Negativity
Self-help articles, books and videos are full of “The Power of Positive Thinking”. Being positive is a virtue that can help us through the most difficult situations.
“Two men look out through prison bars’
One sees dirt,
The other sees stars.
Make sure you can always see the stars.”
In this example of the two prisoners, it is important to stay focused on the stars but blocking out the dirt (negativity) is equally important.
Being positive is essential to success.
“I WILL get that job”. “I WILL achieve my goals,” you say’
“But what if there is someone more qualified than me?”
“What if I fall ill?”
“What if I can’t cope with the workload?”
A little voice of negativity can raise its ugly head in a remote corner of your mind. If you are not careful to suppress it immediately it can quickly grow to gigantic proportions completely swamping logic and reason.
The same is true of negative people; they can be even more damaging than negative thoughts since they are not as easy to push away. They can sabotage your success by the power of suggestion and can easily set your brain to overwhelm mode. The best way to deal with negative people is to distract or deflect their pessimism by changing the subject. If you are not successful in doing so after a few attempts then such people are best avoided altogether.
5. See the Humour
Seeing the humour in every situation is the best way to avoid stress.
You may argue that some situations are too serious to be taken as funny. My answer to this is that there can be no scenario more serious than terminal illness. My family and I once lived through the terminal illness of a very close and very dear relative. As she battled with pain, loss of memory and loss of dignity, we kept our mood light. We forced ourselves to see the funny side of the trials and tribulations that we faced. Although visitors sometimes confused our humour with irreverence and lack of empathy, humour was the only thing that kept us going.
The ability to laugh at oneself or “self deprecating humour” if you want to be fancy, is a very useful habit to cultivate.
Seeing the humour in difficult situations gives us the courage and strength to deal with them.
Even if we can’t change the situation, changing our own perspective by seeing the funny side of it enables us to cope with it.
Try using these five tips consciously for a few days until they become habits. You will find yourself dealing successfully with the stress and strain of daily life.
In the end I must share a tip that I have used often in my own fight against stress and negativity. A dear friend once advised:
“Hope for good things and good things will come to you.”
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