It is the beginning of another new year, which not only brings the chance to reevaluate and restart the way you are living your life, it also brings a fair amount of stress.
This series of posts will be focused on the secrets to managing stress and to live a happier, healthier life all year long.
January is a great time to let go of habits that may be holding you back and to build new ones that will take you where you want to go.
Create a New Lifestyle
It is the perfect time to get serious about your health and to begin creating a new lifestyle that can keep you healthy for many years to come. It starts with knowing how to manage stress.
You can have less stress in your life by making a few simple changes in some key ares.
- Start eating healthy by making better choices.
- Increase your energy levels and stamina by learning how to exercise without it feeling like work!
- Experience daily life differently with only a few adjustments in how you manage money and time.
- Finally, have more fun without spending tons of money.
We are going to explore these areas of your life and introduce a few specific changes in each area that will lead to an amazing new year.
Let’s get started Step One:
Stress is part of life that often serves a purpose. For example: when it motivates you to do your best work so you get the promotion you want; sustains your determination as you run the last mile of your first marathon; and gives you the energy and focus to ace the final exam in physics.
Bottom line – stress is not always bad. But . . . if you are continuously “stressed out,” it can seriously interfere with your job, your family life, and your health.
Stress is caused by many factors. They may be internal or external. Some of which you can control; but, many of which you cannot control.
There are ways to limit exposure to stress and decrease the effects it has on you when it comes from factors you cannot control – in other words, you can manage stress. But . . . it is impossible to completely eliminate stress from your life.
Let’s get a better understanding of how it works.
Identify Your Personal Stressors
- Make a list of everything in your life that causes you to feel stressed.
- You can use your computer, your phone, or a pen and paper.
- Find a quiet place where you can think and brainstorm by yourself.
- The list should include every stressor in your life (big or small) – omit nothing.
Don’t think about whether each one is fixable or not; controllable or not; internal or external – just write them down using no filter at all. If something stresses you in any way, put it on the list.
A List to Get You Started
- Never enough money
- Going through a divorce
- Hate your job
- Late for everything
- Hate driving in traffic
- Too tired to cook dinner
- Always losing thing
- Marriage problems
- Death in the family
- No friends
- Teenagers are driving you crazy
- Never know what to wear
- You have terrible hair
- Kids often late for school
- Mornings are a nightmare
- Bad relationship with in-laws
- Baby cries all the time
- Not enough rest
- Messy/dirty home
- Missed appointments
- Health problems
- Boss is an incompetent jerk
Take Your Time
It doesn’t have to be done quickly. It would be wise to dedicate a week to making your list. Every single day in that seven-day period write down anything that happens that makes you feel stressed.
At the end of the seven days, find some quiet time and categorize the list, Identify each stressor as internal or external.
Make a Chart
|Your boss is incompetent||X|
|You fight traffic everyday on the way to work||X|
|Your house is very cluttered||X|
|You are always late||X|
|You are too tired to cook dinner at night||X|
|You don’t get along with your in-laws||X|
|Your hair always looks terrible||X|
Study the Internal Stressors First
These are the ones over which you have control and have viable solutions. Look at each internal stressor one-at-a-time and explore what you can do to relieve the stress.
For example, if you always run late for work or are late getting the kids to school, you are dealing with an internal issue. Whether you are late or on time is not controlled by outside forces. You make choices that create those scenarios and you are in complete control. It may not seem like it sometimes, but you are.
Change your Behavior
Accept the fact that being chronically late is a behavior pattern that you can change. This is a very bad habit. When you are late, the message you are sending is that your needs are more important than anyone or anything else.
You can change this behavior, if you choose, through a few simple actions:
- Make punctuality a priority in your life.
- Get up 30 to 60 minutes earlier.
- If you need more rest, go to bed earlier.
- Make preparations for breakfast the night before.
- Organize school lunches at night.
- Build in extra travel time to allow for unexpected delays or heavy traffic.
- Always plan on arriving 15 minutes early rather than “on-time.”
Personal behaviors are internally driven and you can change them, if you are willing to do so.
Have a family meeting and discuss how you can all work together to make mornings more pleasant and less stressful.
Each night, ensure that everyone has their clothing laid out for the next day, including you.
Establish routines that help everyone get to bed on time so they are well-rested in the morning. Buy and set individual alarms.
Teenagers are completely capable of getting up by themselves and fixing their own breakfast. This is particularly helpful if you have a large family. Take those responsibilities off your plate and let them learn to be responsible for themselves.
If you prefer to fix breakfast in order to ensure that everyone eats healthy, prepare as much as you can the night before. Another option is to have everyone eat fresh fruit and whole grain toast with almond or peanut butter for breakfast.
Fruit is the original fast food. A banana with a glass of milk for breakfast is quick, easy, and healthy – much better than a bowl of sugary cereal (in fact, don’t have sugary cereal in the house).
Let Go of Control
You do not have to control everything. Let the members of your family be responsible for themselves.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your spouse; it should be a partnership. Decide together what each of you will do in the mornings and then, both of you do your part. Don’t micromanage your partner.
Perfection Is Unnecessary
There is no perfect way to start the day. The important things are that everyone is dressed, fed, and in the car or at the bus stop on time.
If you have younger children, get them ready for school first, and give them a book, put them in front of the TV, or with a computer game while you get ready. Most school age children can dress themselves and should be expected to do so the minute they are able.
If you have access to school buses, start using them. If you drive your children to school, set a time that you will be leaving – and stick to it. This can be particularly effective with teenagers. Anyone not in the car at the set time is on his own. It will only take once or twice for a child to be left and s/he will get the message and be on time.
Having your child miss school can may be a hard choice. Of course, there will have to be a back-up plan and consequences for missing school – it can’t just be a free day off.
You do not have to control everything. Let the members of your family be responsible for themselves. When you use life experiences to teach your children personal responsibility, you are giving them a wonderful gift. Be willing to give it and enjoy the gift of stress relief that it gives you.
Manage Reactions to External Stressors
The external stressors are more complicated. You may not be able to eliminate them or even fix them, but you can manage your reactions to them. That gives you quite a bit of control if you choose to take it.
Managing your reactions can lower your stress level significantly. It is a way of “managing stress” instead of letting it manage you.
An Example to Follow
Let’s look at ways to manage reactions to an external stressor that is probably familiar to most of us: TRAFFIC.
One way to deal with traffic is to try other routes to work. There may be a longer route that is quieter. I choose to drive surface streets rather than the freeway most of the time. Even if it takes a little longer, less traffic is preferable and less stressful.
If there is only one route available, then you need to find other ways to control your reaction to the traffic. Listen to good music that makes you happy. Listen to a book that you wanted to read but don’t have time to read. Or, don’t listen to anything and enjoy the quiet time.
These choices make being in the car something to look forward to rather than something to dread, even if traffic is difficult.
Take Steps to Alleviate Problems
- Since caffeine can heighten stress levels, avoid caffeine until after you get to work.
- Always allow an extra 15-30 minutes to get to your destination so the possibility of being late does not become an additional stressor.
- Take a defensive driving course so that you know what to do in aggressive traffic.
- Be sure that your car is appropriate for the type of traffic you navigate each day. A high-gas-mileage, 3-cylinder car may be wonderful for the pocket book; but, it may not be the best choice for driving in heavy, fast-moving big-city traffic.
Find ways to let go of the stress you are experiencing when driving. Rather than focusing on the traffic – sing along with your favorite artists, take deep breaths and let them out slowly, and/or control your temper by thinking about other things that make you happy,
Yes, you can pound the steering wheel and yell expletives at every “stupid” driver on the road. You can take unnecessary risks weaving in and out of traffic just to show others who is boss, but all of that adds to your stress – and are choices you make. You cannot control the traffic, but you can control your response to the situation.
What Can You Do Differently?
Use this as a model to find ways to manage other external stressors. Think about the stressor in detail and consider the factors you CANNOT change. Then, think about things you can do differently in response to it – consider your thoughts, your self-talk, and your behaviors. Develop a plan for managing this particular stressor and implement the plan the next time the stressor shows up in your life.
Hopefully these ideas we have explored today will help eliminate or diminish stress in your life, which is always a good thing for your health.
This ends today’s posting, but we will be back on Monday with Step Two. Please join us!
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