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How to Reduce Stress Using These 5 Powerful Tips

Written by: Kris de Jong, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Guess what? You don’t have to feel stressed all the time. Chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on your physical and mental wellbeing. If you have high stress levels, you’re going to be less effective and less productive overall and in serious danger of burnout.

Many of us are more stressed than usual due to the pandemic and everything that goes with it. You may have lost your job or found yourself “restructured” and in a different work role. Maybe you’ve been struggling to balance working from home and taking care of your kids. You could be increasingly worried about your finances, career, or wellbeing.


Luckily, there are many simple ways to reduce the stress that you can start to apply right now. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are 5 powerful tips to get you started.


1. Be aware of your physical stress signals.


Have you noticed that when you’re confronted with an uncomfortable situation or event, you can display physical signs of distress? For example, when speaking in front of an audience, if your boss is telling you off, or when you’ve got a tight deadline, and you’re struggling to get things done in time.


When we’re in an acutely stressed state, we tend to exhibit physical signs such as shallow breathing, tense muscles, increased heart rate, or shaky hands. These symptoms are a result of our autonomic nervous system or “fight-or-flight” response to perceived danger.


This was useful when we humans were living in caves and in real danger of being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger as our body got ready for action. But it’s not so useful for most of us today. We don’t have control over these symptoms at first, as they are involuntary reactions to a sudden event. But we can learn to notice them when they happen and then take action to address them.


When you consciously reduce your physical signs of stress, your brain gets the message that, hey, this person’s calm, allowing you to then think and behave more rationally.


Ideally, you want to walk away and find a quiet space to yourself for a moment. Slow and deepen your breathing for a few minutes. Try “square breathing,” where you breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out through your mouth for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, then repeat. Doing this will also slow your heartbeat. You can also consciously relax your muscles, especially your shoulders, and do some stretches.


If you can’t walk away from the situation, try to notice any stress signs and bring them down by taking a couple of deep breaths, pausing, or deliberately speaking more slowly and quietly.


2. Don’t try to fight your emotions.


Your negative feelings are never as bad as your fight to avoid them.


When we experience uncomfortable emotions and tell ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling this way, it tends to make things worse. It’s better to accept and acknowledge our bad feelings and try to observe them as objectively as possible. We’re all human, and we all get upset sometimes – that’s normal! When we fight against our natural emotional state, it creates internal conflict that exacerbates the problem. Some psychologists call this “imaginary suffering.”


Instead, sit with your feelings, and keep things in perspective. For example, “I can’t seem to find a job, so I’m feeling anxious and frustrated. That’s natural, but I’m working on a plan to maximize my chances” or “I’m going through a break-up, so I’m feeling hurt and angry, but I’m just going to focus on this one activity for now.” Avoid beating yourself up for having bad feelings.


3. Know that pressure is external, and stress is internal.


You don’t have to turn pressure into stress. Identify what’s within your locus of control, and then focus on the process.


Imagine you’re stuck in traffic, and as a result, you’re going to be late for an important meeting. You have time pressure (a deadline). Whether you turn that external pressure into internal stress is your choice.


Acknowledge what you don’t have control over - in this case, the traffic. You’re probably going to be late, so accept it. Now think about what you can control. You could call ahead (hands-free, of course), let them know you’re going to be late, and give an estimate of when you’ll be there. You could spend the time in your car fine-tuning your preparation for the meeting in your mind, or observing your surroundings, or enjoying the song on the radio.

Stress can be a choice, not necessarily an inevitable response to pressure.


4. Build your ability to perform under pressure.


Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Look for more pressure, so you have the opportunity to use your skills and grow and see things as a challenge, not a threat.


Performing under pressure may require a mindset shift that allows you to thrive in critical moments. Psychologist and mindset consultant Ceri Evans talks about nurturing the ‘blue,’ or rational, part of our brain that supports better performance and decision-making, and minimizing the ‘red’ or emotional part that promotes reactive and impulsive behaviors that may be detrimental to us and others.


Expect difficulties in life because they’ll always be there. The most successful people tend to see these difficulties as a chance to better themselves and their circumstances. The more you look for and experience these challenges, the better you’ll get at overcoming them.


5. Practice mindfulness.


Mindfulness is “in” right now, and there are thousands of courses and apps you can use to build your mindfulness skills. But at its core, it simply means paying attention at the moment. Many studies show that practicing mindfulness regularly reduces stress and anxiety and enhances mental wellbeing.


A recent study by Harvard University researcher Matt Killingsworth found that mind-wandering (not paying attention) tends to lead to worse emotional states. Being consciously mindful promotes happiness and a sense of calm.


How can you add more mindful moments into your life? I suggest targeting specific events or activities where you would normally not be fully engaged. For example, in a meeting or at a social occasion. Make a conscious effort to use all your senses to savor your surroundings. Really listen to understand what others are saying, observe all the sights around you, notice smells and tastes, appreciate the food you’re eating, and touch your physical environment. The more you do this, the better your overall wellbeing.


Take control of your stress.


You can employ many other strategies to reduce stress, such as scheduling regular exercise, maintaining strong social bonds, getting enough sleep, and having a healthy diet. The key is to do what works for you and embed good daily habits that help you stay balanced, in control, and perform at your best.


Stress can be optional – are you ready to conquer it?


Visit Kris' website to book a free consultation, and follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

Kris de Jong, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Kris de Jong is an experienced and certified Executive Life Coach living in Auckland, New Zealand. He studied at the University of Waikato, completing a BSc in Biology and Psychology, and was later certified in Cognitive Behavioural Coaching and Professional Life Coaching. He's also a Certified Practitioner of the Global Leadership Assessment 360 (GLA360). Recently he's become a co-founding ambassador for Prox.io, a global virtual knowledge exchange platform.


Kris has managed large and diverse teams over the years while building his coaching and mentoring skills. His experience in HR, recruitment, performance, and people management allows him to optimize employee coaching for organizations looking to improve workplace wellbeing.


He's written over 100 articles, published in national news outlets, and featured on national radio.


After achieving financial freedom at 40, Kris started Eclipse Life Coaching and is passionate about coaching and helping people to get what they want in life.

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