The journey to a stress-free life
Many of us go through life carrying a burden of anxiety and stress. Like the proverbial frog in hot water that doesn’t notice the steady increase in temperature until the water boils, our increased stress might go unnoticed until an attack of anxiety, a period of depression or a sudden flash of anger make it all too clear.
In desperation, it can be tempting to turn to unhealthy habits like drinking, smoking or drug use. Ultimately, these are no remedy at all and only serve to increase the unhappiness in our lives.
So what can we do? Read on to discover ten strategies to help you process stress and improve the quality of your life.
1. Get active!
Positive physical activity encourages the release of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals: neurotransmitters that help relieve pain and stress. If you want to feel better, give your brain a helping hand by taking part in physical activities you enjoy.
2. Find solutions
Sometimes our lives seem like a knot of worries that we’ll never untangle, but the truth is we all have solutions within us: like a broken jigsaw puzzle, the pieces may be in disarray, but as we calm our minds, we can find answers to life’s problems.
If we hide from our problems or worry at them endlessly, we feel increasingly disempowered and out of control, but by taking even the smallest step towards a goal, we gain a sense of accomplishment.
Choose just one challenge you are overcoming. Ask yourself this simple question: what’s the smallest step I can take to bring me closer to my goal?
If you find it difficult to imagine what you might do, consider contacting a solution-focussed therapist to help you identify the goals and actions that will bring you to a stress-free life.
3. Positive social activity
At heart, we are tribal beings. We are better off as a group. Connecting with like-minded, kind and supportive people encourages the release of positive neurotransmitters, just like exercise.
When we are feeling low, we often decline invitations to join work colleagues, family or friends in social activities, but if we shy away, we won’t find the support networks we need to ride out life’s troubles.
The cumulative effects of stress, depression and anxiety can provoke a form of social phobia that leads us to isolation. If you are missing out on opportunities to relax and laugh with good natured people, then consider contacting a therapist to help you re-engage with the wider world.
4. Make time for yourself
In our hectic lives, we often prioritise our jobs or family over our own wants and needs. Consider this: if you are stressed, anxious, depressed or angry, are your family and work colleagues getting the best they can from you? You are better able to support others when you’ve looked after yourself.
Consider a man on a beach: he spots some swimmers out of their depth. In order to save them, he has to consider his own safety. If he throws himself into the water without a thought for his own life, he’ll not only fail to save the swimmers, he’ll probably need rescuing himself!
So to be the best you for the people you care about, make time to do the things you really enjoy. If work is getting in the way, be aware that in the UK we work longer hours than anywhere else in Europe. For your own well-being, find a way to spend two evenings a week socialising, relaxing or getting some exercise.
5. Set yourself goals
Human beings thrive on a sense of achievement. Those who succeed survive and nature has equipped us with an onboard reward system of positive brain chemicals that fires up when we successfully complete a challenge.
Make these goals something you’ll be happy to work towards: maybe you want to improve your garden, learn a language, master an artistic technique, complete a complex jigsaw, or try a new sport. Whatever it might be – small or large – reaching that target will build up your sense of self-confidence and esteem.
The more goals you complete, the greater your sense of resilience will become. You will find yourself wanting to do new things as you feel better and better about yourself.
6. Develop healthy habits
As said above, relying on alcohol, cigarettes or drugs just adds to your problems. Substance misuse is a form of avoidance behaviour that temporarily allows users to hide from their problems.
If you are facing addiction issues and want to begin a new healthy lifestyle, a therapist can help you leave old habits behind. While you are at it, wouldn’t it be good to set yourself positive goals around food, drink and exercise? As you build new life-giving habits into your daily routine you’ll feel fitter, stronger, healthier and happier.
7. lend others a helping hand
As said above, human beings are tribal creatures. We’ve evolved to feel good when we are doing good.
Getting involved with a charity, volunteering or doing community work will help in a number of ways: firstly, you’ll get more of those happy brain chemicals that give us a sense of wellbeing, and secondly, it will put your own problems in perspective as you become more aware of the issues facing people in the wider world.
Even if you have no time for volunteering, you can make it your goal to do someone a favour every day. Be the person who smiles at others, the one who gives up their seat on the bus or brings in biscuits for their colleagues – you’ll feel happier when you do!
8. Learn to manage your time
Tired of facing an overflowing in-tray at work? Not enough hours in the day to get your household chores done? Then it is time to start working smarter rather than harder. You can ‘traffic light’ your workload:
Red light priority: this is a task that is both vital and urgent – perhaps there is a deadline with consequences if it is missed. These tasks need to be done first. They go to the top of your ‘to-do’ list.
Yellow light priority: these are day to day work or home tasks that can seem urgent but that upon inspection lack the deadline attached to red-light tasks. It’s important that these jobs are done, but we can safely put them in second place.
Green light priority: these tasks aren’t time sensitive at all. There is no urgency attached to them. Once we’ve cleared away our red- and yellow-light jobs, we can turn our attention to them.
Another important asset to the overworked and underappreciated is the ability to say, ‘no!’ There’s an old saying that if you want something done, give the task to the busiest person in the office. If that’s you, always helping co-workers out and unwilling to let the boss down, think about our drowning man analogy above. You can’t give your best if you spread yourself too thin. Say no to tasks that aren’t part of your remit and learn to ask others for help when you need it.
9. Positive thinking
Look for the things that are going well in your life. Make a point of reflecting upon the things you are grateful for. Every day, make a list of things that went well or that you appreciated. Do this even on the hardest of days – in fact, the harder the day, the more important it is that we take note of the positives.
Our brains are hardwired to look out for dangers, before we know it we are ruminating and speculating about all the things that might go wrong. We become trapped in a cycle of negative thinking, effectively hypnotising ourselves with detailed fearful daydreams about all life’s hazards.
Focusing on the good will re-engage the intellectual, creative part of your mind: the part where solutions are born. The more positive our thinking, the more open we are to good opportunities. When we are calm and relaxed, solutions to life’s problems come naturally as we think freely and creatively.
10. Know the difference
Consider the opening words of the serenity prayer:
Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Accept that there are things we can't change. We cannot, and nor should we, control and manipulate all the people, places and things in our lives. Changing challenging situations and events isn't always possible.
Instead, we will feel happier when we identify the things we do have control over – and work to improve them.
If you need help untangling any aspect of your life, identifying the things you can change and reaching the new goals you set, the hypnotherapy directory has details of therapists in your area.
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