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How to Manage Stress, Part 3

Our last post covered the importance of the mindset shift, the ‘AHA’ moment, that you have to go through before lasting progress can take place in stress management. To sum it up, a great bumper sticker or home quotable might read:

Want less stress? Align actions with ambitions

Of course the expectation that someone gets it all right, every day, is unfair. That’s not the point and it’s not what I’m implying.

Now that you are ready for guidance, you’ve got three options for how to proceed:

  • Establish a Routine to Improve Daily Rhythm
  • Start a Daily Gratitude Practice
  • Develop Your Ability to Say ‘NO’ to things misaligned with your V/P

(Spoiler alert: on a long enough timeline, you will eventually be doing all three, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

Routine and Rhythm:

Simply put, having a routine that guides your day is one of the best ways to reduce your stress. Predictability might be described by many as ‘so boring,’ but what it’s not is chaotic. Remember that stress is triggered by any change, so if you can create a consistent environment, it will support a state of homeostasis. In helping you create, or improve, a routine, you should look for super small wins. These compound into huge impact over time. Some examples:

  • Add a glass of water to drink after you brush your teeth upon waking
  • Walk your dog for 5 minutes longer than normal
  • Get to the gym 5 minutes earlier and hop on the bike for an easy spin
  • Put your phone down during meal time
  • Write a blog with a pen first, away from the computer and phone

Some may push back against the idea of creating a routine for any number of reasons, but in reality we are all creatures of habit more than we realize. You just may have to ask better questions to yourself to find what your current routine is and how to modify it.

Start a Daily Gratitude Practice:

I think anyone reading this recognizes they’re incredibly blessed by the simple virtue of the ability to do things like go to a gym. But our reactions to the daily stresses of life can easily cloud that understanding, hence why it may be appropriate for you to begin writing down what you are grateful for. There’s an incredible link between gratitude and joy and I love what Brene Brown (the world’s foremost expert on the subject) has to say on this topic:

“The relationship between joy and gratitude was one of the important things I found in my research. I wasn’t expecting it. In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who also did not actively practice gratitude.

For me it was very counterintuitive because I went into the research thinking that the relationship between joy and gratitude was: if you are joyful, you should be grateful. But it wasn’t that way at all.

Instead, practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives.

Practice is the part that really changed my life, that really changed my family and the way we live every day. When I say practice gratitude, don’t mean “the-attitude-of-gratitude” or feeling grateful, I mean practicing gratitude.”

Develop Your Ability to Say ‘No’:

Specifically, you are saying no to actions that are misaligned with the V/P. This could be a habit of your own or responding to someone asking for something from you. This is likely to be the most difficult scenario, especially the people pleasers among us. Here are a few ways to help you develop this skill:

  • Practicing with a friend or family member, in a role-play manner, is a low-consequence environment and great option to warm you up to the idea. It will give you the freedom to fumble over your words and stumble with how to respond when someone returns serve of their ‘NO’ with something like, “Well why not? What else are you doing?”
  • You could also ask your spouse to help you choose one specific thing in your life to say ‘no’ to and just shoot for that.
  • Carry your V/P around in your pocket and prompt yourself to look at it before responding to any request you receive from a friend. Blame the delayed answer on a bad cell phone connection – HA!
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to point out the opposite of saying no and what it really means. Saying ‘YES’ to things that you’d really rather not do is also saying ‘NO’ to those things that you truly want to do!

No matter which option above that you choose to go with, I recommend giving yourself four to six weeks to master this new stress management technique. After that, you can add more to that option (expand your routine, say no to more things, etc) or layer on another tactic I outlined (maintain routine, add gratitude practice). Lastly, you have to make sure you’ve defined what success looks like. Just saying ‘I want less stress in my life’ isn’t good enough. In our wrap-up post coming next, we’ll review some long-term stress management targets/techniques that you can look forward to.

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