Coping with stress
In part one, we covered the causes and symptoms of stress, now we shall take a look at coping with stress.There are many strategies which are designed to help you cope with stress, some of the most relevant and effective one’s are:
Circle of concern – circle of influence: Stephen R Covey, in his famous book “the seven habits of highly effective people”, suggests seven habits which can change our life for the better. The first of these habits is pro-activity. He talks about the two types of people, the reactive people who obviously react to situations and the proactive people who take pre-emptive action. In this section of the book he refers to the circle of influence, which lists all the things which are of concern to us; all the things which make us worry, such as children’s education, paying the rent, pension plan, local politics, world politics, society, social issues etc. But here is the important point which Stephen Covey mentions, is that we cannot do much about many of the things in the circle of concern, however there is a small circle within this circle, which is the circle of influence. The circle of influence is what I can do something about. So Covey emphasises that highly effective people focus pro-actively, on what they can influence, this might sound simple and even silly but it’s a very powerful lesson, when you think about it.
For example, if you watch the news on the television they will tell you all the terrible things happening in the world, and if you let it affect you, you might become quite stressed and depressed. But really what can you do about these depressing global situations, other than giving some money to an NGO?
However you can influence things like your child’s education, or your own education, or your own health, or even change your career or take up a college course or do something to improve your lifestyle, such as your health. So Covey recommends that we spend time working on the things which we can have an effect on, rather than the things which we cannot influence.
A very concrete example might be say you’re in a job sector where your job looks like it might be vulnerable. You can’t fix that job sector, but you can learn new skills and take time out to get ready, in case you have to change jobs. So rather than sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich, you can proactively make changes, so that as the industry changes you can move onto something else.
So what I really like about the circle of influence, is that it brings us back down to earth and this is a very important part of dealing with stress and finding ways to the de-stress yourself.
Positive Thinking and Positive Belief: Back in the 1960s the self-improvement movement focused on the power of positive thinking, and more recently we have the Law of attraction, which is the power of belief. Both positive thinking and the power of belief have a place in our life. It is true to say that a human being cannot become more than what they can believe in. So in order to be successful, in life, we have to have a belief that we can achieve whatever we want to achieve, and we have to have a positive approach to getting there.
Also in daily stressful situations, if we want to de-stress ourselves, it is necessary to have a positive worldview and the belief that things will work out okay. The pessimist believes the glass is half empty, whereas the optimist believes the glass is half full. Life is full of stresses and tensions, so you’d better have a positive viewpoint and a positive belief that things will work out better. In many cases the person who ends up being more successful, is the person who believes that things will work out ok in the end, whereas the person who believes it won’t usually fails to meet their aspirations.
The only limit for human beings is the size of their imagination. Many suicides for example, are a result of people who lack self-belief and lack a positive viewpoint. For example during the economic turndown of 2008, a great many wealthy people committed suicide. But if we think about those people, most of those them could have walked away from the situation, declared bankruptcy and started again, but instead these people where focused too much on the circle of concern and too little on the circle of influence. Whereas other millionaires, who lost everything, got straight back in the saddle and rebuilt their wealth.
What’s the difference between the suicidal broke millionaire and the aspirational broke millionaire?
The ability to believe that things will work out ok in the end and the imagination to see this future and the positive mind set needed in order to make it happen!
So how do we develop positive thinking and positive self-belief?
Self-appraisal: Self-appraisal is a very important skill; by self-appraisal we mean taking an inventory of ourselves. When we appraise ourselves, it’s just like an antique dealer or maybe a store manager assessing how much they have, what is its quantity and quality and what are they are going to do about the inventory moving forward.
Self-appraisal is not self-judgement, so just like the storekeeper who takes inventory of stock, they do not make judgements about the inventory, rather they simply assess what they have and what they should do about it. By the same token when we appraise ourselves, we take time out to learn about ourselves and in the process of doing so we find out our strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses are always a challenge, however, when we discover our strengths, it may come as a surprise to find out that we have strengths, in an area that we never knew about previously.
There are many self-help books on the area of self-appraisal, and also there are many websites, which have great information and self-help quizzes and tests, which will help you to appraise yourself. So self-appraisal is about getting to know yourself, and it’s a lifelong process… It’s actually a tool which helps you to begin the process of introspection, and introspection gives you perspective.
Think about it, introspection allows you to gain a perspective on things
So you might be thinking what has all this introspection, self-appraisal etc. got to do with life stress and how we can cope with stress?
What must be remembered is that we are trying to learn how to subjectively cope with stress. We cannot stop external stress, but we can learn how to respond to it subjectively in a positive manner. And gaining perspective will help us to do just that!
There is no point in me telling you how to gain perspective in your life. Only you can tell yourself how to gain perspective on your life, and the best way to achieve this is by learning about yourself.
Also by reading books and watching videos on self-developments, positive self-thinking and positive self-belie, this is a good way to lay a foundation. But they are only helpful, if you can introspect and put a perspective on them, so remember that introspection equals perspective!
Introspection equals perspective!
This is not an instantaneous quick fix, but rather by working on yourself, over time. But it is worth the time, which it will take to develop this sense of perspective, as you have to live your life; hopefully for many years and when you develop a sense of perspective it will greatly help you to live a more prosperous life on so many levels!
Gratitude: Gratitude is a fantastic skill to develop, the reason being that when we are grateful it can give us a perspective on things. In studies on depression and people who suffer from depression, they noticed that people who had a strong sense of gratitude, were less likely to suffer from depression and more quickly to recover from it, if they ever get it.
In this article we have talked a lot about perspective. Perspective is really important because if we take the example of someone who commits suicide, for example, they have lost their perspective and cannot see any options open to them, and this forces them down a very self-destructive path.
So remember we are only limited by the degree of development of our ability to imagine a better life for ourselves!
If we have a problem, we have to have the belief and the imagination to see a better outcome and move forward towards this better outcome!
If you get into the habit of feeling grateful, it will bring about a relief from stress, because it helps to put things into perspective! For example, you might lose your job, but because you are in the habit of being grateful, when you think about it you realise that you still have your health and your family and that when one door closes another door opens and so on. So gratitude helps to de-stress us and bring us back around to a healthy perspective about life, which in turn gives us the hope necessary to move on with our life!
But how to become grateful, when everything is so stressful all of the time!
Yes externally we cannot do much to reduce stress, however, by developing gratitude, it raises our sense of self-appreciation and as a consequence of this we no longer feel like a victim, rather we feel a sense of awe, which gives us hope and belief in something better laying ahead of us.
Developing gratitude is something which takes time and practice, but it will develop with a little bit of practice, carried out on a daily basis.
The way to develop gratitude is to start your day by thinking of something which you can be grateful for, and thanking either God, or a higher power, or your higher self or life in general, or whatever it is that inspires you and which is bigger than just your little ego. This could be be something like thanking your parents for having you; thanking your life partner for being there for you; thanking God for giving you nice kids; thanking God for bringing you or a loved one home safely after a late night drive, for example.
Gratitude can be as simple as saying thank you for one day that you didn’t drink alcohol, or thank you God for one day that you got into work, even though you felt depressed!
So gratitude can be for something very small and not necessarily a material thing. The key here is to be develop and attitude of thankfulness. Because when we feel thankful, we no longer feel like victims, rather it re-affirms our sense of self and worthiness!
So it’s a practice I would advise starting each day , maybe in the morning, in the afternoon and evening, then try and find something to be grateful for. Now it might be something that you feel really grateful for, or as the old saying goes ‘fake it till you make it’. So even if you don’t feel grateful, make a concerted effort to at least intellectually be grateful, then over time, with practice, you shall start to actually feel grateful and when you start to feel grateful the real magic will start!
Read uplifting books, listen and watch positive videos. Search and find your positive material. If you’re looking at social media, for example, avoid everything which is depressing, unsubscribe from the useless and the depressing and subscribe to the inspiring and the uplifting!
Stick with these efforts for a few months, and over time you will begin to become more grateful and reap the rewards of feeling thankful and appreciative for so many little miracles in your life, which you did not see before and this positive vibe will greatly help to de-stress you!
Simplifying: Simplifying your life, is one of the things which brings about perspective, whereas complexity results in us becoming unstuck, anxious and depressed. It’s like the latest studies in the area of multitasking, which suggest that human beings don’t really ever multitask, rather they bounce back and forth between one task and another task and another task etc.
I remember when I was younger I had a motorbike and I decided to get a second bike to act as a backup for my first bike, because I needed a motorbike for work. While I was super impressed by my second bike, I ended up becoming equally unimpressed after a few months, when both bikes required servicing and when started to break down. My life became more complicated, double trouble!
People think that if they become rich and have 10 houses and 50 cars and all this nonsense that is happiness. If you have a big house you have to have a maid, and you have to watch the maid, just in case she thieves from you. If you have a bigger house you require a team of maids and a house manager to oversee them. If you have several houses, you require several house managers and various security teams to protect your assets!
Not so much fun, after all, now is it to be tied into all of this complexity?
I’m not suggesting that you get rid of your possessions, rather I’m just saying when you’re doing some self-appraisal, maybe get rid of some of the unnecessary things, which are causing you more stress. Try to simplify a little bit, and simplifying can be as easy as tidying your house and putting things in their more logical order, in your house; or simplifying can be changing the gym which you go to, or possibly selling that spare car that you don’t need and rarely use. Simplifying can be making a decision to spend less time on social media sites, where maybe you’re wasting a couple of hours a day on social media, when be you could spend that time with your family or friends instead!
I can’t tell you what to simplify. Some people do very well while having very few possessions, whereas some people do very well having more possessions, Most of us are somewhere between these two extremes.
Coping with Stress and Learning how to Distress Your Life – Final Thoughts
I was hoping that this will be a short article, but obviously that was wishful thinking on my side. In reality stress and how to cope with stress is a really big topic and books can be written on this topic; books have been written about this topic, and books will continue to be written on this topic, because it’s such a big and important subject.
We can never go backwards, and we can see that even when people try and live more simple life’s; maybe as you have seen on those TV programmes, were people go back to live like people used to live 100 years ago. I don’t know about you, but I always cringe because it brings to life, how difficult it would be to live with 18th or 19th century technology.
So we cannot change the external stresses of modern life, to a significant degree. Rather we have to find a way to cope subjectively with stress.
The techniques listed here are really powerful techniques, but these techniques require a lot of effort on your side. If you want instantaneous relief from stress get yourself a Prozac. If you want long-term relief, from stress, then you have to work on yourself and your life and this work entails working on your circle of influence, developing a positive mental attitude, developing positive self-belief, self-appraisal, developing a sense of gratitude and of course simplifying your life.
You could spend a long time working on these six areas. Right now you might have many difficulties and stresses, in your life, and you simply want to cope with that stress which you have to deal with today. I understand this but I do recommend that you work on the long-term, because days and weeks and months years and even decades ago by pretty quickly; so it is worth the effort to take a long-term approach and work over a period of a few years, to make the rest of your life far more happy and productive.
Most people today don’t think twice about working on a new finance portfolio and sticking with it for 15 to 20 years. But when we suggest spending 15 to 20 years on self – work, whereby they work on themselves and learning about themselves, learning how to befriend themselves, becoming a better version of themselves, somehow that blows a fuse, probably because the fantasies that we have been sold as kids.
Just walk into your local bank and you will see a picture of the smiling perfect homogenous happy family of Daddy, mammy and the two kids driving away in a new car to a perfect new house, smiling as they go!
This is the image of life which we are sold since childhood. Study hard, work hard and reap the benefits. But all of these benefits are external, and there is no emphasize on internal happiness. Also, no reference is every made to the difficulties of everyday life, including the stresses involved in living this idealised, expensive , loan ridden life!
If you want to learn how to cope with stress, if you want a happy life, you have to do the work yourself.
There are many resources which will help and also I’d like to refer to another article on Susan Jeffers, because I personally found her work to be very helpful for me personally. So if you have time please take a look at this article, as it’s a review of one of the most famous books on this subject of self-fulfilment, “how to feel the fear and do it anyway”.
So have a think about those points raised in this article, about coping with stress and how to de-stress your life. In the short term you can work on simplifying your life and putting things into perspective. But also take the time out to work for the medium and long-term too. With a little effort applied consistently, you can really learn to become a far less stressed out version of yourself, but obviously it will take some time for these changes to become embedded into your personality!