Hey there! Welcome to our three-part Pep Talk series on STRESS. That's right: three parts. You told me you wanted shorter, more digestible Pep Talks and I have so much to say on the topic. So stick with me, because we're about to take a journey together. You'll learn some new coping strategies and tools to help you manage stress, and a new outlook on how you can harness stress into a superpower!
Before we get any further, I want to hear from you! It would mean the world to me if you'd pop down to the comments below and tell me a little bit about how stress has impacted you and your life. Research can tell me general trends, but I want to hear YOUR stress story. And don't worry: the comments section are a judgement-free zone. If you want to hear more about my own stress story, head down to the comments and I'll leave it there for you!
We all know that stress wreaks havoc on your body, your mind, and your relationships. We also know that you can find tips and tricks for stress management everywhere. If you're struggling with stress, look around and you'll find stress-reduction information anywhere: a google search, a chat with your doctor, on the magazines in line at the grocery store... I'm sure you're familiar with some of the basics, but what I'm really here to talk to you about is the fact that we can break stress management up into three distinct categories: proactive stress management, reactive stress management, and changing our relationship to stress.
Our Pep Talk today is all about proactive stress management. Any runners out there? If you're a runner, you'll feel me here: you don't train for the marathon during the marathon. You begin training for it well before your race date so that when you're doing the full run, you have the skills to deal with it! In the same way, stress management begins with training for periods of stress when you're not in a period of stress. And if you're thinking "no way, I'm always in a period of stress! There's no time for proactive training for me!", I totally get it. I encourage you to bookmark this information for when you're in a different season of your life. The next two Pep Talks will have more resources relevant to you! And if reading through paragraphs of content isn't your thing, scroll down to the bottom for the "too long; didn't read" summary!
Three Things to do NOW to Beat Stress LATER
1. Get into the habit of planning and organization
Stress is often induced by our perception of how much time we need to complete a task, and how that's measured up against how much time we believe we actually have. Whether this is meeting a deadline or tackling your endless list of routine tasks, the time factor is a significant piece of the stress puzzle. While we will almost always encounter periods of time-related stress, it's possible to develop habits now that will mitigate your stress response later.
The first step in effective planning and organization is to understand how long things actually take you. Time the tasks that regularly show up on your to-do list. I usually recommend investing a week into timing-and-tracking your regular tasks. Once you know this, you minimize the chances of falling into the trap of time dysmorphia.
Once you know how long usual tasks take (or, based on your tracking you can make accurate estimates), it's time for step two: get into a habit of planning on two levels: time and priority. Plan your tasks and appointments on the month view, the week view, and the day view (yes, utilize all three of those while planning your time), which means investing in monthly, weekly, and daily chunks of time to plan your schedule. In those chunks of time, sort your tasks in order of priority so that you plan to accomplish the most urgent and important tasks first, and that you know which tasks can be bumped to the next day, the next week, or the next month.
Quality planning, if you aren't in the habit of it, can be stress-inducing in itself. Trust me, if you're reading this and your heart is starting to beat a little bit faster, I get it! And, if you can tackle this herculean task and get effective at planning, you will always be one step ahead of your stress: you'll know what your upcoming priorities are, you'll know you have time to do them, and you'll be in the practice of shifting lower priority tasks to a different day to help you manage your stress levels. It's like magic, if magic was really hard and required constant upkeep.
2. Nourish your Support Network
A community of people who love and support you are, of course, helpful when you're under a period of stress! If you need people by your side when you're struggling, it's important that you spend some time getting them on your side now!
As a natural introvert, I know that this recommendation may cause some stress to more than a few of you, but hear me out: stress is so much easier when we can offload some of our tasks or feelings onto the trusted people in our lives. This means, however, that we need to cultivate two very important skills: developing and maintaining trust in a core group of people, and learning to ask for help.
Hoo, boy. One of those things is harder than the other!
I heard someone say once that people actually spell trust as T-I-M-E, and I find that to be absolutely true. To develop trusting relationships with friends, you've got to spend time with them. Whether that's quality time engaging in an activity, or a quality conversation on a regular basis, invest that time now so that the trust is built when you're in a period of stress.
It's easy to forget to ask for help when we need it. More often, it's easy to neglect asking for help when we need it because we don't know how. Raise your hand if your life would be easier with an assistant? I thought so. And yet most people aren't really in the habit of delegating their life to other people, likely because we're aware that the people we love also have their own lives to lead! But here's the beautiful thing: most people love to help. In fact, most people get a reduction in stress and stress symptoms when they're engaged in helping someone they love.
So, to develop the habit of asking for help when you really need it, start getting into the habit of asking for help when you don't. We carry a belief that if we ask things of people, we won't have a leg to stand on when we actually need the help. This may be true, but only if we're asking too much out of our trusted friends. The reality is that if we never develop the skills of asking for help or willingly giving help in our relationships, then we don't have the ability or rapport to ask when our stress is at critical mass and we really need the support.
Ask! Ask for help! Ask for help with the food at a dinner party. Ask for advice or opinions, even if you feel like you've got the situation under control. Ask for resources that may be helpful, or to borrow a cup of sugar. And, importantly, ask what you can do for your friends.
3. Train your Mind
When my Mom was sick and every moment felt like I was being crushed under the weight of anxiety and grief, I was glad I had invested ample time in training my mind. Even if the situation I was living was definitely not okay, I could still be okay in each present moment because I had developed some skills and some mental training that helped me be resilient, see the biggest picture possible, and to rely on myself (instead of external influences) for a general feeling of okay-ness.
Much like the marathon I talked about earlier, mental training can support you greatly in times of stress, but only if you invest in the time and training before you actually need it! And, spending time on this training is the ultimate form of nourishing your support network, because as helpful as your friends and family are, you'll be doing most of the grunt work when it comes to holding yourself together during stressful seasons of your life.
So how do you engage in that mental training? There are two methods that I recommend. The first, is spend time practicing mindfulness meditation. The practice of sitting quietly and mindfully for an extended period of time trains us to smooth out the surface-level thoughts, anxieties, and attachments that often trigger stress, and focus on the more fundamental parts of our being, such as: I am alive. I am here. I am breathing. And that's what matters. The second approach to mental training is a physical one. Regularly engage in a physical activity that asks you to meet an obstacle and work to overcome it: boxing, martial arts, running, yoga, lifting, and crossfit all guide us to rely on ourselves to show up, be consistent, keep trying, and to get through a challenge.
Both mindfulness and sport are powerful mental training tools to help you transition from reaction to resilience. I encourage you to find what works for you, and to commit to a regular habit of it. The hardest part is continuing to show up, so develop that personal accountability and remember that every time you show up, you're training for the inevitable future stress-marathon.
Okay, so that was a lot of info. And I know that long-form content is not everyone's cup of tea. So here's the list, broken down into nice easy steps for you:
Three Things to do NOW to Beat Stress LATER
1. Get Into the Habit of Planning and Organization
- Get to know how long your stuff actually takes
- Plan your tasks monthly, weekly, and daily
- Prioritize your tasks based on urgency and importance
- Execute your plans. They're important.
2. Nourish your Support Network
- Get into the habit of asking your support network for help now, so that you have that skill when you need them later
- Spend time offering help, assistance, and love to that support network. What we give out will almost always come back to us.
3. Engage in Mental Training
- Train for the stress marathon in advance
- Engage in practices that develop resilience and perspective
- Cultivate a habit of mindfulness meditation
- Commit to a sport that pushes you to continually overcome challenges: martial arts, boxing, yoga, lifting, running, crossfit, etc.
However your life is going right now, I encourage you to remember that stress is inevitable, and that you have more control than you think. Start developing these three habits in less-stressful periods of your life, and you'll be primed and ready for when the real stress hits.
And remember, pop on down to the comments section to tell me your stress story. See you next week for Part 2: Dealing With Stress When It Hits!