Manage stress better- The difference between stressful situations and emotions

Manage stress better

Stress is now a constant in most people’s lives. Certainly, the people that I speak with would love to manage stress better. But after 16 years of studying happiness and the science of positive psychology, I can tell you that there’s no a golden light at the end of the tunnel and stress is here to stay. (Sorry guys…. But before you check out, keep reading.)

Unfortunately, ‘happy ever after’ is something that happens in fairy tales, while real life more like a city bus ride; There’s some sudden stops, laughing children, smelly old people, romantic interludes, scary strangers and warm conversations all in a 15minute ride. In other words, life is meant to be interesting, stressful, beautiful, uncomfortable, loving, weird and fun. (Especially when the old guy next to you keeps catching his teeth…. Weird, but kind of funny right?)

Stress and Covid-19

Regardless of how positive you are, life still throws you challenges. No one could have predicted the last two years – droughts, floods, fires and a global pandemic that would change the way we live indefinitely. No matter how mindful, engaged or compassionate you are, disaster still happens. Whether you’re optimistic or pessimistic, when disaster strikes, it still hurts.

The current challenge is that our collective stress has been dialled up with covid-19. We’re now experiencing higher levels of stress than ever before. Even if you’re not living in areas that have been locked down or had to suffer food shortages, protests and really, really bad hair, there’s a good chance your stress has still increased.

The news focuses heavily on covid-19, with some other adversities and disasters in case we’re in any danger of thinking the world is a good place. Intersperse this with the thousands of advertisements every day reminding us that we aren’t good enough without their wonderful products. Then add social media, spamming emails, telemarketer calls, social obligations and kids, partners and parents demands into your day. No wonder mental illness is on the rise.

And we’re not even talking about work yet.

Often people believe that the optimist is simply immune to stress or negativity. Not so my friends. The optimist is the guy working overtime to make sure that when challenges hit, they don’t take him, (or those around him) down with it.

Being optimistic and remaining positive in the face of adversity is the biggest challenge of all. Happy people aren’t happy all the time, but they value happiness and are prepared to do the hard work to make it happen. Not just for themselves, but for those around them as well.

Yes, I did just say that happiness is hard work; It is.

Stress is building and our approach to it shapes our experience. It’s hard to enjoy a glass of wine with friends when your heads spinning over the 48 unread emails waiting for you. Likewise, it’s impossible to enjoy the laughter of your kids when you’re reliving a meeting inside your mind.

Often, we confuse stressful situations with stressful emotions. They are two very different things and should be treated as such. Here are some examples:

A lion charging you – Stressful situation.

Feeling afraid of animal’s years afterwards – Stressful emotion.

A difficult conversation with a client – Stressful situation.

Being anxious about seeing that client again – Stressful emotion.

Interestingly, our brain responds with the same flight or fight response to a stressful situation or emotion. So, learning to manage stress better will enable you to work through stressful emotions and then get on with life instead of dragging the stress with you throughout your day.

There’s a beautiful meme; “Was it actually a bad day? Or was it a bad 5 minutes you milked all day?”

Here’ how to manage stress better.

Take a walk outside and breathe

Give your brain a little of what our ancestors did all day every day. Notice a tree, pick up a flower or just watch the clouds drift by. This is mindfulness and helps reset your busy brain and manage stress better. A few minutes will bring your heart rate down, clear your head and stem some of that adrenaline that’s running through your system.

Call or text a loved one just to say hi

Connecting with friends and family are one of the most profound things you can do to manage your stress. It’s well documented that positive social relationships do more for your mental health than almost any other factor. So, take a moment to let someone else know that you care. You’ll be surprised at the lift you feel.

Dream about or plan something meaningful

Hope is a game changer in managing stress. When you have something to work towards that’s important and meaningful, you can tackle almost anything. But when hope leaves the building, there’s little left. So, think about your why. Are you looking to spend more time with the family, finish an important project, go on a grand adventure (which I highly recommend) or save the whales? When you have something to look forward to, everything changes.

Use a mindfulness app

Try a mindfulness app on your phone as an easy guide to quieten down that busy head. I personally use the Calm app and have done so for years. It’s a simple way to gain some support and learn to quieten your busy mind. When you can manage your internal thoughts, you’re back in control of your stress.

The key here is shifting your focus from stressful emotions and allowing your brain to refocus. Stressful situations will continue to be a part of your life. But if we can reduce the rumination, over thinking and catastrophising we can manage stress better.

If you need any help or have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line.


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