Stress is evident everywhere in our fast-paced world. It’s a mental, emotional, or physical strain caused by anxiety or overwork. We all feel stress and often suffer the results of it in some way or other.
What you are about to read can have a significant impact on the levels of stress you experience. This post is not about how to deal with stress; it’s about how to reduce and avoid it.
Most of the stress we experience can be broken down into three categories.
1. Stress we can’t control—such as the loss of a job, loss of a loved one, or encountering major health challenges.
2. Natural stress—such as what we feel when we set goals, push ourselves outside our comfort zones, and strive to get better.
3. Stress we can control—such as being late to an appointment, having a breakdown in a relationship, or getting upset sitting in traffic.
When you identify and learn how to manage the things that create stress, you will experience improvements in every area of your life—from your relationships to your performance, from your health to your outlook on life.
Let me encourage you to print these 33 points and highlight the ones that you are determined to work on. The realization that you are in control of your stress is the foundation of stress management.
1. Don’t over commit. Whether in your personal or professional life, learn your limits and set boundaries. Know when to say, “No!” Don’t take on more than you can reasonably handle.
2. Avoid people who stress you out. If someone is a constant source of stress and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person, or end the relationship entirely.
3. Avoid heated topics. You know the topics that cause your blood pressure to rise, so learn to avoid them.
4. Practice relaxation techniques. Techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response—a state of restfulness opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, you will enjoy a reduction in your everyday stress levels, benefit by a boost in your feelings of peace and serenity, and increase your ability to stay calm under pressure.
5. Change how you view things. Practice viewing stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than getting stressed out about sitting in traffic, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, to listen to your favorite music or self-improvement CD, or to just enjoy some quiet time.
6. Practice positive thinking. How you think can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical well-being. People who maintain a positive attitude and practice positive thinking experience less stress than those who are pessimistic and negative.
7. Anticipate problems. When issues arise, address them head on before they escalate. The best way to avoid big problems is by addressing them when they are small.
8. Express your feelings. When something or someone is upsetting you, learn to communicate your concerns in an open and respectful manner. Even if it’s just sharing what you are going through with a friend, you will likely feel better.
9. Practice good time management. Every improvement you make in how you spend your time gives you greater control of your life and plays a small role in reducing your everyday stress levels.
10. Don’t procrastinate. Putting things off until the last minute is a guaranteed way to increase your stress levels. Start doing what you know you should do when you know you should do it. Become a do-it-now person.
11. Stop striving for perfection. We should push ourselves to improve and to always do our best, BUT we need to know when something is good enough. On a scale of 1-10, start shooting for 8’s and 9’s.
12. Look for the upside. When problems and challenges present themselves, look at them as opportunities for personal growth. The next time you are faced with a challenge remember this African proverb: “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”
13. Set aside relaxation time. Block out time each day to rest, relax, and recharge your batteries. Look at your daily schedule and identify one or more periods of time when you can take a break. Do something you enjoy during these blocks of time.
14. Keep your sense of humor. Smiling and laughing are great ways to reduce stress.
15. Exercise regularly. It is well documented that physical activity plays a key role in reducing the effects of stress on the body. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. A brisk walk can do wonders to reduce stress.
16. Consume healthy food and beverages. When we nourish our bodies with healthy foods and beverages our bodies are better prepared to cope with stress.
17. Get enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep allows you to rest your mind and body. When you are tired and fatigued, you experience more stress than when you are fresh and full of energy.
18. Use a “To Do” list. Writing down everything you need to do in a prioritized sequence is a huge stress reducer. When you are doing exactly what you should be doing in the exact sequence in which things need to be completed, you will feel more at peace.
19. Don’t accept stress. Refuse to get stressed out. As an example, if you are feeling stress because of everything you have to do, but yet you are giving 100% of yourself and you are working on things in a prioritized sequence, say, “I’m doing all I can do.” This is a conversation I have with myself several times each week as I consider all that I have to do.
20. Put together a debt-reduction plan. Putting together a plan to decrease your debt will do wonders to reduce financial stress. Much of the financial pressure people live with is a result of not having a budget or plan.
21. Build valued relationships. If you put an emphasis on building valued relationships, you will not only find greater enjoyment in life, but you will have fewer conflicts. Spending time with positive and encouraging people makes you feel better and reduces stress.
22. Stop stressing over little things. So much stress comes from getting worked up over petty little things—such as the person driving slowly in front of you, or listening to someone who has an opposing view on an insignificant subject. Use your self-control to ignore the little things that bug you.
23. Learn to respond, not react. When something upsets you, don’t react in haste. Instead pause and consider the best way to respond—a way that you will be proud of later.
24. Write things down. Stop trying to remember everything; start taking notes or making lists. This frees the mind and, because you don’t need to remember things, you will feel a whole lot less stress.
25. Don’t pick fights. You know the types of things that cause conflict. Unless it is something really important to you, learn to let it go.
26. Plan ahead and arrive early. We have all experienced the stress of running late for an appointment. When you have to be somewhere at a specific time, plan ahead and arrive early.
27. Stop expecting people to live by your rules. Dealing with unmet expectations is a huge source of stress. Make sure you set proper expectations for yourself. When you set expectations for others, make sure they understand them. Expecting people to fulfill your unspoken expectations is a sure fire way to get a dose of unwanted stress.
28. Get organized. How do you feel when your home, car, or workplace is a mess, or when you are working on a project and can’t find things? Take the time to get organized; then do the little things each day to stay organized.
29. Present yourself as being calm and in control. When you present yourself in this manner, you will feel less hurried and more confident, both of which will reduce the stress you feel.
30. Learn to estimate how long activities take. Start tracking how long things take to complete. In most cases, the actual amount of time it takes to do something is more than you initially estimated. By clearly understanding how long an activity “really” takes, you can better control your schedule and commitments.
31. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control, including the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as how you should respond to them.
32. Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that we all make mistakes. Let go of anger, resentment, and negative energy by forgiving those who have hurt you.
33. Be grateful. Take time each day to reflect on the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This will increase your happiness and help you keep things in perspective.
Let me encourage you to take some time and make a list of the things that cause you to feel stressed. As you look at each point, determine what you can do to reduce the stress it causes you.
As you go about each day, be aware of your stress levels and their sources. If watching the news impacts your stress levels, then stop watching it. If some of your choices are creating stressful situations, then learn from them and avoid them in the future.
Managing stress is all about taking control of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun.
What helps you reduce or avoid stress? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below this post.
Learning how to avoid and reduce stress is one of the most important skills you can master, not only for your own health and happiness but also because of how your stress levels impact those close to you.
About the Author: Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 30 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts. (Todd’s podcasts are ranked #24 in America’s top 100 podcasts and #1 in the personal and development field.)