Most people are stuck in chronic stress because they’re unwilling to look at the root causes of their stress.
Like yo-yo dieting, it’s easy to find ourselves bouncing back and forth between one superficial coping strategy and the next, holding out hope that the next trick or hack is going to be the one that magically improves everything for good.
But in my experience, the people who significantly and sustainably reduce stress in their lives are the ones who are willing to look honestly at the real sources of stress in their life and do the hard work necessary to address them.
So, for what it’s worth, here are one psychologist’s 5 favorite stress management tips that you probably don’t want to hear:
1. Exercise Regularly
Nobody likes this tip because it doesn’t seem deep enough or psychological enough.
But consider this:
Your brain is part of your body. And if you’re not taking care of your body, how can you expect your brain to function well and be resilient to stress?
I know consistent exercise is tough for all sorts of very legitimate reasons. But that doesn’t make it any less important.
If you’re chronically stressed and not consistently exercising, just stop reading right here and start make a plan to make this happen. Even 20 minutes a day of brisk walking is an excellent start and will make a dramatic difference in your stress levels.
2. Spend more time with supportive people
If you’re stressed, there’s a good chance that stress involves other people—conflict with a spouse or family member, worry about coworkers or bosses, etc.
What people seem less aware of is that other people can also be one of the biggest sources of stress relief and resilience. Specifically…
Spending consistent, quality time with people who are genuinely supportive helps you stay resilient in the face of stressors and difficulty.
Now, like exercise, this takes some work and requires tradeoffs… If you want to make more time for spending it with supportive people, you’re going to have to say no to other things and protect that time. And if you don’t have supportive people in your life, that means doing some serious work to find and foster those types of relationships.
Again, not easy. But important nonetheless.
To start, simply make a list of 3-5 people in your life who tend to fill your tank rather than drain it. Then, for each, brainstorm one or two ways you might start spending more quality time with them.
3. Lower your expectations of other people
It seems like a law of human nature that, left unchecked, our expectations of people only increase with time—especially the people closest to us.
It also seems like a law of human nature that we strongly resist examining our expectations of other people, much less—God forbid!—actually lowering them.
I’m not going to spend time here speculating as to why this may be the case. Instead, I want to make a passionate plea to resist this instinct.
Unrealistic expectations are not inevitable.
You can actually reflect on and change your expectations. And when you stop expecting unrealistic things from people, your frustration, disappointment, and resentment will all decrease.
Start here: Pick one important relationship in your life and do an expectation audit. Sit down with a cup of coffee and pen and paper and start writing down all the expectations you have of them.
It will be eye-opening. And if you’re willing to start adjusting some of those expectations, surprisingly stress-relieving too.
4. Make time to worry on purpose
Most people who are chronically stressed are also chronically worried.
I mean, why wouldn’t you be stressed all the time if you’re constantly catastrophizing, playing out terrible outcomes in your mind, and imagining the worst?
Unfortunately, you can’t just tell your brain to stop worrying—this usually just leads to even more worry and stress! And that’s because worry is a habit. Which means that if you want to do less of it, you have to train yourself to worry less.
The best way I’ve found to re-train your mind out of chronic worry is a technique called scheduled worry. By deliberately making time to worry on purpose each day for a limited amount of time, you train your brain to let go of worries at other times throughout the day.
If you’re curious, you can learn more here: ScheduledWorry.com →
5. Find a different job or career
Saved the best for last, right?
Everyone wants to believe that if they just put on a happy face and do some positive self-talk each morning, or spend 30 minutes a week doing some bubble bath self-care, all their stress is going to magically melt away.
And I get it… I’m a sucker for quick fixes just as much as the next guy. But here’s the tough truth:
Chronic stress is often a structural problem.
If you’re stressed out all the time it’s likely because the structure of your life is literally stress-inducing. And very often it’s the structure of your work life that’s the main culprit (marriages are a close second).
So, difficult as it may be, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not seriously considering and making concrete plans for how to leave an unhealthy job or career.
Learn More About How to Reduce Chronic Stress and Anxiety
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