You might fantasize about living a stress-free life, the reality is that stress is as inescapable as the need to eat and drink. Rather than avoiding it altogether, the focus should be on finding ways of managing it.
“Stress reduction implies we can reduce the number of stressful events that happens to us,” said Elissa Epel, a researcher at University of California, San Francisco, and the author of the book The Stress Prescription: Seven Days to More Joy and Ease. “That is not the best goal to have, because we will always have many different types of stressors in our lives.”
Rather than trying to get rid of stress altogether, it’s a far more realistic goal to increase our stress resilience. Stress resilience is the ability to face stress and recover from it, and, as Epel points out, the ability to relax when nothing is happening. As with so many other aspects of life, stress resilience is something that we can get better at with practice. Epel suggests the following five strategies.
“Catch” stress three times a day
Stress can be such a big part of our life that we don’t even register it. To become more aware of what our stressors are and how they affect us, Epel recommends making it a habit to “catch” our stress three times a day. To do it, make it a point to pause for a moment and check in with whatever might be stressing you—whether it’s from work, physical discomfort, or just general worrying about the future.
“It’s for catching the subtle stress of the uncertain future, as well as specific things we are worried about that we don’t actually need to,” Epel said. “The worry is usually not productive problem-solving.”
Create a stress shield
Identifying our stressors is the first step; the next is to find productive ways of coping with stressors, one way of which is to create a “stress shield.” To do it, Epel recommends listing out the reasons you are actually prepared to handle the things you’re stressed out about. For example, if you’re stressed about a project at work, it can help to remember the times you’ve successfully finished similar projects in the past, or make a list of all the ways your previous training has prepared you. “In addition to reasons why you are prepared, you can also think of resources you have that will help you do well,” Epel said.
Go from “why me” to “try me”
When you are especially worried about something, one way of coping is remembering all of the difficult things you have overcome in the past, as a way of reminding yourself that you do have what it takes to handle whatever the future holds.
Practice stress fitness
Just as with our physical fitness, we can increase our stress fitness. The two are actually pretty inter-related, with an increase in physical fitness often translating to an increase in an ability to handle stress. Some of the ways to practice stress fitness include high-intensity interval training, or submerging yourself in hot or cold water, like a sauna or cold shower. “The most important thing is to relax into the discomfort,” Epel said. “We tend to tense up when we are under physical stress, and get stressed about the stress. If we can keep our minds relaxed while our bodies, that is even better training.”
Create “joy” bookends
As busy as life gets, it can be all too easy to overlook the good in life. Epel recommends taking a little time at the beginning and end of each day to remember the good in life—like something you are grateful for or a moment that made you smile. In the morning, it can help to look ahead to your day and remember the positives that are in store; and at the end of the day, it can help to look back and recount any good things that happened.