Cultivating a Healthy Mind: Dealing with Stress

woman-stressed_1280When we face a sudden threat, stress is a protective bodily reaction. But stress is not protective when it takes the form of constant worry and anxiety over life situations. When it becomes chronic, stress itself is the threat, to both happiness and health.

If you find yourself waking each day to worry, worry, worry, whether it’s about work, finances, the future, or something else, there are some steps you can take to help relieve the pressure of stress and calm your mind.

Mini-Meditate to Calm Your Stressful Thoughts

One simple but valuable strategy to use when worry starts gnawing at you is to sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and repeat to yourself (out loud or silently) some calming words that have special meaning to you … for example, “I love daffodils,” or “Everything will turn out OK.” All the while keep breathing in and out slowly and deeply.

Practicing this mini-meditation for just a few minutes can help create space in your mind to start diluting stressful thoughts. The key idea is to breathe deeply.

Be Wise against Stress

Another strategy is to write what worries you on two pieces of paper. On one piece write down situations you can do nothing about. The other is for what you can do something about. Now crumple up the first piece of paper and throw it into the recycling. (After all, if you can do nothing about those circumstances, why have them around to clutter up your mind?)

Now take the second piece of paper and start making some plans to deal with the things you can do something about. Don’t think like a victim, be a problem solver!

Fight stress with the wisdom to know the difference between what you can and can’t change.

Take Care of Your Body to Fight Stress

A third, and very important, strategy for combatting stress is to take care of your body. Eating right, getting enough exercise, and ensuring adequate restful sleep can substantially reduce your worry quotient.

That’s because stress is not just a mental thing, it’s also physiological. The healthier your body, the less susceptible to inappropriate stress.

Embrace Positivity

woman-happy_1280Engaging in positive self-talk is yet another way to combat stressful thoughts. Imagine you’re a child (and we’re all children at heart) in need of an adult to tell you you’re going to be just fine. Then become that adult and tell yourself what you need to hear: “I can handle this,” “I’ll do my best, and that’s good enough,” or “My stress-level is falling to zero, second by second.”

The bottom line is to be kind to and encourage yourself.

Today is going to be a stress-free day!

Don’t Expect Too Much

Realize that sometimes stressful thoughts arise because we expect too much of ourselves or others. Be realistic. None of us is perfect, and it’s OK to give yourself a break. For example, make some time to do what you really want to do, not just what you feel you have to do.

As for other people, don’t expect them to be perfect either. Sometimes we just have to accept people and love them as they are.

Share the Burden that Causes Stress

Finally, remember that it can be valuable to share what worries you with a friend, relative, pastor, or someone else you trust. Just talking about your stressful thoughts and feelings with someone who understands can help lighten the pressure.

And—very important—if your stress level is high and you feel you may need to talk to a mental health professional, don’t hesitate to seek that help right away.

For additional ideas on dealing with stress, I recommend HelpGuide, an exceptional online collaboration with Harvard Medical School.  The site has some excellent food for thought.

Until next time, please be well!


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