This is a guest article, written by a Utopian Life reader.
Stress. We all suffer from it. It’s like that inevitable winter cold we all catch at some point. It happens to the best of us.
It makes us want to curl up under the sheets and stay in bed. But that’s not going to help anyone. We need to find ways to tame it.
Some of us are more in tune with it than others. That racing heart. That foggy head. Those tense, tight shoulders. And the more we try to ignore it, the more stressed we become. And the cycle continues.
But stress doesn’t have to be something we fear or try to avoid. It’s a natural human emotion that doesn’t deserve such a bad rap. Let me explain.
Stress can be a motivator. It can help us perform better and achieve our goals. Without it, we’re just driving in the slow lane. You’ll end up avoiding ‘tricky’ situations, like overtaking. Getting anywhere will be difficult. The key is to re-program your relationship with stress. It’s a good thing, in small doses.
Now, no lesson can be fully embraced without a good old story. When I was working full time before becoming a blogger, I was working 60+ hour weeks. It’s safe to say I was stressed. I could feel it in my body and it was starting to affect my life. I listened to it, respected it, and made a choice.
During that transition, I invested in an acupuncturist. She helped me through the journey, from working for someone to quitting my job. That stress was situational. It was a blend of overworking and being emotionally scared to go out on my own.
Fast forward nearly three years and life is good. Sometimes I suffer from uncertainty, but I think all creatives do. Now, all I do to minimise that stress is to meditate, every day. The point of this story is that stress doesn’t always look the same.
Just as you evolve, the triggers (and the intensity) of your stress changes, too. Investing in ongoing stress management habits is a life-long process.
Let’s go through five things I do every day to leverage my stress.
Manage your stress, through your mind, body + soul
I’ve found that by paying attention to your mind, body and soul, managing stress is easier. The trick is to do this every day. It needs to become a habit. These tips cover all three parts that make you, you.
1. Mind: Write a journal or start a blog
There’s evidence that writing and blogging can be therapeutic. You’re completely free to write whatever you want, bounded only by your imagination. It’s an escape from the mundane and it brings back that feeling of being a child – as your mind runs wild. Your writing is 100% you. And there’s something beautiful about that. Let your creativity out and write as a form of therapy. Just like reading takes you into another world, writing does the same thing. Talk about a cheap holiday!
2. Body: Turn on your ‘relaxation response’
Exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep can help control many chronic conditions brought on by stress. But there’s one strategy that can actually change the genes that influence your health. Studies led by the Boston-Henry Institute show that blood pressure, blood sugar, digestion and inflammation can be altered through the relaxation response.
Sit in a quiet place for 10-20 minutes and take deep breaths. Relax your muscles and repeat one word, phrase, sound or mantra. Do this every day to bring positive physiological benefits.
3. Soul: Practice mindfulness
Just like exercise helps me let go of work for the day, I use meditation to unwind before sleeping. Dedicating 15 minutes to meditate before bedtime has changed my life – I’m not kidding. I worry less, I’m not as anxious, and I’ve learned to pick my battles. Our minds have this way of resorting to worst case scenarios. But by making meditation part of my daily routine, I’m much more in control of my thoughts, instead of letting them run wild.
There’s been studies that show meditation actually changes our brain. It reduces anxiety, helps preserve the ageing brain, increases cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which positively affects emotional regulation, and improves concentration.
4. Set boundaries. Give yourself ‘me’ time
No matter what you’re doing or working on, carve out time in your schedule for “you” time. Literally, you have to block it out, otherwise it’ll drop to the bottom of priorities. This could be as simple as leaving your phone in the office (or at home, if you work for yourself) and going for a walk during lunch. And don’t feel guilty for giving yourself time. Trust me, without it you’ll feel stress so much more. Something beautiful happens when you’re alone with your thoughts.
Solitude and silence helps you see just how ‘noisy’ your life is. It’s healthy to disconnect for a short time, every day. A fearless mind is everything. And during silence, we’re best able to cultivate a form of mindful intention that motivates you to take action, according to Psychologist Kelly McGonigal.
5. Let go of perfection
Being perfect is simply about being perceived as perfect. I found this interesting. It’s less about ourselves, but rather what we want people to think. There’s no such thing as perfection. We’re all on a quest to be the best, but when we can’t appreciate hard work or what we do have, perfection becomes debilitating. Once we can accept good enough, 90% instead of 100%, there’s less pressure and stress. Stop comparing yourself to other people. The only person you need to stand up next to is the person you were yesterday. Are you moving forward? If the answer is yes, then that’s pretty darn perfect if you ask me.
When it comes to stress, it’s important to accept the unknown. A lot of our stress and anxieties usually comes from what we can’t control. Naturally, we want to feel like we have the power. When we don’t, this can lead to our minds spiralling with ‘what ifs’.
At the risk of sounding hippie, trust the universe. Have faith that everything will work out. Do what you can to control your happiness, and the rest will follow. Nothing in this life is guaranteed. Sit back and enjoy the ride.