How do you manage stress when one worry after another hounds you?
You would love to find your inner peace again, but the pressure is unrelenting. Even getting through the day is an ordeal.
Yet when tomorrow comes, a recurrent whirlwind of emotions paralyzes you with no relief in sight. How do you plan to survive this endless struggle?
While no magic wand exists to transform problems into peace, you can change how you manage stress.
1. Reframe how your brain manages stress
What happens when you’re spiraling out of control?
Like a snowball rolling downhill at top speed, you accumulate one worry after another. And, when these irrational fears prevent you from taking action, you’ve fallen into catastrophic thinking.
For example, you’re convinced you’ll lose your job. This belief escalates to an image of you homeless, wandering the streets. The same picture assails you daily.
Catastrophizing signals that you need to break the cycle and change your perspective.
Awaken your inner peace
Take heart because you can break the pattern of breeding more worrisome thoughts.
Mindfulness, the practice of staying present and noticing your mental activity, interrupts this destructive cycle. And your self-awareness increases each time you catch a troubling notion and accept it without judgment.
But the best part? Your stress decreases when you view that mental weight as a separate entity from yourself. It’s just a thought.
When diagnosed with leukemia, I turned to mindfulness to find inner peace. It allowed me to stay present with my thoughts and accept them for what they were—mental fabrications of stressful emotions, such as fear and anxiety.
Try mindful breathing as an initial approach, such as 10 to 15 minutes of a daily boxed breathing technique.
This calming of your mind is the first step to inner peace.
Take notes to rewrite the narrative
As you flex your self-awareness muscle through mindfulness, you will become more familiar with your thought patterns.
This is where you need to take note.
You can literally take notes, like writing your anxieties in a journal, and re-read them. Once registered on paper, some fears will lose their power over you.
Or try noting or labeling. This simple practice entails stepping back to observe a thought, label it, then let it go. Some persistent notions or feelings might return. And that’s okay. These are the anxieties to challenge. Ask yourself, “how is this thought serving me?” Or “how true is this?” You can undermine them through questioning.
A motion picture played in my head from the start of my leukemia journey—my funeral. When that catastrophic image cropped up repeatedly, I merely labeled it as fear and moved on.
Despite my best efforts, I failed to shake it off. It lingered for months until a relapse shook me awake and forced me to ask myself, “how is this serving me?”
My morbid focus on death wasn’t accurate or useful. It was divisive, pushing me away from the reality of being alive.
Once I unraveled my mind game, I stopped the destructive imagery and turned to a mantra. I used one from Louise Hay, “I love life and life loves me.” After a few weeks, when that inner projector played the same dismal film, I switched to my mantra to disrupt the narrative. After a few weeks, the scene faded away.
So, to better manage extreme stress, you need to cultivate self-awareness, identify recurring negative thoughts, challenge stubborn ones, and shift your focus.
Once you liberate the mind from its repetitive worries, you’ll have the clarity needed to manage many types of stress.
2. Lower the volume on life
As you bring your mental mayhem under control, how well you manage stress also depends on your current lifestyle. Distractions, mental and physical chaos, and a busy agenda will only create further turmoil when what you need right now is space.
In fact, the current quarantine reveals that living at a slower pace is much more healthy and more desirable.
So, what does more space in your life look like?
A great first step is cutting back on Netflix, the news, social media, and internet browsing.
Once you’ve diminished the digital disorder, keep yourself fit with a balanced diet, a light-to-moderate exercise routine, and 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Your mind works better when your body does, too.
Also, balance your social life with alone time, where you can indulge in meditation, mindfulness, and self-care. You can’t expect to understand yourself and achieve inner peace if you don’t take the time to listen.
Forced isolation helped me overcome the trauma of living with a fatal disease. My compromised immune system limited the people around me and forced me into a 2-year convalescence. And I appreciated that time because, after years of running around, I realized how busyness blinds us to the joy of simplicity.
And life is too short to waste time struggling with stress.
3. Reposition yourself to stress
If you want to manage stress in the long term, you need to examine your immediate response to anxiety triggers.
When an event, occurrence, or person strikes a nerve, ask yourself why. Why does that episode create suffering, fear, or anger?
Many times, something that knocks our minds into a spin and feels like a blow to the stomach is often in direct conflict with our values. If someone violates one of your core beliefs, rumination soon turns into your sole concern.
How many times have you ruminated over what someone has said or done? Even though weeks pass, your brain returns to the scene.
A friend of mine once interned at a consultancy company. Even though she liked the job, their overtime culture irked her.
To work way past quitting time to look good rankled her. She valued her time, and work could never replace friends or family.
When the internship finished, the company offered her a full-time position. My friend refused. Her self-awareness helped her understand that the company’s values clashed with her own values of family and love.
What are your core values? If you’re familiar with them, write them as a list and determine which one clashes with the cause of your current stress. Once you do, your mental burden will lighten.
If you don’t know your core beliefs, it’s time to discover them. Determine which ones resonate with you, recognizing at least three for now. Then, explore how these beliefs influence you every day, from decision-making and relationships to career choices.
Most likely, identifying this conflict with a specific core belief will defuse your stress. But if it doesn’t, you need to evaluate the circumstances. Can you control some aspects? If not, let it go.
You might need to act. So understand your options and choose the most healthy one for you and those around you. This is the way to inner peace.
My friend gained peace of mind when she refused that job. She soon landed an opportunity in a company where the culture aligned with her values and provided the work-life balance she desired.
Effective action can only emerge from a place of clarity and integrity.
Turn your gloom into glee
Master these fundamental concepts of self-awareness, mindfulness, and core values, and you’ll be managing stress in stride. And you will be stronger for it.
You can put your mental meltdowns behind you. And even when you spin out of control, you take a deep breath to center yourself again and calm the mind.
Mental habits can change with a fresh perspective on life. And when another of life’s tsunamis topples you over, yet you find inner peace, you know how to face any challenge with a smile.
*Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash