Because stress can inhibit your ability to perform at your highest potential, knowing how to manage it is incredibly important. While we all deal with stress in unique ways, there are certain methods of alleviating anxiety that have proven to be universal to all humans. By dealing with physical and emotional stress systematically, you optimize your potential to attain success in everything you do. In order to deal with stress — or avoid it altogether — make a habit of going through the following steps whenever diving into a new task or project.
1) Understand and combat the warning signs
Not only do we all deal with stress differently, but we also experience it in unique ways as well. You likely know when you’re reaching your “breaking point”: maybe your hands start shaking, or you start to feel faint. Maybe anxiety manifests itself in a feeling of fright, or in a sudden rush of adrenaline. Whatever the case may be, know the signs so you’re able to take action before it’s too late.
Again, you know your body best. You know the best way to deal with stress when it starts to overwhelm you. Once you find a tried-and-true method that works for you, use it! However, it’s important to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. If your method of alleviating stress involves drugs or alcohol, look for alternatives. Drinking and taking drugs only lessens stress on a superficial level, and only serves to mask the issue you need to deal with. Face your stress head-on, and do so in a healthy way.
2) Remember to breathe
When you’re stressed out emotionally, you tend to take quick, short breaths that restrict your body’s oxygen intake. When you feel yourself starting to get stressed out, take deep, intentional breaths using your entire chest cavity. Concentrate on breathing. Physically, it allows your autonomic nervous system to function properly. Emotionally, it helps clear your mind of negative thoughts. Deep breathing can put your body in a meditative state, and can “reset” your thought process. This will give you the ability to come back to the task at hand with a fresh mind, and lessens your chances of becoming overwhelmed.
3) Avoid toxic people and thoughts
Stress doesn’t just come from within. The people around you can make even the calmest person start to feel anxious to the point that they can’t function. When surrounded by naysayers, you may find it difficult to think positively, and you may succumb to “worst-case scenario” thinking. Learn how to deal with these people in productive ways that allow you to remove yourself from the situation and keep moving toward success. Above all else, always keep in mind that they have the problem, not you.
4) Get “in the zone”
While too much stress can derail your ability to complete a specific task, a certain amount of stress can actually be beneficial. Finding this “sweet spot” will allow you to get into what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as a “flow-state.” Being “in the zone” is a zen-like state in which you allow everything besides the task at hand to fade away. If you’ve seen a guitarist shred in front of thousands of screaming fans as if he’s practicing in his garage, or a quarterback launch a 50-yard bomb right into the fingertips of his receiver as if he’s playing catch in his backyard, you’ve seen them in a flow-state. Sure, they are undoubtedly under a lot of pressure, but they somehow find ways to mentally remove themselves from the stressful situation in order to perform to the best of their ability.
5) Redefine your emotional responses
The feelings you get when stressed out are most often referred to as “fight or flight” responses. The response your body has to fright is, at least in part, the same response to feeling courageous: increased heart and breathing rate, an adrenaline rush, etc. When the warning signs begin to creep up on you, try to convince yourself that, rather than becoming scared, you’re gaining courage. With practice, it’s possible to condition your mind to feel confidence where it used to feel unsurety. As long as you’re in a situation that is not actually dangerous, you should always try to face your fear and strengthen your willpower.
6) Be thankful
When you’re stressed, your body releases excess levels of cortisol. This hormone has been referred to as “public enemy number one” in terms of emotional health. However, studies have shown that practicing gratitude – to yourself as well as others – reduces cortisol levels in the body up to 25%. This reduction in the stress hormone allows for increased overall happiness and emotional well-being. By practicing thankfulness over an elongated period of time, you can become more optimistic throughout your life, and will experience less detrimental stress whenever you encounter negative situations.