Stress Management in 3 Simple Steps
There’s no stress management quick fix that works for everyone, 100% of the time. But there is a lot more you can do to manage stress than just meditate or light a candle. While those activities can be helpful and they can support your overall stress management strategy, for most people, they aren’t enough on their own.
Stress management may not be easy, but often times the solutions are quite simple. So, what simple steps can you take to reduce your stress in a meaningful, lasting way? Read on to find out!
1. Become aware of your thoughts: First, be aware of what you say to yourself. Take a moment now to reflect on the last 24 hours. Have you spoken to yourself with kindness or criticism? What are some of the words you used to talk to, and about, yourself? Are those words more positive or negative?
Now over the next 24 hours, make a conscious effort to observe your self-talk. Make notes of words you use when speaking to, or about, yourself. In your mind, do you say things like, “I can’t do this” or “That was stupid”? Listen for the positive and the negative.
This is by far the most difficult step because it requires that you remember to pay close attention to your internal monologue. In a perfect world, you would do this all the time. At minimum, aim to reflect on your self-talk more during stressful times.
2. Challenge your thoughts with rational thinking: Now that you’re more aware of your thoughts, it’s time to make a change. The idea here is that you need to combat negative thinking with logic and reason.
Ask yourself whether your thoughts are reasonable – would the people around you agree with them or would they think you were being unduly harsh with yourself? Are your thoughts overly dramatic and exaggerated? Is there any evidence to support them? Can you prove or disprove them with facts?
Write down a rational response to each negative thought to challenge them. If there is substance to them, take appropriate action to improve the situation.
3. Create a positive response: Prepare rational, positive thoughts and affirmations to counter any remaining negativity. These should be specific, with strong emotional content, and expressed in the present tense for maximum effect. Your positive response should be realistic and not just an opposing, overly optimistic statement. If it’s not grounded in reality, your subconscious brain won’t believe it.
Stress Management – A Practical Example
Let’s look at an example of the steps outlined above.
Aisha is preparing for an upcoming virtual presentation to the executive directors. She’s feeling nervous and thinks to herself, “I’m going to tank this presentation. No one wants to hear me speak. What if I can’t figure out how to use Zoom? Why did they ask me to do this? I have no idea what I’m doing!”
After a few minutes of this, she notices her stress level has increased dramatically and realizes she’s spiraling. She takes a deep breath and writes down her thoughts.
That’s step 1.
Now, for step 2, Aisha has to challenge each statement. It may help her to imagine she’s having this conversation with a trusted colleague, friend, or family member – ideally someone she knows who will not tolerate her speaking badly about herself, especially if it’s not warranted.
Here’s how she might challenge each statement:
- “I’m going to tank this presentation.”
I didn’t tank the last one, so what makes me think I can’t do this? What evidence do I have that suggests I will perform poorly? What can I do about that? Will more practice and preparation help?
- “No one wants to hear me speak.”
What evidence do I have to support that? Has anyone ever said that to me or about me? I have experience, perspective, and knowledge that others don’t. My manager asked me to do this presentation, so he must have some level of confidence in me.
- “What if I can’t figure out Zoom?”
I’ve used it a couple times before and it didn’t seem that complicated. Is there someone who can help if I get stuck? Can I practice ahead of time? Are there resources online I could consult? Could I ask for a moderator?
- “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Somehow, I managed to get this job, I must have some idea of what I’m doing if they hired me. I’ve prepared quite well for this. If I get any questions I can’t answer on the spot, I can offer to follow up afterwards. No one expects me to be perfect or to have all the answers.
Now that she is thinking more rationally about the situation, she can come up with a plan. She needs to get more comfortable with Zoom and go over her presentation a couple more times. It might help to run it by someone else as practice. Talking to her manager about her nervousness may also help.
The final step is to create a positive response. A thoughtful, but grounded statement to boost her confidence and calm her nerves is most helpful here. This could work:
“I’m feeling excited about this presentation and I have prepared as best I can. I am a competent professional, and as long as I am authentic, I will succeed.”
It’s important for Aisha to write down her positive response so that she can recall it if she starts feeling stressed again. Having it handy the day of her presentation also couldn’t hurt.
Want More Practical Stress Management Tools?
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