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To say that 2020 has been stressful would be quite the understatement. What we’ve gone through individually, and collectively this year has been unprecedented. While we can’t control what life brings our way, we can decide to take back some measure of control and to do things differently and view things differently to reduce our own stress responses and to diminish our overall stress in life.
1. Decide on your own definition of success and let other people decide on theirs.
Decide what is right for you and your life and don’t automatically adopt someone else’s idea of success. It’s not uncommon for well-meaning friends or family members to say “you should do this, or you should do that”. And while that might be good for them and what they want in their lives, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for you.
Success for some people means great relationships, having a healthy family, being physically fit, or making a certain amount of money. And just because one of those things is important to you, doesn’t mean they all are. It’s okay for you to decide what you want in your life and live your life based on that and not what other people think is best for you.
To drive this point home, several years ago I was preaching to a very close friend of mine on the virtues of physical fitness and drinking more water. She very lovingly but firmly and playfully informed me that “Not everyone wanted to be toned, tanned and well-hydrated.” I was slightly crushed (my own personal values!) but had to laugh and haven’t brought it up with her since!
2. Drop the politics.
This is such a hot topic right now, and in the U.S. we seem to be so polarized. Absolutely be really clear about what you value and be firm in your political views, but don’t try to force anyone else to agree with you.
It’s OK to share your opinions and allow other people to share their’s, but sometimes it’s best to agree to disagree and just be respectful of each other’s rights to their own opinions and values. I’m sure you don’t want someone trying to continually change your mind, and similarly, no one is going to appreciate that from you.
3. Seek advice but decide on your own solutions.
When we’re stressed, and looking for answers it can be awfully tempting to try to borrow solutions from someone else. But what works for them may not work for you. More so, just blindly following someone else’s advice and strategies could really backfire! Then if it doesn’t work it can breed feelings of resentment and even harm the friendship or relationship.
Take the time to find out what best suits you and your life and your unique situation. And just because an expert says it so, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for everybody.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Buddhist quote
4. Accept negative thoughts as part of the process and give them a time limit.
No, I’m not advocating wallowing in self pity or diving headfirst into depression – quite the opposite! But negative thoughts are a part of the process. They are actually a really valuable and useful indicator that something isn’t right in your world. Usually when we experience a negative thought or the first glimmer of unhappiness were quick to try and fix it and push it away, but then we lose the lesson.
Give yourself some time to feel the feelings and process, maybe you need an hour maybe you need a day. But then actively start brainstorming or even journaling solutions. Know that stress, anxiety and touches of depression will show up from time to time, but don’t invite them to move in and take root and be aware that feelings change; they will come and they will go.
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” — Isaac Asimov
5. Stay curious and stop assuming.
No, we don’t always know how things are going to work out, why something happened, or why somebody behaved the way they did. Truthfully, our brains can’t stand not knowing! We like to have things figured out; it feels safer.
But we just can’t always know. When something or especially someone is stressing you out, get curious. One of my favorite ways of doing this is embracing the thought, “Let’s see what the reality of the situation is?” And know that the reality may not always be what you want or wish to see, but then at least you can deal with it.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” — Albert Einstein
6. Understand that stress is a shared experience.
When we focus too much on our own problems, and don’t acknowledge that other people are going through stuff as well, our world becomes very small. When the Dalai Lama was asked what to do with negative thoughts, he explained they arise largely through our self-centeredness. “I, I, I, my, my, my”
Research has found that when you acknowledge the fact that everyone has their problems, especially those in your immediate circle of influence, it supports feelings of camaraderie and companionship. Anxiety decreases as you feel more connected to other people and society at large. Even better,your world opens up to bigger possibilities.