1. Breathe like a Navy Seal
Navy Seals have a simple technique to manage stress, stay calm and think more clearly. To understand how such a simple process works you must understand the nervous system.
As outlined more fully in our blog, Why you feel stressed, your sympathetic system (fight/flight/freeze response) is specially designed to help you when under threat. It responds to stressors by optimizing your body’s resources – changing your breathing, heart rate and muscle tension (among other things).
In contrast, the parasympathetic system is the rest and restore response. It kicks in when the threat (perceived or real) has passed. Consider after you have had a near miss while driving. You take a big sigh, your racing heart rate begins to slow, your muscles let go and you can breathe more fully again.
Navy Seals know how to kick in that response when they are experiencing stress through Box Breathing. You can breathe like a Navy Seal too if you practice regularly.
Give yourself permission to set aside 3-5 minutes to focus on your breathing.
- Breathe in fully to the count of 4
- Hold for the count of 4
- Breathe out for the count of 4
- Hold for the count of 4
2. Manage your self-talk with the 3 C’s
Self-talk is a standard feature of the mind – no mind comes without it, and it chatters at you constantly. Your very own mini-me can be your biggest cheerleader or your harshest critic. Unfortunately, the latter is most often the case, and you can be angry, harsh or critical when you are stressed. Most people don’t recognize or question their often unhelpful and repetitive self-talk.
Consider the following thought, “I can’t do this.” Program this type of thinking into anyone and, unless they can change it, they will respond with feelings of dejection and frustration or sadness and lack of motivation. Any action that follows these kinds of feelings is not going to be helpful to manage stress. Consider what might change if you can notice the unhelpful self-talk and consciously reprogram with something more helpful, like “I can only do my best” or “I’ll focus on one thing I can do.”
Catch what you are telling yourself when you are stressed.
Check whether it is helpful to manage the stressful situation or unhelpful. If it is helpful, keep it. If it is unhelpful, follow the next step.
Change your self-talk consciously with something that is more empowering or helpful.
3. Think about worry like a Buddhist master
One of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, once said, “If you can change it, why worry? If you can’t change it, why worry?”
Remind yourself of this simple and profound truth. If you can change it, change it and don’t worry. If you can’t change it, worry won’t help!
4. Stop shaking the globe to relax and have fun
The strange paradox of our attempts to manage stress is we often do more of what is contributing to the stress rather than less! We get so locked in that we don’t allow ourselves to relax or have fun. You think that if you can just clear this mountain of work or just deal with this difficult relationship, you will feel less stressed and have time to relax.
Stress is the result of an overwhelmed mind so rather than giving it more to do you need to give it less to do. Think of a snow globe that is constantly being shaken so that the contents are obscured. The more you shake it, the harder it is to see what’s underneath. If you want to feel more settled and have more clarity you need to stop shaking the snow globe. Put everything down and let things settle for a while. Numerous studies have proven you will think more clearly and creatively while performing better when you are relaxed.
When you are busy, ensure you schedule time for relaxation activities that restore you. Whether it is a walk in a park, a catch up with friends, something creative or whatever your preferred time out is, put the time in your diary and treat it like an important appointment.
Give yourself permission to relax. No one else can do that for you.
5. Focus exclusively on what you can control or influence
Many people fall into the trap of being stressed by things that are outside their control and this method helps to counteract that. Stephen Covey explains in his model ‘the Circle of Concern’ that the issues that cause us stress have three parts – things we can control, things we can influence and things outside of our control or influence.
To illustrate, let’s use an example of a toxic relationship. There are things you will be able to control directly, like whether you try to address the issue, change the behaviour, or leave. There are things you will be able to influence, such as having a conversation with the person or changing the way you respond. Here you can influence but you do not have direct control – you may or may not get the outcome you would like.
- Map out the issue that concerns and stresses you.
- Identify what you control and what you can influence.
- When you catch yourself stressing about things outside your control and influence, do something within your control and influence.