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Stressful day? Here are 5 ways to shake it off

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Ah, stress. The tension headaches, the grinding teeth, the hair-trigger temper. With so much to do and only so many hours in the day, stress is an unavoidable part of living in the 21st century, right?

It’s true that some stress is unavoidable. The tension caused by big life events like relocation or a pandemic can be overwhelming despite our best efforts. This ‘big event’ stress is usually timely. It lasts for the duration of the event and subsides once it’s over.

But for many of us, stress doesn’t just show up with the big stuff. It’s an everyday thing that comes from the build-up of many smaller annoyances. It’s the kind of stress that comes out of nowhere to consume your day. The kind that keeps you up at night with a ballooning to-do list, no matter how exhausted you are.

It’s the kind that, quite frankly, many of us are imposing on ourselves.

But what do we stand to gain if we stress less? A stronger immune system, a lower risk of stroke and reduced back pain are just a few of the many, many positive physical outcomes of reducing stress.

But as Hans Selye, pioneering stress researcher, once said: “It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.” So before you lose it, try these five tips.

1. Put yourself first

Whether it’s kids, your friends, your partner, your coworkers or your family, there are some weeks when it feels like the world would fall apart if you didn’t hold it all together for everyone else. Caring about the people around you is great, but if you neglect your own needs or feelings for too long, things will start to unravel.

We all need a break sometimes, so take care of yourself. If you are feeling stressed, do something that is all about nourishing YOU. This might be taking a relaxing bath, cooking your favourite meal or simply keeping the promise that you made to yourself to finish a workout today (no matter how many meetings try and get in the way). What you do to decompress doesn’t really matter. What’s important is reminding yourself that you are worth taking care of.

2. Don’t focus on the negatives

Did that make you roll your eyes? It’s one of the most common pieces of advice people (and Pinterest boards) give for stress, but we know that it’s easier said than done.

The truth is, negative thinking can be addictive because it gives us a sense of temporary comfort and control over a situation. Once we get used to thinking negatively it’s easy for it to become a habit.

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Struggling to switch off at the end of the night? Try a Beach Sunrise visualisation to help you sleep.

So, how do you stop? First, acknowledge the stressor in plain language. “I can’t believe they gave me the wrong coffee order AGAIN! This day is going to be terrible,” will become, “My coffee order was wrong”. By naming the problem plainly, we take the emotional weight out of it and see it for what it really is.

If that doesn’t help, try to redirect your thoughts to the things you feel positively towards. By catching negative thought patterns as they start and redirecting your attention, you can train yourself to have a more optimistic view of the world. Over time you can grow a thicker skin so that things that used to stress you out barely register as problems.

3. Let go of control

So much of what happens to us in life is out of our control – and that can be pretty damn scary! Some of us respond to this fear by holding tight to ‘our way’ of doing things, then freaking out when things don’t go to plan.

Our need to control everything can make our lives waaay more stressful than it needs to be. Say a coworker has a different idea than you on how to tackle a joint project. Do you complain to others about it, fussing over how their approach is different to yours? Or are you open to their input and opinions?

Flexibility is a crucial part of living a stress-free life. Remember, just because things don’t go according to your plan, that doesn’t make them bad.

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4. Live in the moment

It’s possible to spend so much time planning, preparing and setting goals that a little thing called ‘enjoying your life’ gets sidelined. Planning should make life easier, not harder!

If you’re feeling stressed by the big bad future, try to direct your thoughts to the things you have that are great right now. Writing a list can feel a bit silly, but it’s a great way to find appreciation for the things that often go unnoticed. Whether it’s the roof over your head, the family you live close to, the nice park near your house or the clean water you have constant access to... once you start to acknowledge the positives, the more you will find to be thankful for.

5. Future check your stress

Wait, what? We just encouraged you to live in the moment and now we’re asking you to imagine the future – so which one is it? The thing is, these two tips go hand-in-hand.

If you’re really having trouble letting go of stressful thoughts, imagine yourself 10 years in the future. Will ‘future you’ even remember this day, or the fact that your roommate didn’t do the dishes? Probably not.

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