Pat Fonda writes on a wide range of topics, especially life hacks, relationships, and self help/personal development.
Someone once said that stress is the curse of modern living and I tend to agree. These days, practically everyone suffers from stress to some degree. And the stress we suffer takes a heavy toll on our bodies, emotions and minds. Stress can seriously affect performance at your workplace, it can impact your quality of life, strain your relationships, or it can progress to burnout and mental exhaustion, which is why it’s imperative that you learn how to relief stress from your life.
But while it’s true that today there is a whole range of stress-inducing issues that come with modern living, it is also true that many people unwittingly create stress for themselves. There are many ways you could be stressing yourself out through the way you use your body, your attitudes, your work habits, or your lifestyle.
Sure, there are people, situations and circumstances that may challenge you, push your “hot buttons” and outright enrage you. However, most of our experiences that we call stress are created by ourselves— and not done to us.
In this article, you will learn the ways in which you personally could be allowing stress to take control of your life and what you can do to take control back and reduce the stress in your life. You owe it to yourself and to those around you to reduce or eliminate stress from your life. Stress causes all sorts of other health problems and by learning these techniques of stress reduction you stand to enjoy a much better quality of life.
If you can eliminate stress in your life using these method and strategies below, you will no longer have to put up with some of its other side effects, such as frequent infections, fatigue, or reduced productivity.
Stress also tends to rub off on those around us. If you have a spouse and kids, they will react to your stress in many ways by becoming stressed themselves, or unhappy and unsure of themselves. When you are better adjusted to your situation you will immediately notice that you relate much better with those around you—at home, at your workplace, and even to strangers.
You have to act to eliminate stress from your life because by not acting the message you are sending to those around you is one of despair and hopelessness in the situation.
And finally, when you succeed in kicking off the stress that is slowly ruining your life, you will be able to look at yourself and say “Fine, I may not have solved all the problems that life throws at me, but I’m myself once again, stronger, and ready to face the world”, and not, “I give up; too many problems. My life is a shambles and I have let everybody down!”
Here is why you may have had trouble dealing with stress in the past. The truth is that most people are just so busy just getting through the day they don’t realize that some of their “coping strategies” (which they may not even be aware that they are using) are actually draining them of energy, health and happiness. You fail to realize even that your lifestyle is stressing you. Stress can begin to look like “your lot in life,” almost an inescapable adjunct to your livelihood.
Below are seven key mistakes you may be making that can cause you to feel stressed-out, over-worked and run down. We’ll also look at how to prevent yourself from making them. These mistakes reduce your resilience to pressure – which in turn reduces your capacity and focus at work, and in your personal life, or in your relationships.
Using the approach suggested here will enable you to turn your self-inflicted stress into energy and enthusiasm.
7 Common Mistakes That Cause Stress: How Many of Them Are You Making?
7 ways you may be stressing yourself out:
- You work as if you’re unbreakable
- You think yourself to death
- You set yourself unrealistic timeframes
- You can also stress yourself by suppressing your feelings
- You’re too self-focused
- You have no sense of purpose beyond your work
- You’re missing the lesson
We’ll be looking at how to respond to each of these common mistakes and turn your stress into energy and enthusiasm.
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But first, here’s how stress affects our minds and bodies and seriously impacts our emotions and behavior.
How Stress Affects Your Mind and Body
In the body, stress exhibits itself in the form of headaches, frequent infections, fatigue, taut muscles, skin irritations, muscular twitches, and breathlessness. In the mind, stress causes muddled thinking, worrying, impaired judgment, nightmares, negativity, and indecision or hasty decisions. In addition a person with stress exhibits loss of confidence; is more fussy, irritable, depressed, apprehensive, and apathetic.
Stress also causes a sense of alienation, and in terms of behavior, a stressed individual is accident prone, may drink or smoke more, is restless and sleepless, and depending how badly stressed, the person experiences varying degrees of loss of appetite and loss of sex drive.
The good news is there is a lot you can do to reduce stress in your life, using simple adjustments and strategies for stress relief.
Let’s now look in more detail at those 7 common mistakes people make that cause stress and what you should do to achieve stress relief . . .
Working Like You’re Unbreakable
Being motivated and passionate about achieving your goals in your work and your life is a very important quality to help you get to where you want to go. If you can sustain your focus and push yourself beyond your comfort zone this enables you to achieve targets you may not otherwise achieve. The danger, though, lies in not knowing when to stop pushing yourself. What this can lead to is things like loss of appetite for food and life, cutting down of other beneficial activities such as exercise, or simply getting obsessed with your work to the extent that even your dreams are filled with your work.
The truth is that our bodies have a limit to how hard we can push them. Your body typically has its subtle ways of warning you that you are getting tired—a mild headache perhaps or aching shoulders, or you feel less patient with people.
If you ignore these smaller warnings the next stage could be you get injured, or you fall ill, or you break down. Learn to listen to your body's early warning signs before your body degenerates into the more severe states of damage.
How to stop overworking yourself? Make a list of the signs of tiredness that your body sends you and learn to respond appropriately when these signs appear. There are three R’s you should practice religiously to stay resilient to pressure: Rest, Release, and Replace.
- Rest: Do you sacrifice sleep because you want to work late? You need to realize that your body may not be regenerating enough when you skip on sleep. What this normally leads to is inability to function at your best. When you rest, this ensures that your mind can think clearly, that your body has good reserves of energy, and that you have full control of your emotions.
- Release: Anytime you put yourself under pressure, your body gathers physical tension. If you’ve ever experienced pain in your shoulders, although you didn’t carry anything that you can remember, then you know what I mean. You need to release tension in your neck, shoulders, back, stomach and even your calves regularly or you could find that you get tired faster, or you become more irritable, or you experience aches and pains more frequently.
- Replace: We all have limited reserves of energy, and so we need to replace what we use on a daily basis. We typically replace what energy we use through food and exercise. If you fail to replace your energy you will find that when under pressure you feel stressed and unable to stay focused.
Let’s proceed with another of the 7 mistakes . . .
Thinking Yourself Into Severe Stress
Our bodies tend to reflect what’s going on in our minds. When you continually worry and stress about your problems you’ll find that you develop tense muscles, you become easily tired, or you get a headache. In other words, any time your mind is stressed, your body too becomes stressed.
How do we get into these negative though patterns?
- Through chewing endlessly over our past mistakes
- Or over-analyzing what could go wrong with whatever is at stake
- Or over-indulging in hindsight—thinking what we could have done differently
The only thing these activities really do is drain your energy, plus distracting you from focusing on the things you should be doing to get ahead. Worrying never helps your situation. Get into the habit of taking the positive view on things.
Someone said the world needs a pessimist—someone to worry about winter all summer. Don’t be the one!
One of the best cures for worry is action. So, instead of worrying about your business, your finances, your relationship, your health, or world issues, do something about it.
Setting Yourself Unrealistic Time Frames
If you’re like me, then you probably always have a deadline or two to keep. Sometimes it helps to set yourself a tight time frame to motivate you so you can push yourself to do your best. But working to a tight time frame is a sure way to whip yourself into anxiety.
Here are some tips on how to relax your work schedule:
- Restore balance in your life through making changes in your lifestyle and work-style.
- Find ways to unwind at night
- Find ways to stop living your life as if you are always in a big rush. You can do this by making your work projects more manageable.
The thing to do is to stop putting yourself under unrealistic pressure to perform. You don’t have to work 16 hours a day. Set yourself reasonable targets and time frames and learn to work efficiently to get more done in less time.
A good exercise to help you is to stop and examine the stress in your own life that relates to being late, or getting work finished, or completing all the tasks you’ve set yourself done by the end of your day.
Do you find that you tend to set yourself unrealistic expectations/deadlines that keep you on the go all day, every day? If this is true then you need to realize that you can’t sustain this pace consistently . . . you will break down at some point.
The thing to do is to reduce the number of deadlines hanging over your head, or extend them to be more realistic. Here are some tips to help you:
- Consider what you need done for the day and then create a list of the key goals. Give each of these goals a realistic deadline.
- Create a list of actions you need in order to reach each of these goals of the day and set aside the time it will take to complete it.
- Create a plan that schedules all the tasks needed for all these goals.
- You could also consider breaking down this schedule into smaller chunks of time, for example, you create a list of activities to do by hour, or part of the day (morning, afternoon, etc)
- Ascertain if your goals or targets are indeed achievable given the amount of time you have. If they are not then you are setting yourself up for stress and tension. The solution to this is either you adjust your time-frames or you reduce your workload to make sure you’re not working yourself too hard and trying to reach a goal that is unreachable.
Suppressing Your Feelings
Another mistake people make that hikes their stress levels is to suppress their feelings. Here’s the thing: our bodies are a living record of life's events and so, when you are stressed, your body tends to reflect your emotions. All your feelings and tensions that you don’t express somehow find expression in one part of your body or another.
You shouldn’t keep your feelings locked up inside of you. Eventually they will force their way out—and the result is never pretty.
How you deal with your emotions affects your behavior, your mood, and how patiently you deal with other people. If you aren’t good at expressing your feeling, here’s how you can practice expressing your feelings each day until it becomes habit:
- Talk to others about what you feel. Find someone that can listen without trying to tell you what to do.
- Talk to yourself (self-talk). Sometimes just talking out loud in front of a mirror can help to clarify, and express how you feel and can clear your head. If this makes you feel awkward you can try just talking to yourself in your head, but talking aloud before the mirror is way better!
- Write down what you feel in a letter. Use pen and paper, not your computer or smart phone. Writing it out is a powerful way of releasing emotions. You get to express your feelings without worrying about saying the wrong thing to others. When you’ve done writing your letter, read it again, then tear it up. You are not keeping a diary with this little exercise—just a way to bring your feelings out.
When you get your feelings out, whichever way you used, this helps you to clarify your thoughts and is a great way to bring your challenges into proper perspective. If you keep your emotions locked up, what may be a small problem can begin to seem a lot bigger than it really is.
Having No Sense of Purpose Beyond Work
Victor Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps of World War II wrote:
"He who has a WHY can bear almost any HOW. To survive anything requires a sense of meaning. If we can identify what brings us meaning then we can identify a motivation that can lead or take us through anything.”
Frankl was a trained psychiatrist, and like all the other prisoners he had to endure the sort of hardships that could mentally unbalance most people – physical labor, exhaustion, starvation, beatings and the Nazi’s strategic stripping of these prisoner’s human dignity.
Do you sometimes find yourself giving up hope or feeling stuck in a rut? Do you sometimes feel that your life is just about getting up, going to work, coming home, watching television, going to bed—existing but not really living?
Life is supposed to mean a lot more than that. You should get clear on your dreams —your reasons WHY you are living—so that you stop existing through each day, and really start to live. How do you do this, you could be asking?
Here are some tips:
- Get into the habit of assessing your personal needs and make sure that you do things that you enjoy doing.
- Assess your relationship needs and get into the habit of regularly connecting with people.
- Assess your spiritual needs and learn more about who you are and what you want from life.
- Keep setting yourself new goals, and having aspirations and dreaming dreams that give your life more meaning. Ponder the question, why am I living, and do what you can to make every day filled with excitement and desire so that you cruise through the day, instead of going through your day dragging your feet.
Dale Carnegie wrote,
“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. Have the wisdom to savor the simple things. The wonderful memories that they bring will add more value to your life than any of the material toys we spend so much life energy pursuing.”
What legacy do you want to leave behind when you die? How would you like to be remembered? What difference do you want to make to yourself? Your family? Friends? Society? What would you need to experience, achieve or own to be able to say “I lived a full life, and I have no regrets?”
Ask yourself these questions today to reflect on how you would like your life to turn out. It’s never too late you know . . .
This way, you will hopefully be motivated to create a sense of meaning in your life beyond going to work and paying your bills.
A good exercise to do each day when you wake up is to affirm what you want to achieve for the day and in your life. Keep your dreams and desires alive to sustain your zest for achievement and nobility. You can do this through engaging in activities, conversations and reading books that inspire you and make life more interesting.
Here’s a great quote by Mike Mentzer:
“Man’s proper stature is not one mediocrity, failure, frustration or defeat, but one of achievement, strength, and nobility. Man can and ought to be a hero.” — Mike Mentzer
Missing the Lesson of Life’s Experiences
Do you find yourself experiencing the same stresses and problems again and again in your life? If you do, then it’s possible you are missing the lessons behind them.
Every challenge we face or crisis or tragedy should be an opportunity to learn. Anytime you get a problem in life make sure you do not miss the lesson that life is trying to teach you. Challenges are an opportunity to grow and stretch beyond your comfort zone.
Becoming resilient to pressure is not just about being able to endure hardship longer than other people. Developing resilience is also about how quickly and elegantly you can regain your footing and bounce back from pressures that may stop other people cold in their tracks.
So, use your setbacks and/or obstacles as a chance to learn a thing or two about yourself. A setback or obstacle should be seen as a test to your endurance that gives you an insight on how to develop what it takes to keep working towards your goals and your ambitions.
As an example, if you find yourself working with colleagues who you don't like, this is an opportunity to learn about patience, assertiveness or acceptance. This means learning to look beyond the people and situations that stress you so that you can see what life is trying to teach you.
This is the silver lining to your challenge. But of course you may not be able to see the lining (and the learning) when you are right in the middle of the crisis or setback – but it will be there! In most cases the learning will happen days or weeks or even months after the event.
Instead of feeling sore and getting upset or worked up at situations that didn’t go your way, focus on what you could learn out of it and not on what you lost.
Here are some questions to ask yourself whenever you face a challenge:
- What is this situation helping me to learn about myself?
- What positive lesson or lessons can I get from all of this?
- How will this situation help to make me a stronger person?
Being Too Self-Focused
Many people make the mistake of being too focused on achieving their goals and results. Anytime you find yourself putting all your focus on reaching your goals and targets such that it becomes the most important thing in your life, that’s the time to step back and look critically at your life.
You could be neglecting your spouse and children's needs… You may have somehow lost the connection you had with family, friends, or your colleagues…maybe you are finding every excuse to get back to work…
Avoid a situation where you could be achieving your goals, yes, but the cost is too high to live with. Here’s the thing: regardless how important you think your work is or how urgently it has to be done, if you’re not connecting with people that are special in your life, guess what – you’re missing the very things you are working so hard to have in your life!
Find time every day to connect with your loved ones and others around you.
There you have it…seven of the mistakes that people make which create stress in their lives. There are others no doubt, as you’ll discovery as you start taking steps to relieve your stress. Take action on one of these stress management strategies each day for the next seven days and I guarantee you will come out happier, less stressed, and more creative and productive.