Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Seven Ways to Reduce Stress Today

By Bob Mueller

Years ago I had the opportunity to hear Mother Teresa speak at Bellarmine College in Louisville. Someone in the audience asked Mother Teresa how she could keep such a busy schedule. He said, “You crisscross the country and the world. How do you do it? Aren’t you exhausted? Your schedule would drive me crazy!”

In a sincere voice that calmed the entire audience, Mother Teresa responded quietly...

“I simply do one thing at a time.” More than her words, her calm demeanor convinced the audience that life is really nothing more than a series of present moments — one right after another — to be experienced.

A schedule becomes an emergency only when it is blown out of proportion — when you analyze it and figure out how many meetings you have today and how few hours of sleep you’re going to get tonight, and so on. The more you think about what you’re doing rather than simply doing it, the more urgent your schedule feels.

To varying degrees, we all turn ourselves into nervous wrecks many times a day. Whenever we get caught up in our thinking, we are laying the foundation for stress. The more caught we become, the more stress we feel. Once you understand the dynamic that creates stress instead of trying to eliminate its sources, you’ll be on your way to a calmer, more peaceful life.

The truth is that stress does not exist except in your own thinking. Your stressful thoughts are no more real than your non-stressful thoughts; they’re just thoughts. When you redefine stress like this (as something you can control) you can maintain a positive feeling even when circumstances don’t seem to warrant your optimism.

Imagine how different your experience of time would be if you were to live moment-to-moment in the same way Mother Teresa did.

Create in your mind a possible stressful scenario dealing with the many things you have to do — getting ready for work, getting the kids ready, cleaning your home, paying the bills, mowing the lawn, taking the dog to the vet, helping a friend, returning phone calls and emails and texts, and on and on.

Now, instead of feeling overwhelmed, imagine how different these events would seem if you forgot about how many things were on the list and instead simply did one thing at a time. Imagine getting yourself ready without thinking about what was next on the list. On and on down the list, one thing at a time without the distraction of your analytical mind. If you would approach your schedule in this manner, you would discover more joy in these ordinary, daily events than you ever thought possible. You’ll also find that a schedule approached in this way is far less overwhelming.

Here are seven essential steps to reducing the stress in your life:

  1. Knowing that inner peace is possible. Mental health and inner peace are always close by. Even a moment of thought recognition can guide us back toward tranquility.
  2. Admitting that getting what you want isn’t the ultimate answer. One of the important steps in reducing stress in your life is to admit that while getting what you want is nice, it isn’t the ultimate answer. A more powerful, lasting solution is learning to find peace in the midst of a crazy world, even when you can’t get what you want.
  3. Learning not to deal head-on with or to struggle with problems. Struggling with our problems rarely solves them.
  4. Understanding that stress originates in your thinking. Being caught up in your thinking is actually more relevant to the stress you feel than your actual situation.
  5. Learning to not allow passing thoughts to turn into thought attacks. A single thought can’t hurt you or bring stress to your life. Stress is the result of taking our thoughts to heart – taking them too seriously.
  6. Avoiding the temptation to get caught up in the details. The details of your thoughts feed your stressful feelings. Use your feelings as a signal to remind you that you’ve lost sight of your mental health.
  7. Lowering your tolerance for stress. Try to notice your stressful feelings earlier in the stress cycle. This will create a shift in your thinking and will put you back in the moment.

Can you imagine how different your life would be if, instead of allowing your thoughts to multiply and spiral out of control, you were to simply notice them and let them go? Your feelings of urgency would disappear, and you would begin to calm down. Remember that your thoughts are just thoughts. They cannot harm, frighten, or overwhelm you without your consent.

Bob Mueller is the vice president of Development at Hosparus

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