Ever feel like there’s just SO MUCH TO DO?
Ever feel like it’s IMPOSSIBLE to do everything you need to do?
Ever wonder why life has to be so damn STRESSFUL?
Welcome to the club. I used to feel like this all the time…
And by “used to” I mean I felt like this last week…
Fortunately, just a few days after I found myself feeling extremely overwhelmed with everything I had to do, I just happened to be scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across a podcast episode titled “How to Use Stress to Your Advantage,” by my friend Thomas Frank, creator of CollegeInfoGeek.com.
And I must say, that podcast episode was a game-changer for me.
But before I get into what I learned and why I found it so helpful, I want you to know that feeling stressed is completely normal.
I mean, when you stop and think about how much we’re constantly juggling on a day-to-day basis, it’s not surprising why we find ourselves feeling stressed out so frequently…
We have A LOT on our plates.
And it’s not just the big items and projects. It’s all the little things…
Scheduling doctor appointments, replying to emails, washing the car, managing your finances, cleaning your room, washing clothes, shaving, taking out the trash, getting gas, buying deodarant…
Sometimes life can feel like a never-ending to-do list.
And even though most of these things are pretty simple individually, together they can form into a massive wall of stress.
Which is the worst part about being overwhelmed. It feels like you literally hit a brick wall…
There are a million things you need to do, and yet you can’t get yourself to do a single damn thing. Which of course, only ends up stressing you out even more.
While some of us deal with stress better than others, we’re all familiar with stress, and I think we all know how much it sucks to feel stressed out…
But what if I told you that stress didn’t have to be a bad thing?
What if I told you that stress could actually be a good thing?
What if I told you that you could actually use stress to your advantage?
Well, what I’m about to say might just blow your mind, because it’s true…
Stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Whether You Believe Stress is Harmful or Helpful, You’re Right
Stress tends to get a bad rep.
People tend to talk about all the negative aspects of stress. And the truth is that stress can have harmful effects of your body and your overall health.
But stress itself is NOT the enemy…
That is, unless you think it is.
After listening to that podcast episode I mentioned above, I started doing some research about stress and it wasn’t long before I came across this awesome TED talk by Kelly McGonigal.
In it, Kelly explains that the new science of stress reveals that how you think about stress can literally save your life.
Multiple studies have shown that how you choose to view stress actually affects how your body responds to it.
So if you view stress as a bad thing, then it will affect you negatively.
But if you choose to view stress as a helpful response, then your body believes you and your body will respond to it much, much better.
In other words…
Your belief about stress literally changes your body’s biological response to stress.
…How awesome is that?!
The power of the mind never fails to disappoint to me.
Now, you probably don’t want more stress in your life than you already have, but no matter how much (or how little) stress you currently have in your life, the most important thing is that you cultivate a positive attitude towards that stress.
One way to do that is to view your stress as a signal of meaning, an idea I’d never really considered until I heard my friend Thomas say the following:
Stress can be an affirmation that you have meaning in your life.”
This was surprising to me at first, but then I realized he’s absolutely right.
While it might sound nice to have a life without any stress, the implication of a life without stress is a life without meaning.
Singing the same tune, at the very end of her TED talk, Kelly McGonigal says the following:
One thing we know for certain is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. I would say, that’s the best way to make decisions… go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.”
So whenever you feel stressed out, instead of viewing it as a problem, view it as a reminder that you’re doing something that matters.
And instead of trying to get rid of your stress, focus on getting better at it.
How to Get Better at Stress by Using a “Stress Management Algorithm”
So once you’ve chosen to believe that stress isn’t a bad thing, and you’ve chosen to believe that you are capable of handling the stress in your life, all that’s left to do is… actually handle it.
Which means it’s time to get tactical.
Because you know I’m all about giving you practical and actionable advice that you can apply to your life, I want to introduce you to the stress management system that ultimately pulled me out of my slump last week when I was feeling super stressed out and overwhelmed.
The way this system works, which I picked up from that podcast episode I mentioned, can best be illustrated by the following flow chart I masterfully created for all of you visual learners out there (my USC professors would be proud).
This is, as Thomas calls it, the “Stress Management Algorithm.”
This algorithm, or process, is essentially a series of mental steps to go through whenever something is stressing you out.
If we were to break it down into steps, it would look like this:
- Clearly define what’s stressing you out.
- Define which elements of the stressor you can control and which elements you can’t control.
- For the elements that are out of your control, find a way to mentally deal with them (often, the simple act of defining the stressor in the first place will greatly reduce the stress since a lot of stress tends to come from uncertainty). A few (healthy) ways you can greatly reduce your stress is by talking to someone about it, meditating, or exercising.
- For the elements that are in your control, ask yourself what you can do right now and begin to create a plan of action. Input tasks into your task management system, add event reminders to your calendar, and come up with other possible solutions for improving the situation that’s causing you stress.
- Give yourself a pat on the back for handling your stress like a boss, then proceed to dominate your life.
- Repeat steps #1–6 as often as necessary.
The key to making this Stress Management Algorithm as effective as possible is to actually WRITE EVERYTHING OUT as you’re going through it.
Studies show that the simple act of writing out your anxieties greatly reduces your anxiety.
Which probably explains why the number one recommended “quick action to get unstuck” is to write.
Aside from the therapeutic benefits of getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, writing everything out will also make it easier to look at your stressors one at a time, which in turn will make it easier to come up with possible solutions.
So take the extra 5-10 minutes to write out what’s stressing you out, and I promise you won’t regret it.
And now, if you’re ready to stop letting stress ruin life, here’s what I want you to do…
Create a Plan of Action
The next time you’re feeling stressed out, instead of viewing it as a problem, I want you to view it as an opportunity to rise to the challenge.
And then, instead of keeping your stressful thoughts all jumbled up inside your head, I want you to use the Stress Management Algorithm to create a plan of action.
To start putting this into practice right now, do this:
- Think of one thing that’s been stressing you out recently.
- Use the Stress Management Algorithm to figure out exactly what you’re going to do to either deal with it (if it’s out of your control) or solve it (if it’s in your control).
- Leave a comment below letting me know: what’s your plan of action?
***After completing the action steps above, I highly recommend you listen to this episode of the College Info Geek podcast which inspired me to write this post, as well as this TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal which I discovered while doing additional research for this post.
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