I talk a lot about stress. Mainly because the majority of us experience it everyday in a variety of settings – in the workplace, at home with our family / partner, in the car, at the gym, in the grocery store, even at the library.
Your baseline stress level and ability to cope with everyday stressors depends on a multitude of factors – genetics, the mix of stress hormones you were exposed to in the womb, the environment you grew up in, and your parents stress habits and coping styles. As you may have noticed, there is very little control, albeit none, that you can have over these influencing factors. Yet, there is still hope.
Fortunately, our brains are very malleable and open to new ways of thinking and doing; however, it may not seem like it at first. Old neural networks are hard to break and reroute, but its possible. More simply put, changing your habits is difficult, especially if you have had a relationship with them for the past 26 years.
Researchers say it takes around 14-21 days to start and sustain a new habit. But I’m sorry, to me, the non-doctor that I am, this is a major underestimate. I’ve been working for the past 3 years on integrating stress management techniques into my everyday life. Yes, 3 years. So Perhaps I need to go back and read the fine print on that time range. Perhaps it is only for rather small noxious habits such as nail-biting or sitting with a slouched back. Regardless, learning how to and actually engaging in stress management techniques on a regular basis, so much that they become unconscious, takes inordinately longer than 14-21 days.
I apologize if this seems rather depressing. My intent is not to depress, but to enlighten. Making positive, impactful change in your life (i.e. learning and implementing new coping / stress management skills) is time-consuming, arduous, challenging, painful, and sometimes irritating, BUT the end-result is worth it.
Imagine – you spend less time fretting about whether your boss likes you and more time doing meaningful work. Imagine – you spend your evenings and weekends completely immersed in the task that you are doing, not replaying the workday’s events. Imagine – not getting angry over the cat pooping in the kitchen as opposed to their top-of-the-line snazzy litter box. Just imagine.
Now it’s important to remember that eliminating everyday stressors is impossible. They are a natural and normal part of our experience. Furthermore, it is important to discern the difference between external and internal stressors. External stressors are those that we have no control over – the death of a loved one, the loss of a pet, demotion or promotion at work, etc. Internal stressors are the stressors that we have control over – getting enough sleep, eating well, or partaking in drugs and alcohol. Making this distinction helps us to better understand what we have control over and what we do not. It helps us to understand what we can change and what we cannot. Lastly, how we view and react to those external stressors can be altered in such a way that we become better able to let things go and deal with them effectively and efficiently. This is critical for our current and future psychological and physiological health.
So how do you go about managing your stress? Watching the video posted below is a great start. I have to thank a friend of mine, Kevin, for sending this my way. Following the video, I would encourage you to start educating yourself about the consequences of chronic, unaddressed stress. I’ve listed a few book recommendations below the video
If you’re a reader, I would encourage you to explore the following books on stress management techniques:
- Spark, my favourite book on stress, discusses the benefits of using exercise to better manage stress
- Anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of mindfulness. He can be a bit verbose, so read what you can. I’m sure you’ll find a few nuggets. If you’re interested in other books on mindfulness, please send me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lastly, if you’re open and interested, The Power of Now is a very eye-opening, yet complex read on living in the present moment. This book was life-changing for me, but his style and method isn’t for everyone.
If you have found a stress management book, technique, practice that is working for you, stick with it (and share it with us).