Stress is usually caused by unmet expectations, commitments made that you find hard to get out of, biting more than you can chew, expectations that others have of you and you feel you can no longer meet. Anxiety and frustration are also part of the causes of stress. Stress can kill; your eating habits change, you lose appetite and the whole meaning of food in your body, you shrink and lose weight and you can actually die out of stress related complications. Stress is a mental test. It’s a condition of the mind. It is therefore not imposed on anyone but one willfully gets into stress mode. I admit openly that I know what stress can do as I attempted suicide before in my life. Now that is the worst thing that can actually happen. I could not sleep for more than 2 hours stressing over things I had no control over. I became selfish, thinking only about me and my problem such that many people in my life were cut out and what was going on in my brain. My stress became started spreading to my immediate family and then the extended family. Their problem was finding out the cause of the stress. Whenever someone asked (my wife included), I would highlight the cause in a glossy way; pointing at symptoms more than the real problem. One day I made a resolute decision to quit this dangerous mode and live a normal life.
1. Identify the root of the stress – Stress is not generalized. The way to a solution on stress is through identification of the root cause. Without that the perpetual stress frequency will resonate. It is sometimes even stressful to find a way out of stress. If you address a problem by shooting the symptoms we can safely say you have found a very creative way of wasting time. You will not get out of stress. Is the problem caused by your character or it is external (other people, economy, social environment). If so, what exactly is triggering the stress? If you cannot be genuine about what you are going through then you will never get a genuine solution out. Living in denial about the cause of the stress simply incubates or nurtures the stress until it graduates into depression.
2. Eliminate the potential sources of stress – Once you identify what leads you to be stressed, begin to remove those elements from your life. Isolate each cause of stress and begin to walk out of it. You can do an outright shift or a gradual one where you take baby steps out of it. E.g. If debt is such a stress trigger, stop the things that increase the debt but start using your savings no matter how small to reduce the debt one baby step at a time. Disassociate from people whose conduct and speech leaves you stressed. Block online contacts that fuel the stress levels in you. Avoid doing things that remind you of pain.
3. Find alternative things to focus on – It is easy to be bogged down in one line of thinking and it seems at that point that it is the only thing to be thought of. The mind is generally a creative instrument but there are instances when the creativity processes are shut down by one line of thought which the mind locks on to. In that state everything else, no matter how good, is locked out. The mind enlarges all that you focus on. When the focus is on the problem, stress is on the increase. Pretend you have no problem and find a positive thing to lock on to. It maybe a solution to the stress that you may be processing or something totally different, a new area of passion. Just occupy your mind with a new trend of thinking.
4. Monitor what enters your mind – there are many sources of information. When you are stressed, you sometimes hop from person to person looking for specific statements, confirmations, sympathy and encouragement. When those do not come, when people pretend not to see you or know about your problem, it actually adds to the stress you may be in as well. Are you getting positive news on TV, are the friends who are calling you being positive or just telling you how you may not come out of the pit of stress? Stress is more mental than it is physical. It grows like a cancer in the mind. It only becomes physical as it leads to depression and total shutdown of organs in the body. It is hard to think differently if you continue to expose yourself to the same variables or conditions that stress you. If being among crowds is a stress point, go away to a park, drive to a game resort, interface with nature. While you are far from home, your mind may think differently.
5. Revisit the job you are doing – Are you working just so that you can feed your family and yet you don’t feel passionate about what you are doing? That could certainly be a stress trigger. Observe what you are passionate about. Sometimes people stretch themselves too far to try and be fruitful in areas that they are not competent and passionate about. You can only be fruitful to the degree that you have mastered the trade and also added your passion to what you do. Skill without passion is always produces stress. Passion without skill raises anxiety. Have a balance of the two and your work will not bring you stress. If you are an employee, always understand the expectations of your employer to avoid frustrations. You don’t want your employer to have expectations that are not communicated to you. Have your job description clarified to avoid stress.
6. Watch your standard of living – Sometimes we pitch our standard of living so many levels higher than where we are at right now. It almost seems impossible to attain that level and yet we want people to think that we have arrived. The gap between reality and aspiration gives you the level of stress people live under. If I want my friends to think I live well and I have a good job, I will do all it takes even if it means renting a big house, borrowing cars or renting a car. All this extra effort is so expensive as it eats so much into the financial resources available. If you want a stress free life then aim high but not in a way that discourages you from walking towards the aim. Live within your means while you save cash for the life you want. Do not put yourself under unnecessary pressure. The people you are trying to impress may not be interested but simply minding their own business. It is a waste of time, energy and resources to create an image which does not exist. It is actually a stress enhancer.
7. Get the skeleton out of the cupboard – this is really a hard one. Sometimes people have secrets only known to themselves only. They vouch that “I can never tell anyone about this”. I have noticed however that for me, it is so stressful thinking about my skeleton all the time. You can even go as far as dressing the “skeleton” up in such a way that even if people stumble across it, it is so prim and proper such that the impact is cushioned. Living a double life is a stress booster. The only way to bust the stress is to expose the secrets to people you know hold confidence and can walk you through the torrid moments of life. Be real; be open enough so that your attention is not always taken by efforts to conceal who you are. Get all the help necessary. I know of Pastors who because of the title and expectations of the role they carry, concealed their own struggles, didn’t get help on time and to this day they still live in denial that they have hard core morality and drinking issues. When you expose a problem, its grip on you is loosened. Become accountable to someone and walk all the way up. So what if people know? It does not really matter as long as you find the help you need. Exercise wisdom in choosing people who should know. If you are not ready for the world to know then carefully select a few trusted and close people.
8. Be intentional about avoiding and moving out of stress – Have the ability to say no. People walk in to stress by being “yes” people. I used to be like that. I couldn’t afford to “disappoint” anyone by refusing what they ask from me but soon after saying Yes I would regret for the duration of the favor. Also be intentional in terms of creating time for rest and relaxation, listening to music, eating your favorite meals. No one can create that for you. Go out and get help from those who can offer it professionally. You may need that pull from the pit. Things that you cannot control, especially other people, are not worth stressing over. Focus on what is within your capacity to manage and change. If someone is a source of the stress however, then avoid piling it all up as it will blow up someday; speak to them about how they make you feel. They may not know how much stress they put you under. Educate them on their role in lumping stress on you.
9. Make the best out of the worst – You may be facing the worst darkest season of your life but every season has an expiry date. Look at the positive side of your stressful situation and see what you can make of it. All things actually work together for your good if you decide to change your perception and line of thinking. Yes, you lost your job but it created time with family, you lost a car and you saved on fuel, maintenance etc. Think positive. There is no situation that is so dim that positive outcomes cannot be extracted. When you find the best in a situation, you avoid self pity and self condemnation. You can actually forgive yourself and turn a fresh page.
10. Prioritize the issues in your life – You cannot be all things to all men and still live normally. In a day, prioritize the things that are a must and the “nice to have”. You cannot do everything in one day and finish. Do your tasks in phases. It may be little by little but the important thing is that you are getting closer to the end goal. When you plan your activities, you have no reason for anxiety. All you do is walk into your plan and not run from pillar to post wondering how all the activities can be done. Leave out the less important at the bottom of the list. Prioritize where to spend your money as well. Focus on immovable assets that things that depreciate the day you buy them. Prioritize your education fees over heavy entertainment. It is easy to be stressed over how others are living happy lives not realizing that while you were chasing “things”, they were chasing career