1. Know your why
Victor Frankl nailed it when he said "those who have a why to live for can bear almost any how". In essence, if we know why we are doing something, what our goal is, then we are going to be much more resilient to the trials and tribulations involved than if we weren't connected to it. Making this practical it is simply about waking up every day with purpose, keeping your goals at the front of your mind. These goals could be to serve and help others or simply to pay the bills. The nobility doesn't count for much, you just need to regularly remind yourself of it. When you encounter stress take a deep breath and say "this is for.....". I promise it will make the situation much easier.
2. Control your stress response
When we encounter stress it provokes a physiological response from our bodies. This release of cortisol and adrenaline is the famous fight and flight response that we all know so well. Whilst this response was designed to keep us alive it isn't fit for purpose in our modern lives, it shuts down large parts of our brain, narrowing our focus, meaning that we are operating with our monkey mind, unable to access the higher order thinking that we need to navigate our modern sources of stress. To avoid this situation we therefore need a technique to shut down this physiological response and fire up our human brain. In my experimentation the most effective tool I have found is box breathing. Borrowed from the Navy SEALs this simple technique can restore order in a matter of minutes. Simply breathe in deeply through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale slowly for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat this cycle 10 times.
3. Focus on the controllables
When feeling stressed it is important to quickly identify the aspects of the stress that are within your control and those that are outside. We spend a lot of time sweating stuff that is completely beyond our control, the weather, traffic, technology. If we can't change something then we are wasting valuable time and effort stressing about it. Instead focus all your attention on the pieces that you can move and take action with them. You might be stuck in traffic on the way to a meeting, you can't control what time you'll get there but you can communicate to those that are waiting on you so focus on that piece. Once that is sorted you'll quickly feel better.
If the stress that is beyond your control is still proving problematic for you then the next technique you need to try is reframing. The fundamental tenet behind this is that our thoughts are just stories, they aren't truths, and we can rewrite these stories to better suit our situation. For example if we get cut up in traffic we may get angry, tell ourselves that the world is full of idiots and they are all out to get us, This obviously doesn't leave us in a particularly good state. We could instead sit through the same situation, choose a different story and have a completely neutral emotional reaction. How would you feel if the story you told was instead 'poor person, they must be running late for something important, I hope they get there ok'. Whenever you are confronted with a difficult situation ask yourself how you could rewrite the story to better suit you. Even in the most desperate situations you can find opportunity, even if that is that you'll learn from it, you'll be stronger for it or that you can practice a virtue, such as patience or humility.
5. Get uncomfortable
Whilst it might be a difficult thing to admit, we are all soft. Our modern world has us mollycoddled to the point where we think a printer not working or a delivery being late is a legitimate thing to get stressed about. The fact is that the more comfortable we make our lives the more susceptible we are to stress. To counter this we need to innoculate ourselves by doing something that makes us uncomfortable on a regular basis. This doesn't have to be anything particularly scary, just take a cold shower, skip a meal, don't turn your car heater on. The more often you feel uncomfortable the more resilient you will become. This can quickly turn into an entertaining game for yourself, test yourself and see how you can make your days more uncomfortable.
I hope this rapid run down of some stress top tips has proved useful. Next time we will be looking at nutrition.