November 15, 2018

11 Ways to Limit Stress when Life's in the Dumps

Who doesn't love “good luck”?  When everything is going great and things just seem to turn out how we want them to.  A period like this happened to me recently.  My career was going well, my side business (now my full-time) was seeing consistent growth, my relationships with friends and family were wonderful and I had even found a beautiful woman to share it all with.  Everything in my life was extremely good. 

It ’s easy to stay excited and satisfied when life happens as we hope.  Energy is not hard to find, it’s easy to see the good and staying positive is simple.  Fears are easier to overcome and when something bad happens we "shake it off" as though it was nothing.  But what happens when the tide turns?  Are you a positive person? 

Most people would answer "yes" and I believe most people do intend to remain positive when things turn dark.  I believe we all want good things to happen, to see the best in people and try to make every day a great day.  But, as we’ve all experienced…what happens when the crap hits the fan?  What about when nothing seems to go your way?  What if the cards being dealt are consistently bad? The major challenge with being positive comes when life is going NOT well. 

It’s when life is dragging and mundane.  It’s when we are slapped, bombarded, and crushed by a number of trials and tribulations, often triggered by one major event.  Because we live in such a chaotic, fast-paced,  ever-changing, instant gratification world, we can become instant prey to the circling vultures of stress, negativity, and uncertainty.  If you show any sign of weakness they will swarm and pick at you little by little until you are fully broken down. 

During these hard times, doubts arise, fear creeps in our mind and our innermost insecurities come to the surface.  If we let stress continue to accumulate it becomes a vicious cycle of negativity.  It’s fear, doubt, frustration, anger, sadness, depression, etc. This is when principles, priorities, passion, and positivity become paramount to your life. 

One of the questions I like to ask myself when high stress hits is the following: “What people, places or things should, or can only be changed by me?”

The Stress Snowball

I’m sure we’ve all experienced a time in our life when it felt we've been beaten down by stress; even completely demoralized by it (perhaps you're there now).  Don't worry, I've been there too.  I was weathered to my last nerve, every minute seemed to wear on me, and I was about to rage on someone.  I hated feeling like I was always on edge. 

The constant tension lead to heated arguments.  Some with those personally close to me and others professionally.  I often felt like just running away.  I'd make up ridiculous excuses for my anger and was completely embarrassed by my behavior (although I felt it was justified at the time).  It frequently took me to the brink of tears.  

If I didn’t break down crying I would find myself in my car, music blasting, in hopes of feeling better.  I couldn’t eat though I was often starving.  I slept very little although I couldn’t keep my eyes open.  Accomplishing things became extremely difficult.  I just didn’t want to be there.  

I was exhausted, overwhelmed and a pessimist on the job.  I often felt like no one cared.  When they did offer, my pride would step in and I didn’t want to “burden them with my problems”.  I believed no one understood what I was going through.  Anything they said just made me more irritated and frustrated. This negativity unknowingly increased my fear.  I could not tell the difference from a good opportunity and bad circumstances.  

More and more I found myself surrounded by bad influences.  Sometimes I felt that for every glimpse of hope there was, a problem ten times bigger would pop up. Do you see where I'm going with this?  

Because I let these issues build up instead of handling them constructively one unfortunate outcome became a big, bruising snowball of stress and other negative emotions. There are many ways to combat stress during trials and tribulations I just chose to ignore them.  

Luckily, I eventually came to my senses and pulled my life out of the dumps.  Here's how:

  • Find Your Foundation.  The most common reason I struggled was a fragmented belief system.  I didn’t know who I was, what I stood for or the things I valued.  I was living a life based on others expectations instead of my own principles and purpose.  Take a deeply introspective look into whether you are acting to please others – to please family, friends, and/or society.  Foundationally, what are your principles and values?  What are the qualities you can always fall back on and bring your life back in to focus when times get tough?
  • Align the Positives. What are the qualities you have that you like about yourself or what natural characteristics do you have that people enjoy and gravitate towards?  In what ways do you prefer to think, feel and behave?  Are you caring?  Are you funny? Are you intelligent? Are you honest? Are you selfless? What everyday tasks in your life do you take pride in?  All of these things are connected to your natural strengths.  Focus on the positive things in your life. You are always influencing others.  Others are always being inspired, motivated or influenced by you, even if you don't realize it.
  • Change Your Mindset.  Life is about creating yourself.  When you find yourself in the midst of trials and tribulations, it’s easy to get in a bad mood, turn negative and go into a bitch session. You can crawl into a shell, avoid everyone and beat yourself up with negative self-talk.   Or you can explore these thoughts, be honest with ourselves and manage the negativity better.  If we're being honest sure we may not be where we want to be in a variety of areas.  But, handling it with negativity doesn't help and can be defeating.  Not having adequate knowledge or skills does not mean you are not smart or talented.  Change your mind.  Look for the opportunities in adversity, listen for the advice you can put to use and lessons you can benefit from in the future.  Repetitive recommendations from a variety of different trusted sources offer a good place to explore and take action.
  • Love Yourself. Look in the mirror. Find an appreciation for the beautiful person you are…. Do you take care of your skin or hair? Do you have a sense of style? Do you have a beautiful smile or eyes? fit physique? Find what appeals to you.  If you can’t find something ask loved ones close to you. When you can’t change something, change your attitude towards it.  Remember, every person matters to someone. You are special and you're here for a reason.
  • Make a Choice.  Don’t dance around or prolong a decision.  Just decide.  There are ridiculously wealthy people living in mansions who are miserable and poor people living in cardboard on the streets who are perfectly happy.  How is that?  They made a choice, either subconsciously or consciously.  It’s all about how you look at things and how you choose to feel each individual moment.  Every day you have the opportunity to make choices that will build the life you want.  If you’re not where you want to be yet, your choices landed you exactly where you are.  Remember that your life is your own and its direction is your choice. You don’t have to be who other people tell you that you are. You can change your life by choosing the direction that matters to you and pursuing it one small step at a time.
  • Design a Life Plan. What is your vision?  How do you get there?  What can you do to make your life better? What do you desire to do? How do you want to feel? What solutions and strategies do you have in place to achieve these things? This doesn’t mean you need a step by step process planned out right now.  It’s simply having a process setting milestones and knowing what's needed to conquer each one.  The first steps are usually the hardest – asking for help when you need it, admit when you made a mistake and allow yourself wiggle room to adjust and tweak the plan.
  • Believe You'll Get lucky.  The cards we are dealt in life aren't always based on us, but rather luck. Where we land a job, when we find love, or what opportunity will bring us great wealth are sometimes random things. It’s what you do with it that matters.  No everything is in our control, however, many believe the smarter and harder you work the luckier you get.
  • Be Ambitious. What motivates you is short lived.  Motivation spikes your energy but lacks sustainability.  What is it that you desire enough to continue on every day? Is it love? Family? Health? God? Fulfillment? Freedom?  If you can find the few ambitions that keep you inspired in your hardest, darkest moments then you'll rarely find yourself in the dumps.  Give yourself a boost by focusing on what is important to you.  Be conscious of this regularly and you may be amazed by the results.
  • Have Patience. There will be a tomorrow. There will be the next week. There will be the next month and perhaps in one of those instants, things will have changed for the better.  You have time, especially if you’re young and in a bad situation.  Your life is your own and all the things you could do to better it will come into reach if you truly want them, even if they’re difficult to attain.  Although there is time find a way to be both productive and patient.
  • R & R. Not rest and relaxation, although that could help, but reflect and reminisce.  Whenever you feel like the future is ‘bleak and/or hopeless’, think about the happy times. It will help make you feel better and remind you that when you are committed no matter what to someone or something there will be good times. Think about all the good things you’ve experienced, felt, and achieved, and consider how many more good things could be waiting ahead.  Whether you noticed it or not, those good times took a lot of energy and work.  Don't live in the past, but use it to help make better choices going forward.  There will be many great moments in your life – don’t let a few obstacles get in the way. Initially, if you find it tough to remember any happy memories then think of the moments it wasn’t as bad.  Or start journaling what you are grateful for today.  Pick even the smallest of every day things like nice weather, your cute pet, a sweet note or text message from your other half, a friendly hello from a complete stranger.  This exercise will help you to remember and help you begin to more frequently recognize all the wonderful things in your life.
  • Enjoy Yourself. It’s okay to step back once in a while and just enjoy the moment. Many of my favorite moments come in the middle of something.  Even in tough situations - I’ll consciously catch myself in the midst of the “mind clutter” of a day or a moment, stop, think to myself “I love life” and just smile and laugh.  Don’t restrict yourself from doing things you love because others may consider them ”not important” or because you think you’ll be criticized for doing them.  Enjoy life, even if you’re not at the best place you could be. You only live once – make the best of it.

So I go back to the question I started with,”What people, places or things should, or can only be changed by me?”  The list above is filled with several things that you can change to limit stress.  Don’t just try and do it all yourself, remember those close to you are valuable when pulling yourself from the dumps.  Imagine them as a team.  This experience will only make your relationships stronger.

Remember that there is something epic and heroic in rising from harsh circumstances to do something well. Just surviving a rough situation and coming out of it with a heart is a triumph, a story that could move people long after you lived. That matters.”  -Unknown

Please feel free to comment below as I look forward to hearing how these worked for you.

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