Élan’s note: This post is part of a series of stress-management strategies in honor of May being Mental Health Month. The original post in the series is here.
“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” –Jim Rohn
You’re stressed. You accept quick fixes, like a carton of ice cream or a new pair of shoes, but don’t deal directly with the causes of your stress. In the long run, these quick fixes harm rather than help. Shopping feels great until your credit card bill arrives. Ice cream tastes great until you step on the scale and see that you’ve gained five pounds. Those quick fixes help for a minute, but there are better strategies for dealing with stress. Ultimately, you need change.
Too often, we try to deal with stress by waiting it out and using those mildly harmful quick fixes in the meantime. Eventually, we have to make some changes–there’s only so much stress a person can take. Here are some ways to make real changes in your life so the real you can begin to blossom.
Target the cause of your stress
The first step toward a less stressful life is identifying the cause of your stress. Often, you will find a multitude of causes. Begin by selecting one. Trying to change every stressful aspect of your life at one time won’t work. It will just add to your stress level. Once you’ve selected a cause of stress to target, start making small changes. It’s easier to set many small goals than it is to set one big goal. The same is true for life changes. Make small changes that will help you feel better and lead to bigger changes. Goal setting is a big part of this.
Here are some examples of small changes for someone who hates their job:
- Set a goal of applying for a certain amount of new jobs each week.
- Find at least one new person to network with each week. Search company websites and LinkedIn to find someone who has your dream job, then ask them for an informational interview. Repeat.
- Pick up new skills to beef up your resume. It’s especially great if you can do this at your current job.
- Find ways to make your job more enjoyable. Is there anything you like about your current job? Do more of that.
A cause of stress for many people is having too much on their plate. Too many deadlines, too many meetings, too many obligations and responsibilities. Now is the time to start saying no. You don’t have to be mean about it. A simple “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the time and energy right now” is a perfectly fine (and polite) way to say no. Spending some of your time and energy on others is great, but you deserve to have personal time too. Saying no more often will also naturally weed out people in your life who aren’t important to you, allowing you to spend more time with the people who are.
Saying no gives you the chance to say yes to some things you’ve always wanted to do. Always wanted to try yoga? Say yes. Want a hot bath after work? Say yes. Try something new that interest you and enjoy every moment of the experience.
Change your habits
Habits are great things to change because once you get over the initial difficulty, they become ingrained. Changing habits, especially those related to health and wellness, can drastically impact your stress level. But don’t overdo it: pick one habit at a time to change. If you try to makeover every aspect of your life all at once, you will fail.
It’s easier to start by creating a good habit than by eliminating a bad one. Instead of cutting out all the sweets and junk food from your diet, trying adding some servings of fruits and vegetables. Then, start replacing the junk food with the good food. If that approach doesn’t work for you, you can go cold turkey and eliminate everything from day one. I used that method to cut soda from my diet and it went well for me, though I still caved occasionally at first. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up. Just start again. Leo Babauta has a great cheatsheet for changing habits if you’re having trouble.
You may not be able to change everything that is causing you stress, but you can change something.
What part of your life are you changing right now?
I’m trying to improve my health by getting fit. My diet is okay, but I don’t exercise nearly enough. In the past three months, I’ve started running and taken up yoga. It’s helped decrease my stress and made me happier all around. How about you?