Are you feeling stressed today? I almost didn’t ask the question because I already know the answer. Sometimes it can feel like stress is simply an inevitable byproduct in living in a go-go-go, performance based society. And as we get older, our resilience to the stress decreases just as our bodies and lives are undergoing major shifts – making us vulnerable to the sometimes dangerous effects that stress can have on our physical and emotional wellbeing. It can certainly make us feel out of control!
But what if you are actually more in control of things than you know? What if the simple belief that have some control is the key to a life with less stress? Would you be willing to believe it? I hope so, because if you’re willing to give it a shot, these tips for reducing mid-life stress can help!
In fact, managing stress is all about empowering yourself. You have the power to take charge of your life, to focus on the positive things in life rather than the things that take your time, energy and ‘life’ from you. In doing so, you can create a balanced life with time for work and responsibilities and relaxation and fun. Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce stress in your life right now.
1. IDENTIFY THE SOURCES OF STRESS IN YOUR LIFE
Yes, list all of those sources of stress that quickly come to mind: relationships, work, the kids. These are all obvious, but some of the most harmful stressors are those that linger below the surface and are more difficult to identify: negative self-talk, pessimistic thoughts, self-destructive behaviors. Sometimes the larger picture of “I’m stressed about finances” goes back to the deeper issue of “I don’t believe in myself and took a job that doesn’t pay well and that I’m overqualified for.”
To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at the habits, thoughts and excuses you use to keep yourself stuck in circumstances that don’t work. Sadly, we often play a role in both creating or maintaining our stressful life circumstances. Once we admit our part, the stress levels will lessen – because understanding how we contribute to our stress is the first step in changing those circumstances and taking back some healthy control
2. START A STRESS JOURNAL
When we keep stress in our body, it can cause all kinds of physical ailments – not to mention the toll it takes on our productivity and relationships. The simple act of starting a stress journal can help to identify the causes of stress in our lifes. Keep a daily log detailing the incidents of stress: what was the cause, how did you feel, what did you do, did your response make you feel better or worse? By keeping a log of your daily stressors, you will begin to see a pattern of causes and responses and will be better able to recognize what works for you and what doesn’t.
I want to help you become your healthiest self. So, I created a stress journal page that you can download and print off as you wish. It will help you to track your stressors and responses. It’s a great first step in the journey. You can get yours by clicking on this button:
3. ANALYZE YOUR CURRENT COPING STRATEGIES
As you look over your stress journal, ask yourself: Are you coping strategies helpful or not? Does your coping style leave you feeling better for the moment but worse in the long run? Are your responses healthy or unhealthy? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem.
4. NAME YOUR UNHEALTHY COPING STRATEGIES
Some examples of unhealthy coping styles are: smoking; drinking; over- or undereating; zoning out in front of the TV or computer; withdrawing from family, friends, or activities; using pills to relax; sleeping too much; procrastinating; mentally beating yourself up; busyness; lashing out at others. It may be one of these or something else – whatever your stress-managing strategies are, list each one.
5. ADOPT HEALTHIER WAYS OF REDUCING STRESS
Here, we’ve reached a pivotal point in the process of living a healthier life. It’s time to choose change. We could attempt to white-knuckle it through the stress without adopting new habits and skills, but it’s doubtful that anything will change for the long term. Instead, let’s take a look at some positive things we can do to deal with stressors and get them under control.
Remember, though, that we can read and read all we like, but nothing is going to change until we make the choice to change. We can either change the situation by avoiding or altering the stressor or we can change our response to the stressor by adapting to or accepting it. What follows are some concrete changes you can make.
If you’re like many women in midlife who are soon to be empty nesters or who have struggled to adjust to an empty nest, your copy strategies may be causing you to be stuck and unable to move forward. If you’re having trouble embracing this new season of life and seeing it as an opportunity rather than a burden, please, click the link below to request my e-booklet, Finding Joy in an Empty Nest – it’s chock full of strategies for thriving in this season and has a whole page of God’s promises that you can pray for your kiddos.
6. AVOID UNNECESSARY STRESS
a) Learn how to say “no”. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress. A simple, “I’m sorry, I can’t this time,” will suffice.
b) Avoid people who stress you out . After you’ve attempted to resolve relational struggles, it’s ok to limit or end relationships with individuals who cause you stress.
c) Take control of your environment. Identify situations that get your blood pumping and alter it. There are almost always options if you’re willing to be flexible.
d) Avoid controversial topics. If there are particular topics that get you upset, feel free to excuse yourself from the conversation.
e) Pare down your to-do list – If you’ve got too much on your plate, pare down your tasks. Ask yourself if the task is a “must do” or “would like to do,” a “need” or a “want.”
7. ALTER THE SITUATION
Often, altering the situation involves changing something about the way you operate.
a) Express your feelings – Share the facts, how you interpreted the situation (what you make up about it), how you feel and what you need. Then, let it go.
b) Be willing to compromise. It is unreasonable to expect others to be flexible if you’re not willing to do the same. A little give and take can go far in any situation.
c) Be more assertive. While there is no need to be rude, don’t take a back seat in your own life. Say what you need, set boundaries and take care of yourself while honoring the dignity of others in the process.
d) Manage your time better – Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.
If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
a) Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
b) Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
c) Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection from yourself and others. Set reasonable standards and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
d) Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
9. SHIFT YOUR ATTITUDE
Each time you think a negative thought, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you can focus on the positive, you are more likely to feel good and reduce negative stress. Eliminate words such as “always,” “never,” “should,” and “must.” These are telltale marks of negative thought patterns.
10. ACCEPT THE THINGS YOU CAN’T CHANGE
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national crisis. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
a) Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as your reactions.
b) Look for the upside – When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
c) Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
d) Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
11. MAKE TIME FOR FUN AND RELAXATION
a) Go for a walk.
b) Spend time in nature.
c) Call a friend.
d) Get in a good workout.
e) Write in your journal.
f) Take a long bath.
g) Light scented candles.
h) Savor a warm cup of tea.
i) Play with a pet.
j) Work in the garden.
k) Get a massage.
l) Curl up with a book.
m) Listen to music.
n) Watch a good comedy.
o) Start a new hobby.
p) Pray and meditate.
12. MAKE SELF-CARE A PRIORITY
a) Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
b) Connect with others – Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
c) Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
d) Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.
13. PRACTICE DEEP BREATHING
Deep breathing techniques can evoke the body’s relaxation response – a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. Regularly practicing these techniques will build your physical and emotional resilience, heal your body, and boost your overall feelings of joy and balance.
14. ADOPT A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.
a) Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats exercise for releasing pent-up stress.
b) Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals.
c) Reduce caffeine and sugar intake. The temporary “highs” caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
d) Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
e) Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally and act impulsively.
15. RELAX INTO IT
Take your right hand and hold it gently over your forehead with the bottom of your hand just resting on the bridge of your nose, covering your eyes. Now, take your left hand and hold it on your heart and repeat, “I can do this. I deserve life, hope and healing. I’m releasing stress (to God) now.” Hold this position for a 3 – 5 minutes or until your feel relaxed enough to get on with your day.
How are you feeling? This is a lot of information, but if you make yourself a priority you can do this! Start at the beginning, take baby steps and be kind to yourself. Remember, the simple acceptance of the fact that there are things you can do to take control of your circumstances can do wonders to alleviate your stress level.