If you’re feeling stressed, you need to chill out more, right? Wrong! The common stress busting methods of relaxation, meditation, and yoga class are not going to eliminate your feelings of stress, and could even make it worse.
Why? Let’s take a look at the definition of stress. Stress is a state where we feel like we don’t have the resources to cope with what’s happening (resources may include, time, money or talent). That very definition of stress – that feeling of not coping – also explains why relaxation alone can’t fix it.
While relaxation techniques are useful to physiologically reduce physical symptoms of stress once it’s been created, things like slowing down our breathing does little to actually solve the source of your problem – the feeling you can’t cope. Relaxation based stress methods are most useful when you feel like you don’t have enough time (see below for why), but if your stress isn’t based on that, then a meditation class won’t necessarily make you feel better – in fact in can make you feel worse!
This is because relaxation is essentially passive. You don’t do anything, you’re actively aiming not to do anything. If you’re already feeling weak, passive acceptance is not going to change that – in fact it can leave you feeling weaker.
So what should you do?
Get empowered instead.
Rather than passively working on dissolving stress once it arrives, you can stop new feelings of stress from being created at all. If you change your perception of what you can cope with, then your stress will disappear. If you feel able to cope with whatever life is throwing at you, if you feel strong enough to manage it, you won’t get stressed. You might be tired, frustrated or broke, but you won’t be stressed on top of it. You can avoid stress whether or not your circumstances change, and whether or not you spend time doing downward dog.
How to use empowerment to reduce stress
The basic idea is that you need to create the feeling of having more of whatever you think you’re lacking. When you feel like you have more (whether or not that’s objectively the case), your stress will go down. I’ll explain using the most common sources of stress below.
Short on time?
As I mentioned above, this is actually the type of stress which benefits most from relaxation and meditation type practices. To feel empowered about your time, you need to stop rushing and learn how to be in the moment. Remember, stress is all in your mind. If you’re doing one thing, and thinking about the next ten tasks, you’ll be stressed. If you’re doing one thing and just focussed on that, you won’t be stressed. The tasks don’t need to change. Just your mindset. Start to practice mindfulness of the present and you’ll feel like you have more time. And then you’ll feel more in control (Check out my blog post ‘Need More Time?’ for more information on this idea).
Short on talent?
If you’re getting stressed because you can’t perform at work, or as a parent, or lift enough at the gym, then take a break from that work and go spend some time doing something that you’re good at. Remind yourself of your strengths and boost your confidence again. Then come back and tackle the stressful tasks from this new, powerful perspective. And if this is a long term issue for you, admit it! You may need to gain empowerment from learning more. Read a book, take a class or hire a coach to get you to that next level where you know you can do the work required successfully.
Short on cash?
Meditation won’t fix this! To feel empowered and reduce your stress about money, you need to get creative and get thrifty. It might mean doing a proper budget finally, or it might mean that you start to call in favours or think outside cash to bartering or borrowing in order to get what you need in terms of things like house repairs or business services. What can you offer besides cash? Do some research into your problem – there are lots of bloggers who write about how to do more with less. Empower yourself by thinking outside the (cash) box and get what you need another way. Cash is just a means to an end. There are other ways to the end, and other ways to generate more cash.
Short on love?
If you’re feeling abandoned or distant from those around you, then take the power back. You can’t make other people love you, like you, or show you affection. But you know what other people respond to? Being treated well themselves. Often with relationships we get stuck in a ‘but they started it’ pattern where it feels hard to bridge the gap because we fear rejection, so we ignore them, they ignore us, and you both get to be ‘right’ – and miserable! Grab your courage (or your big girl pants) and re-establish connection through random text messages, compliments, a night out or just a hug. Doing something about the situation will reduce your stress, even if you don’t get the outcome you want straight away. After all, who could resist a barrage of your charms long term?!
So there you have it – powerful new ways to reduce you stress before it has a chance to take hold and derail you to the point you need to relax.
It’s time to take action on your area of stress so you can be your new, stress-free self!
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Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.