Coronavirus has increased stress and anxiety levels in my life and many others. We are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and uncertainty over our futures. We worry more about the health and safety of our loved ones, and our ability to help them when we cannot physically get where they are to help.
If like me you’re dealing with increased stress and anxiety, then you’ll find some simple techniques in this article that can help you better manage your stress and anxiety during these challenging times.
Why the clickbait title? A] Because it’s clickbait, and B] because this quote by Nathaniel Branden is often used in the self-improvement game, however, it has a dark side that I want to highlight.
On the one hand, I love the quote because we’re all in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating positive change in our lives - there’s a reason it’s called “self” improvement 😊.
However, on the other hand, I’m not a big fan because the quote can be misinterpreted and set you up for failure. Yes, we all need to “save ourselves”, but (it’s a big but) you’ll have more success if you get advice on the best methods and frameworks that will work for you. Find mentors that have been there before (the world is full of mentors [you just need to look]). And finally get support from your community.
Speaking of support, keep reading to learn two fundamental principles that you can apply to better manage your stress and anxiety levels. I’ve added examples of how I use them, and half a dozen proven techniques you can use successfully reduce stress, global pandemic or not!
Fundamental Principle 1: Understand how change works in your head (4-Step cognitive process)
Awareness (you can’t change anything unless you’re aware of it)
Acceptance (accept what you can and cannot change)
Responsibility (after you’ve accepted what you can change, then take responsibility for changing 👍)
Belief (Steps 1 – 3 don’t work very well unless you develop the self-belief that you can change)
Awareness can be super-simple, i.e. becoming aware of something in your life that you want to change. Such as exercise, keeping in touch with friends, or eating healthier. If you want to dig deeper, it’s about self-awareness. Developing self-awareness is an ongoing process that starts with self-discovery. There are dozens of self-discovery questions you can choose from, here are a few of my favourites to get you started:
If you asked your best friend(s) to describe you in a single sentence, what would they say?
What are your two biggest weaknesses?
What are your two biggest strengths?
What scares you and why?
Who do you admire and why?
What does your ideal “you” look like?
Think about a recent time you lost your temper, what was the catalyst / trigger?
Can you think of any other “triggers” in your life that tend to have a strong effect on you emotionally?
Imagine you were giving advice to yourself 10 years ago. What advice would you give the younger you?
Now jump 10 years into the future, imagine you’re living the life of your dreams. What does it look like?
Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, take a break and sleep on it. Then come back to them during a quiet time and reflect on your answers.
In relation to Step 2 acceptance, here is a brilliant stress-management exercise to help you understand what you can and cannot control. The PDF download is an excerpt from our Find Your Why Course. To complete the exercise, you’ll need about 30 minutes, 20 or so small Post It Notes and a pen or pencil.
Fundamental Principle 2: Change how you think about the past, present, and future.
Let’s look at what we should do less of:
Past: Stop letting your past define who you are today. If you don’t want to be the same person you were last year, month, or week, then trust me - you don’t have to be. Fun Fact: Your body replaces about 330 billion cells a day, so already you’re not the same person you were yesterday! Example: I used to drink too much; I probably still do. However, I’ve stopped thinking about myself as a ‘drinker’, so I now drink less. Remember, as Mahatma Gandhi said: “A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.”
Present: Stop comparing yourself to others. This is difficult, so rather than aiming to stop it completely (too hard!), instead try to compare yourself less often. Example: I spend a lot less time scrolling through social media feeds than I used to. Because I’ve found that when I am feeling a bit stressed or down (global pandemic anyone?), if I scroll through social - and see all the fun my “successful” friends are having – more often than not it makes me feel worse.
Future: Stop worrying about a future event that may not happen. Studies have shown that often stress is related to people worrying about the future. In times of uncertainty this stressor can be blown out of proportion. Example: Because of covid I have less visibility of my income in 2022. Income is important so this is a cause of stress for me. My solution is to remind myself that the future is out of my control (the future is in your Circle of Influence from the stress-management exercise above). Then I list what actions I can do in the present - that are in my control - to minimise the risk of income loss in 2022.
What should we do more of?
Past: Ask yourself if there are moments in your past that reinforce a negative image that you have of yourself? First, try cognitive reframing to view those moments through a more positive lens. If the moment was a mistake you made, then forgive yourself and move on. Personally, I love that the Stoics don’t wallow in guilt, they learn from their mistakes and move on. In addition to cognitive reframing and forgiveness, you can also see if there are any lessons you can take from how you dealt with that moment in time. You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. Another great Stoic mindset to help is to view any obstacle as an opportunity. The worst possible obstacle can always be turned into an opportunity. Let’s consider a tragedy that on the surface appears to offer no opportunity. What about if how you react and respond to the tragedy is the opportunity? If all else fails think about how your response and actions can help other people cope better with the tragedy. That is the opportunity. Example: Let’s lighten the mood a bit and bring it back to beer. As above, I used to view myself as a drinker, now I don’t, so I drink less. However, changing my mindset isn’t enough. I needed a little help which is where I rely on a classic ‘breaking-bad-habits’ technique of increasing friction in my environment. Every Monday I remove any cold beer from the fridge, this increases the ‘friction’ by making it harder for me to have a nice cold beer. That’s because I would need to put the beer in the fridge, then wait for 30-min for it to cool down, before I could enjoy it. That half hour is the ‘friction’. It doesn’t always work (I could use the freezer, and I quite like red wine too 🍷). However, often I cannot be bothered waiting and I lose interest. I also make sure I have a replacement ready to go, which is either a cool non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic drink.
Present: When you’re comparing yourself to others, start comparing the right things. Not the house they live in, the car they drive, the holidays they go on. Instead, learn what behaviours and values are important to you, and then compare those things. Example: One of my core values is putting my family above all else. When I catch myself starting to compare the wrong things (it happens all the time), first, I remind myself to stop being a dick. Then, I start comparing something that is important to me, like being a good dad. This is a super-powerful technique, because when you compare what’s important to you, often you’ll find that the comparison is more positive.
Future: Start with creating a few future-focused goals, then the strategies, and present-day activities within the strategies to help you achieve those goals. Once you have your Strategic Plan for Life created you have a tactical tool to help you stay focused on the present. Going forward, when you catch yourself stressing out about a future event (that may or may not happen), check your Plan to see what you can start or stop doing today to minimise the likelihood of that event happening. Example: As above, when I start stressing out about where the money will come from next year, I take a breath or three (deep breathing exercises are great a reducing stress). I then revisit my Strategy to shore up my income streams and commit to completing some of the activities in my Plan today. Automatically this reduces my stress levels.
So that’s a wrap:
Awareness > Acceptance > Responsibility > Belief
Past, Present, and Future
Once you understand and start applying these fundamental principles to your daily life, you will immediately see a reduction in your stress and anxiety levels.
If you’re interested in learning more, you know where to reach me 💌 📞. You can also check out more blog posts, short video clips, or download a free Quick Guide on our home page to help you better manage your time and stress.