The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than 80% of visits to primary care physicians are due to stress related illnesses. Clearly the benefits to less stress extend beyond making you happier – improving your wellbeing impacts your health. In fact, studies show learning to manage stress can add 10 high quality years to your life. Here are 14 strategies for mitigating stress:
1. Decide to be happy. Increase your awareness of what will heighten your life satisfaction. Rather than relying on quick fixes such as shopping, eating and drinking, focus on activities that will bring genuine joy into your life, such as loving someone.
2. Value happiness. Good stress management choices are based on having clear values. For example, if love is important to you, are you spending enough time and energy on your relationships or are you exhausting yourself at work?
3. Happiness is an inside job. You are the only person who has the power to decide whether or not you’ll be happy. You can manage stressful events by explaining them as temporary, specific, and situational. That translates into thinking: “This too shall pass. There are other good parts of my life. What can I do to improve the situation?”
4. Think about happiness. People who are unhappy dwell on their problems, and find fault with themselves and others. That’s not thinking – that’s wallowing. Thinking involves solving your problems, and determining how to bring out the best in yourself and others.
5. Picture yourself being happy. To break free of ruminating on problems you must see what your life will look like once the problem’s resolved. Picturing positive outcomes allows your brain to orient itself to mapping out the steps that will move you in the right direction.
6. Be happy now. Ask yourself what small step you can take to build and broaden the positive parts of your life every day. Focus on the progress you’re making on increasing your joy. Celebrate daily success.
7. Practice appreciation. Look for three good experiences each day for which you are grateful. Express appreciation to people who helped make them happen. The more you practice appreciating what’s good about your life, yourself, and other people, the bigger your happiness bank account becomes. Then you’ll have plenty of positives in reserve when negative events affect your balance.
8. Practice forgiveness. Bad things happen to good people. Good people make bad mistakes. Holding onto negative emotions extends your suffering. Don’t give unhappy thoughts a home in your head. Let negative feelings drift away by telling yourself “…and it’s forgiven.” Forgiveness allows you to move on to making yourself happy again.
9. Create positives to counterbalance negatives. You need to generate a minimum of 3 positive moments to offset the negative emotions that are automatically aroused by a stressful situation. Keep a list of what makes you happy, and generate at least 3 of those experiences to neutralize the negative.
10. Do it anyway. If you don’t take action to generate positive emotions because you don’t feel like it, you’ll entrench yourself in unhappiness. It’s especially important to do something to feel good when you’re feeling bad. Being proactive rather than reactive will stop your body from continuing to flood you with stress chemicals, allowing it to restore healthy biochemistry.
11. Practice being happy. Happiness is like a muscle – it gets stronger the more you exercise it. Keeping yourself happy is like staying in shape. You’ll become better at it the more you do it. Over time it becomes easier to do. Eventually generating happiness becomes a habit that you really miss if you don’t do it.
12. Make others happy. Doing good things for others will keep your relationships working well because what goes around almost always comes back around. Knowing that you’re a person who makes other people feel good will also give you a deep sense of satisfaction about who you are as a person.
13. Attitude creates gratitude. People appreciate those who have a good attitude. A ‘poor me’ attitude only gets you poor results no matter how much you do for others. If you want to be respected for your efforts, be the person who provides lots of positive reinforcement for the contributions of others.
14. Keep your spirits up. You can face any challenge in life if you have faith in yourself and the higher power. To renew your energy, you need to make time to replenish your spirit through meditation, prayer, or communing with nature.