A friend called me this week and he was in a surprisingly good mood. Surprising because earlier that day he hit an ice patch while driving through his neighborhood and then plowed into a stationary car. The good news was no one was hurt at all. The better news is what he told me about how he handled his stressful situation: “Three months ago I would have let this ruin my morning or even the entire day. Today’s accident was frustrating, sure, but it didn’t stress me out the way it would have in the past”.
My friend did what not many know how to do—to stop stress before it gets hold of you. Here are three surprisingly effective ways to do that:
Make sure your conscious mind is driving the bus
To handle stress on the spot and prevent it from controlling you, you have to use your conscious mind to interrupt the patterns of your subconscious mind. The truth is, most of us have a habitual, patterned response to frustrations, annoyances, disappointments, mistakes and failure we can call the “typical stress response.”
Surprising stress relief technique: The next time you feel a stress attack coming on, take a breath and ask yourself this simple question: “What is driving my bus—my conscious mind or my subconscious mind?” This one simple question will interrupt the typical stress response your subconscious mind automatically went into and make it easier for you to use the next two techniques.
Give your problem to a friend
When something happens to us, it’s terrible—and it’s going to get worse. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the point. Stress is about perspective and some people have more practice in getting and maintaining perspective than others. If you want to handle your stress you have to start mastering the art of seeing your problems and challenges from a solution perspective.
Surprising stress relief technique: If you’re really stressing yourself over something, take it to a friend who will be able to look at your challenges from the outside and with a clearer mind. She will be in a stronger positon to help you problem solve—and if she needs to she can give you a kick in the rear end to take action to get out of your automatic stress response.
Bonus stress relief technique: If you don’t have access to a friend, get two chairs and face them towards each other. Sit in one chair and see you friend in that chair. Have him tell you all about his stress—which happens to be the same stressful situation you’re in—exactly the same. Listen empathetically, ask a few questions and let him say everything he needs to say. Just listen until he’s finished. What would you tell your friend? That his situation is horrible and hopeless? Of course not. So what would you tell him? That’s exactly what you can now tell yourself.
Turn your stress around in three minutes:
Remember what I said about most people’s response to stress being automatic and habitual? The problem with that is most of their automatic responses only keep the stress going. You can do the opposite. You can begin to practice a new response to things that used to set you off or put you in a bad mood. All it takes is three minutes.
Surprising effective of three minute stress relievers:
1. Turn on some upbeat music
2. Read your gratitude list (if you don’t have one, make one up on the spot)
3. Watch a funny or heart-warming video on YouTube.
4. Sing an upbeat song out loud to yourself (don’t try this at the office.)
5. Do some old school calisthenics.
6. Call a friend and bring up a good memory of a time you’ve had with them.
7. Get moving and take a very brief three minute walk.
8. Listen to three minutes of a meditation video on youtube.
9. Stretch your body and feel the tension going out of it.
10. Remind yourself that if you don’t use these simply effective stress relievers, you’re allowing your subconscious mind to drive the bus. Then imagine your conscious mind saying, “Let me drive for a while.” (Note: Yes, you likely know all the things in this list—there are no surprises here. However, they work surprisingly well.)