Americans are a stressed-out bunch. Regardless of sex or age, we’re reporting elevated levels of up-at-night anxiety over work, finances and relationships. In 2012, 35% of respondents to the American Psychological Association’s annual stress survey reported their stress had increased in the past year. In advance of the APA’s 2013 figures – scheduled to be released next week – here are three tricks to keeping your stress levels under control. And, no, meditation isn’t involved.
Check your vitals
Eating well, staying hydrated, exercising well and sleeping enough won’t keep stressful events from happening, but not doing the above decreases your ability to do everything from fighting off the common cold to doing battle with a landlord who refuses to fix your leaking sink. When you’re tired, hungry or lacking in energy, problems seem more overwhelming and unmanageable. In fact, Snickers has built a whole celebrity-studded ad campaign around what happens when we don’t fuel ourselves properly. When the going gets tough, the tough don’t let themselves get low blood sugar.
Think past the stress
A great trick my mother caught us when we were young was not to focus on an anxiety-producing situation (a test, a dentist’s appointment, etc.), but to envision the relief and calm you’ll feel after it’s over. Focus on the fact that this time tomorrow, or next week, you’ll be done with that board of directors’ presentation or you’ll be sitting amid a stack of boxes in your new condo. The goal is to look forward to the relief vs. dreading the event. If that doesn’t work for you, reframing the source of stress might. Research from Harvard Business School that found that convincing yourself you’re excited instead trying to calm yourself down before a typically anxiety-producing event (singing karaoke, for example) results in a better performance and lower anxiety.
Cut your craziness some slack
If filing your income taxes induces panic and taking a bath brings you serenity, who says you can’t do your taxes in the tub? Sometimes, the best way to cope with stress is to cut yourself with some slack. Don’t let self-care slide, but accept that you might have to jettison some other opportunities in order to focus on the most urgent priorities. Accept that dealing with a spouse’s sudden illness means that dishes are probably going to pile up in the sink and the dust bunnies will go un-vacuumed. Realize that the “right” way to handle stress is whatever works for you and doesn’t cause harm to others, regardless of how unorthodox it might look from the outside. Just try not to let your 1040 get wet.