Because it taxes your physical resources, your body's built-in stress response is intended to be brief. You've heard that chronic stress experienced in relationships or jobs is linked to serious illness like heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. Indeed, unchecked stress can cut up to seven years off of your life.
According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, 94% of us are well aware that stress can contribute to major illnesses. But regardless of these well-known serious implications, only 29% say they're managing it well.
Indeed, stress management is a multi-billion dollar business. But how well are we doing when the majority say their stress is increasing instead of decreasing, with a sobering 25% saying they're under extreme stress?
Let's take a moment to reflect on how we relate to stress. Researchers insist that stress is an inevitable part of modern life. They're quick to point out what they call external stressors like environmental pollution and noise.
Internal stress is caused by poor nutrition, anxious thoughts, a sedentary lifestyle and accidents. Social stress includes deadlines, presentations, and disagreements with coworkers and loved ones.
Psychologists even cooked up the term eustress, a positive form of stress that coincides with a change in status or new responsibilities, like a promotion, marriage, buying a home or having a baby.
I wholeheartedly disagree with their entire premise. Excitement isn't stressful. And stress is neither pervasive nor inevitable.
In fact, it's almost completely avoidable. Our ancestors' only long-term stressor was famine. Today, we've figured out how to maintain a consistent food source, so there are no legitimate chronic stressors left.
Yes, you're doing a lot these days, but 100% of the stress you feel is manufactured by your attitude about what you're doing. Let me be clear. I don't think you're a drama queen (or king). You're just going along with the best intentions of a misguided crowd.
However, there's a hefty downside to agreeing with the majority. Believing that stress is an unavoidable fact of life locks you into having that experience of unhappiness and premature death.
So freeing yourself from stress starts with acknowledging that it's possible to be free from stress. It's a whole new internal conversation.
Your stress eradication program can start with these two common categories of stressful thoughts:
1) One or more aspects of this situation is beyond my ability to control it.
Feeling out of control spawns stress and anxiety. The Serenity Prayer fits well here, because stress is replaced with an inner calm when you accept the things you can't change, focus on changing the things you can, and knowing the difference between the two.
2) I don't possess the skills to be successful in this situation.
You'll feel anxious, frustrated and stressed any time you feel you're not up to the task at hand. Conversely, confidence is a stress buster. So anything you do to build your confidence will automatically reduce your stress load.
If you don't want to feel stressed, you can shift your attitude immediately, and instantly begin to reap the benefits. Beyond just managing stress, you can permanently eliminate most of it.
Here's how the process works.
Step 1. Form a detailed picture in your head of how your life could be better if you felt less stress. You're enjoying your downtime more. Work and personal life are feeling more balanced.
You have more energy. You're healthier. Stronger. You're feeling peaceful inside. You're laughing more. You're loving more. Include anything and everything that jazzes you up.
Want that? Yeah! Let's get it for you.
Step 2. Shift your attitude from accepting stress as inevitable, to occasional. Rather than feeling your stress level rise all day long, consider a multitude of options for permanently eliminating as much stress as you can.
Step 3. Ask yourself this question: What can I do right now that will begin to relieve some of the stress I'm feeling?
Step 4. Think about stress reduction in terms of baby steps. Your success with eliminating stress over the long term hinges on tiny, incremental daily steps. What's one thing you can stop doing that's not really important to you? What can you delegate to someone else? What can you start doing that will feel more satisfying?
Also consider the stress relievers you're already doing. From meditation and yoga to hot fudge sundaes and watching comedies, choose the activities that fit your personality and lifestyle and do more of them, more often.
Step 5. Begin to get comfortable with the idea that stress can be avoided. When you notice your tension rising, pause to consider how you can think differently about the situation, instead of thinking that it's stressful. What can you focus on that will feel more calm? How can you stop trying to control something you can't? How can you apply your skills for your greatest benefit?
Even on the most hectic days, you'll feel less stress if you find ways to go with the flow of what's happening. Guide your energy toward your goals instead of pushing too hard. Get the job done, without wasting energy on unnecessary stress. With practice, you'll find that you feel stress only in the short bursts that nature intended. Practice makes stressless!
Today's Coaching Question: What's one thing you can do today to begin permanently reducing your stress?
Judy Widener is a Certified Life Coach and author of Power For A Lifetime: Tools You Customize to Build Your Personal Power Every Day Of Your Life. You can sign up for Discovering Your Values, a 5-day e-course at no cost at http://www.myinnerfrontiers.com. Her passion is assisting her clients to discover what is most important to them, then to create more balance and satisfaction in their lives. Empowerment Life Coaching is a comprehensive program that teaches clients simple ways to build their personal power and overcome obstacles to achieving their dreams. Judy has coached more than 600 people over the past 13 years. Her website is http://www.myinnerfrontiers.com.