Goldenthread no attDo you know anyone who is not overstressed and overworked? We arrive at work after an insane commute, already stressed out from financial issues, relationship issues, health issues and body image problems.

Then at work we have to cope with increased workloads, are often out of our depth and sometimes worried about job security.

No wonder we are so stressed!

There is lots of advice on how to cope with stress. There are lots of magazine articles and blogs about eating better, or getting more sleep or taking take time out.

But let’s get real. How does that help you cope with a client from hell or when your loved-one is having a hissy-fit?

Here are five practical strategies that will help you remain sane and cope with real stress in the moment:

Strategy one: Decide to keep cool

Decide not to lose your temper. While you didn’t choose the aggravating event, the good news is you can choose how to react to it. Choosing your reaction is the starting point to cope with stress in the moment.

What to do: Choose to respond with logic rather than being overwhelmed by high emotion. Choose not to be manipulated into saying or doing something that you later regret. Make the choice!

Strategy two: Pause before reacting

We are biologically programmed to react to threats immediately as if they are life threatening. That served us well in our ancient past. It’s not so useful today however, where we need to take thoughtful decisions to deal with complex issues we face.

What to do:  Slow yourself down. To delay responding, pause and breathe; count to 10; never interrupt the other person. Asking a question is a good way of slowing down a tense exchange.

Strategy three: Choose your explanation

Amazingly, our feelings of stress don’t come from an upsetting event itself. Our feelings come from our interpretation of the event.

Let me explain. Say for example, you make what you think is a very helpful suggestion to a colleague, but he lashes out angrily at you.

You may interpret his response as being deliberately disrespectful to you. In which case, you may feel hurt and angry. Alternatively, you may interpret his response as him having a bad day, and therefore you may feel surprise and somewhat sorry for him.

These are very different responses to the same event. What’s important is that his angry response to you didn’t cause your feelings — your interpretation and explanation to yourself of the event lead to your feelings.

What to do:  Choose to explain events in your life that creates good outcomes for you. You can do this by putting that radio-talk-show that’s always on in your head to use. Talk kindly to yourself, the way your best friend would. Tell yourself to react in a way that is in line with your values and how you would like to live your life.

Strategy four: Keep perspective

Stress comes from your thoughts and feelings in the moment. This is made worse when if you lose your perspective. So you need to keep perspective, particularly when you feel really stressed and overwhelmed.

 What to do:  Ask yourself what you really, really want in the situation. What is the best long-term outcome? For example, with your hostile teenage offspring, in the short-term you might want them to comply with your instructions: “While you under my roof, you will do it my way!”

In contrast, your long-term thinking might want them to take accountability for their actions as they grow up. That requires a different response from you, such as: “You’re frustrated because you want to do what your friends are doing. Could there be any negative consequences of you also doing that?”

Strategy five: Reflect and learn for next time

To beat overstress, you should try to cope incrementally better with your stress each day. This will build your overall stress coping capacity.

What to do:  Reflect each day on stressful situations you dealt with that had a good outcome. Try to identify what you did to keep your cool and handle the situation successfully. They may be steps that you took or a process that you used that lead to the success. Congratulate yourself and commit to doing more of that tomorrow.

While we haven’t got complete control over what happens to us, we are able to substantially influence our reaction to what happens to us. These five strategies will help you cope with real stress and live your life in alignment with your goals and values. Go on, try them and see how they work for you.

ADVANCE NOTICE: A new video-based course is coming to help overworked and overwhelmed people by guiding them through personal changes to live their life to the fullest. Watch for announcements!

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