Generally speaking, I define stress as anything that tries to knock me off my positive path. Some of my stressors are biggies—work deadlines looming, parenting, marriage or friendship questions swirling, or life transitions like mourning a loved one. But I never talk about stress without including the micro-stressors—traffic that’s making me late, a missing ingredient for a planned dinner, a Wi-Fi outage just as I’m about to press “send” on an important email—I encounter every single day. What is the best way to stay calm and positive when stressors seem to be around every corner?
The American Psychological Association’s 2015 Stress in America survey offers hopeful data to suggest that stress and positivism don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Even though the survey found a high percentage of Americans report high levels of stress in their lives, nearly 60%—an increase from a previous survey—reported feeling positive about their lives and future.
What does it look like to have a positive outlook when stress presents itself? April—National Stress Awareness Month—seems like the perfect time to share some tips that help me keep both micro- and macro-stress in check.
1. Do a Quick Body Scan
Sometimes, managing stress requires some detective work, sending you on the hunt for where and how stress is showing up in your body. When I feel the day tipping toward the “stressed out” column, I mentally scan my body to see what it might need to block stress’ entry. Is my neck craning forward? Is my lower back tight? Am I clenching my fist? How about my jaw? Sometimes, merely turning my attention to one of stress’ favorite dwelling places helps release me from its physical effects.
2. Stay in the Here and Now
One of the unkindest aspects of stress is the way it plays with our sense of time. Some days can feel unendingly, continuously stressful—but we know that can’t be true. Remind yourself to stay in the present moment to avoid letting a stressful moment from two hours ago sabotage your here and now.
3. Congratulate Yourself on Getting Through It
Almost all everyday stressors are external—they’re caused by things we can’t control, like road construction, the weather or another person’s mood. We can’t avoid these situations, but we can—and do—get through them. Even if you didn’t manage a stressful moment as well as you’d like, take a moment to congratulate yourself for having navigated it at all. Saying, “I did it!” to yourself is a way to end a stressful episode on an upbeat note.