Combatting Day to Day Stress
21 May 2021
For most of us, modern life is undeniably stressful. The factors contributing to this may be major issues such as work difficulties, relationship problems or bereavement.
In such cases, support, and or counselling will often be beneficial. For many of us, there is a constellation of minor stresses in our day to day lives which contribute to our feeling tense, anxious, on edge, unfulfilled and demotivated. No clear practical or emotional solutions are appropriate and the goal here is “symptom relief”.
Different strategies can be adapted, but this blog will mention three ways of battling with day to day stress, as described in Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s excellent book “The Stress Solution”
This involves you talking to yourself and giving a positive repeated message. These positive messages contrast with the negative ones we can readily perceive during our stressful days. A good affirmation is brief and encouraging. It will often focus on what you identify as a problem, a weakness or something you want to change. So if you feel tense, it might be “I am calm and stress free”. If you feel lacking in drive and energy, it might be “I am an energetic and productive person”. The idea is that by repeating the affirmation frequently to yourself, from the start of your day onwards, you can influence your mindset, and your day to go in a positive direction. It’s a good idea to write down an affirmation, experiment with different ones, and log how they make you feel. Starting in the morning, you repeat the affirmation to yourself, either out loud or in your head, as often as possible. Affirmations may sound simple, but they can be mighty helpful.
This technique borrows from cognitive therapy and is about looking at things we might perceive as stressful negatives more positively. So, if someone you know walks past without acknowledging you, the negative and upsetting thought might be along the lines of “she doesn’t seem to like me, she ignored me, have I done something wrong?”. A reframing might be “she looked preoccupied, perhaps she has worries about her children or had a row with her husband this morning”.
Reframing is usually done at the end of a day. It can be helpful to write things down that have contributed to our stress levels that day and try to re-analyse them from the other person’s perspective, in a way that is more positive. You can look at a situation more neutrally by pretending you were a dispassionate observer. Because you have encountered a difficulty, it does not mean that you are necessarily responsible – other people have their own problems, their own psychopathology.
It is often easy to focus on the stresses, and the negatives, and to allow ourselves to ruminate about these. Focussing on things for which we are grateful removes the negativity from our mindset. It can be done at any time of day, setting us up for the day at breakfast time or calming us at bedtime. Gratitude can focus on the day’s pleasures (e.g. a good meal) or a forthcoming event that you are looking forward to, or on a particular person. Indeed, a positive mindset can even be generated by kindly wishing happiness and success upon someone you hardly know. Their imagined happiness can make you happy too.
These three simple techniques – affirmations, reframing and gratitude – can help to move our stressed and negative mindset to a place that is significantly more positive and calm. They are well worth a try.
For further advice about dealing with stress, check out our lifestyle medicine page.