Money stress, work stress, relationship stress – we all get it. And sometimes we get so overloaded with feelings and thoughts and pressure that we may *kaplooey* at any moment.
Stress stinks. It doesn’t make us feel good and it doesn’t help create a peaceful life.
The American Psychological Association ran a study and found that most people are stressed about money and work, and the stress is chronic and increasing. Not surprising. The study also showed that stressed out people tend to exhibit the following feelings and behaviors as a result:
- Lack of interest/motivation
Does this sound all too familiar? It does to me.
The Mayo Clinic nicely spells out other effects stress has on our bodies, minds, and behavior such as:
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
- Overeating or undereating
- Angry outbursts
- Exercising less often
Sound familiar again? Yup, same here.
When we get super stressed out, we tend to stop dead in our tracks, dear-in-headlights style. We tend to shut down and move away from thoughts and actions that make us feel good. Our whole mind becomes occupied with anxiety, negativity, desperation, hopelessness, and sadness that we completely move ourselves away from anything that is positive, uplifting, beneficial, and hopeful.
Normal, but not good.
Clearly, we need a better strategy for managing stress. Whatever we’re doing just isn’t working.
Make a list
As per usual, my mother gave me the best advice when I was stressed out one day. She gave me this advice over a year ago, and I still use it as the primary method for determining how I should think and feel about something and how I should subsequently behave.
Make a list of the five most important things in your life as of now.
This was my very first list:
- Family and friends
- Healthy body and mind
Okay, done. Now what?
These are the only things that you need to focus on in your life right now. The list may change over time, but these are the only five things you need to work on and prioritize.
Focus on your top five
For the next couple days, I directed all my thoughts and actions only as they pertained to my five most important things. Long story short, I quickly felt more aligned and balanced, purposeful and calm.
Simple task, great results.
Try it yourself. It’s quite easy.
Get a piece of paper and pencil. Write 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 vertically down the page. Then start at the top and fill in each line.
If that’s proving difficult because you’re not sure how to rank things just yet, start by simply writing down five things that mean a lot to you. These can be as general or specific as you’d like. Once you have your list, think deeply about how each item ranks in comparison to the others. Number them accordingly.
Now that you have the list, decide to align your thoughts and actions with your top five. For any thought that pops up or behavior you exhibit that does not coincide with your top five, stop it immediately. Intercept the thought, cease the behavior, and return to your list.
Reorient your thinking and alter your actions so that you truly live out what you claim to be most important to you.
What you’ll find
As you do this over time, you may find yourself feeling calmer and more satisfied. You may feel less stress, less anxiety, less worry. There may be no more need to fret because you know what means the most to you and are working on only that.
On the other hand, you may start to feel a bit odd.
Maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you may actually experience a bit of discomfort. You might feel like you’re doing something that isn’t natural. You may feel forced.
I feel that way, too, sometimes.
If you really are focusing on your top five and you find yourself feeling uneasy, it could be an indicator that your top five isn’t accurate.
This happened to me.
Since my number one thing was originally “friends and family,” I poured myself into my relationships – all my relationships. I gave so much of myself to so many people, leaving little for my own use. And I gave too much of myself to people that I really shouldn’t have been focusing on.
The problem with my number one was that it wasn’t specific enough. In fact, no item in my list was specific enough.
I made my list too general. I thought I was focusing on my top five things in life, but really I was focusing on my top five genres of life.
I also didn’t include myself on that list.
So, I made a new list that was more specific. It went a little sumpin’ like this:
- Family and friends (then I actually listed about 10 names)
- Completing one extra unit of work per month for my job
- Working out and being active every day and eating more veggies
- Taking one whole day per week to do something for me
- Write something every single day
This more specific list helped for a bit, but after a while it still felt strange.
Your list will change
What I eventually realized is that the items on my list were not really my top five most important things. Of course I cared for my friends and personal health, but the stuff on that list didn’t speak the truth of my inner most being.
I realized I created a list based on the expectations others have for me.
So, I dug deep and let my soul speak. I made a new list:
- Financial security
This list more accurately reflects what’s important to me, and only I know what each of the items really means.
Turns out, it didn’t matter whether my list was specific or general. All that mattered was that it came from me and me alone and truly reflected what I value most in life.
My list continues to evolve as I evolve, and thus my thoughts and actions continue to be refined and realigned.
Your list may change, too. In fact, it should change and evolve because you continue to change and evolve.
Take a good look at that list and make sure it’s your list that reflects you.
If this whole “align your thoughts and actions with what’s truly important to you” stuff sounds familiar, that’s because we discussed it in 7 Mistakes You Make When Starting A New Diet.
Notice a common theme here?
In all areas of life change – be it weight-loss, stress management, relationships, or career – we can follow a very simple strategy to ensure our success:
- Discover your purpose
- Align your thoughts with your purpose
- Align your actions with your thoughts
In this particular topic – stress management – we discover our purpose by listing our top five most important things.
Next, we consciously make the decision to focus our thoughts only on our top five. For help with this, check out these articles:
As we practice aligning our thoughts with our top five, we then begin to align our actions with our thoughts.
Usually during this phase, the thing that holds us back the most is fear. We tend to not act according to our thoughts, even if our thoughts are well aligned, because our pesky little gremlins get nervous that big changes are about to occur. And that means our gremlins no longer have control over us.
Boo for them, yippee for us! Woohoo!
The action part of life change is challenging, but it is possible. Check these out for tips for managing and overcoming the fears we develop during times of life change:
There’s no complicated formula. No magical potion to take. The method is plain and simple. And it take practice – lots of practice.
If you get hungry for more articles to help fill your mind with positive messages on managing stress, here are a few bonus ones:
- 3 Stress Management Tips That Will Save Your Life
- It’s Okay To Take A Break When You’re Overwhelmed And Reprioritize What’s Important
- 3 Things You Should Never Feel Selfish About
- Give Today A Chance
You got this!
American Psychological Association: Stress in America, Paying with our Health
Mayo Clinic: Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior