As an entrepreneur, I’m asked the question, “Are you stressed out?” (Yes. Of course. Any other brain busters?). But it’s true. The unknowns of the future feel insufferable. So, yes, you could say that’s “stressful.”
However, it’s important to remind ourselves that life is simply a string of experiences strung together from one person’s perspective — big or small, controlled or out of reach. No moment feels as big as the one you’re living right now. In the midst of a strange market climate and an even stranger political one, here are five simple steps for dealing with stress.
- Breathe. A natural reaction to stress is to try to stop time and deal with the immediate moment. In this moment, we often forget to breathe. Similar to working out, when we attempt to burst through with that final push, we have a tendency to take a breath and hold it. If you have a personal trainer, the first thing she will teach you is a proper breathing technique. Pushing a barbell off your chest is no different than passing through a stressful moment. Don’t forget to breathe — deeply and effectively.
- Reflect without worry. The latter is an important distinction. Note your experiences, how you’ve arrived at this moment, and what was valuable then and now. You can’t worry about the things you can’t change (which is the best advice I’ve ever been given) — decisions were made, and you likely handled the situation as best as you could. Use this moment to reflect, learn and grow. But don’t dwell on factors that you can’t change.
- Look from the outside in. Worry and stress are inside-out feelings. You feel stuck without a simple answer. If it was easy, then anyone could do it. You are unique in a very large world. When you step outside of yourself and see the bigger picture, you will see solutions that you were once overlooking. Once you reflect without worry, you will be able to assess the situation more clearly and learn to shine your spotlight in areas for potential improvement. In Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Chip Heath and Dan Heath coined this “the spotlight effect.” They explain that “better decision making is the process of moving your mental spotlight to shine light on things we wouldn’t otherwise look at.” When you’re inside-out, your spotlight is very narrow. Take a moment to go outside-in to cast a wider light to put more of the moment into perspective.
- Keep it simple, stupid. Take steps one through three to live in the moment, give respect to the situation and yourself, and address your options. We’re problem solvers, but don’t let your attempt to tirelessly solve the problem actually become the problem. Know that sometimes in life, there is just no right answer (or at least not just one proper solution). Don’t wear yourself out on the complexities of the situation. Keep it simple. Believe in yourself. Be realistic. Move on.
- Repeat. You will feel stress again, and there’s a good chance that next time will feel worse — not necessarily because the situation is less likely to be overcome, but because the situation is different and new. Take that moment to breathe, reflect on the situation without worry, open your spotlight, and learn. In life’s most stressful moments, we find out what we’re really made of. Don’t just prove to others that you can deal with difficult situations, but prove it to yourself at a level that you truly believe. That is called growth, and it’s the only way we’re going to build the muscles needed to lift ourselves back up.