Researchers at Yale University have found that stress reduces the volume of grey matter in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control. So experiencing stress actually makes it more difficult to deal with future stress because it harms your ability to take control of the situation. Ouch.
But it’s possible to reduce your stress levels; you just need to make managing stress a higher priority.
The plasticity of the brain allows it to mold and rebuild damaged areas as you practice new behaviors, according to an article in Inc. magazine.
Here are seven strategies to help you fix your brain and keep your stress under control:
1. Say No
Research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression. Saying no is indeed a major challenge for many people. “No” is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to wield.
Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email that will change your train of thought and get you thinking (read: stressing) about work can drop onto your phone at any moment.
Taking regular time off the grid helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors.
3. Neutralize Toxic People
Dealing with difficult people is frustrating, exhausting, and highly stressful for most. You can control your interactions with toxic people by keeping your feelings in check. When you need to confront a toxic person, approach the situation rationally. Identify your own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos.
4. Don’t Hold Grudges
The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your mental health.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a simple, research-supported form of meditation that is an effective way to gain control of unruly thoughts and behaviors. People who practice mindfulness regularly are more focused, even when they are not meditating. It is an excellent technique to help reduce stress because it allows you to reduce the feeling of being out of control. Mindfulness helps you stop jumping from one thought to the next, which keeps you from ruminating on negative thoughts.
6. Put Things In Perspective
Our worries often come from our own skewed perception of events. So before you spend too much time dwelling on what your boss said during the last staff meeting, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. If you aren’t sure when you need to do this, try looking for clues that your anxiety may not be proportional to the stressor. If you are thinking in broad sweeping statements like “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out” then you need to reframe the situation. A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out. Most likely you will come up with just one or two things–not everything. The key to keeping your cool is to remember that your feelings are exaggerating the situation and the scope of the stressor is much more limited than it might appear.
7. Use Your Support System
It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To be calm and productive you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed.