Therapeutic lifestyle changes to better mental health #3: Stress management

Stress (psychological and/or physical) is the one of biggest contributors to mental health problems, and disease in today's day and age. If we want to live a long, joyful, healthy life we must learn to manage stress levels.


As a former boxer, self punishing exercise addict and over thinker - I have pushed myself into many stressed out states over the years. I contribute the 4 out of the 5 surgeries and many injuries I have sustained in my life to this stress, lack of rest and lack of self control/self management.


Self control/self management is important because often stressed people lack personal boundaries, structure and self care routines (including prioritising quality sleep). With proper self control you take control of your choices and make your self care a priority.


When we are stressed we often distort, delete and generalise our reality in such a way that is different from what we would see if we were not stressed. We say & think things like - I'm never happy!, I always have to do this!, People are fucked!, I'm useless!, I'm worthless!, etc... a


Our cognitive distortions run wild and we can get tangled in a web of painfully distorted beliefs that stress us further and this can spiral into overwhelm, panic, anxiety, depression, etc.

How do we overcome stress?

It all depends on what the source of stress is.


If you are over worked and under nourished you need to take time for self care activities, rest and relaxation, exercising, eating nourishing food.


If it's your mind running wild then one powerful way to stop it is to practice the state of Acceptance. This is a simple but powerful way to cut off a negative state of mind. To accept it as it is, to accept yourself as you are, to get grounded in the state of acceptance. Then focus on a solution.


This means if you are angry then accept that you are angry. Then there is no need to get frustrated about the fact that you are angry. You stop fighting the fire with fire so to speak.

When we can catch ourselves and say "I accept that I am angry right now, it is what it is".

Then we cut the energy where it is instead of directing it back into ourselves and making things worse.


Same If you are anxious. Accept it and take a moment to bring yourself back to the present and get yourself grounded again.


If we don't accept ourself as anxious then we run the risk of getting anxious about being being anxious, then we may get worried about that too. This can lead to a panic attack.


Finally, get perspective.


Some of the best perspectives I have learnt have been from some of the most busy, yet most relaxed entrepreneurs I have worked with.


One of them said to me "If no one is dead or in hospital, then it's not a real problem. You can always make more money."


I have seen another one of my clients in what I would consider one of the toughest times anyone could deal with; multiple court proceedings, dealing with a divorce, having his kids taken away from him, a man nearly died on his job site and at the same time he is running a busy business managing people in a calm, respectful way.


When we met up one day to workout together, I asked him how he was dealing with it all. This man said to me "Luke, my kids are healthy, I have got my health, I am blessed mate. These things are small in the big scheme of things". He proceeded to make jokes while working out, having a laugh and enjoying his time.


Now that's a man with a good perspective!


Two ways to overcome stress quickly:

Talking to someone

Ideally a therapist who you trust, or someone who can really hold space for you and knows how to ask the right questions.


Often just having someone to express your thoughts, frustrations and worries to will help relieve a lot of energy of that stress energy. The best thing is someone who can guide you through questions to see a knew perspective and light up new resources within you.


Shift your perception of the situation

As quoted by Dr Wayne Dyer: "When we change the way we look at things the things we look at change."


It's important to remember that our reality is determined by what we are focused on. If you are focused on the fact you have a roof over your head, your health is in good shape and you have enough money to live reasonably comfortably while you take your time in figuring out your life. You are likely feeling pretty relaxed and grateful.


On the contrary, if you are focused on everything you hate about your job, on what other people said, on what you think others are thinking, on how you aren't in the perfect shape all the time, on comparing yourself to others, focusing on all the mistakes you made and on other things that are out of your control right now. You will likely be stressed out of your mind and sitting to mediate for 10 minutes a day likely wont balance this lack of mental control out.


Often when we are stressed it's because we are focused on wanting to change something that is not within our control (and we feel stuck, frustrated and helpless). We are not accepting the way things are.


If you can do something to control the situation, then do it and change it. If you cannot, then accept that and focus on what you can control and change.


When we dive into the deeper structure of our beliefs and play with different frames we begin to see things with a different point of view and this changes the way we feel.


Ways to prevent stress long term:

Self care:

Another consistent thing with the most relaxed successful entrepreneurs I have worked with is they look after their health. They exercise, eat a nutritious diet and they take space when they need it.


Mindfulness mediation:

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves focusing your mind on the present.

To be mindful is to be aware of your thoughts and actions in the present moment, without judging yourself, and without being distracted by stressful experiences from the past (e.g. how crappy the day before was) or stressful anticipation of the future (e.g. everything you need to get done that day).


Research has proven that mindfulness meditation can improve mood, decrease stress, and even boost immune function.


Here's how to start:

1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. I recommend you sit in a chair or directly on the floor with your head, neck and back straight and relaxed.


2. Aim to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future aside, and stay in the "now".


3. Become aware of your breathing, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall, observe the air entering your nostrils and your nostrils.


4. Watch every thought come and go. When thoughts come up in your mind, don't ignore them, don't label them, just accept them and observe them.


If any feelings come up, allow yourself to feel the feelings, notice where in your body they are and simply observe them as feelings. As you notice them and feel them fully, they will begin to dissolve. Use your breath as an anchor during this time.


5. If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went to (without judging yourself) and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if you become distracted.


6. As the time comes to an end. Sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are and what time it is (at this point the time is usually now ;) Welcome to this moment).


To make meditation easy I personally found using Sam Harris's app Waking Up very useful.

It makes mediation easier by guiding your mind back to the present.

Try the app for a month for free here.


Enjoy the journey,

Luke


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