By Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC
People ask me all the time, what is the #1 problem I see in my counseling practice. I would extend this answer to, not only my clients, but my friends, my family and even myself. Hands down, the answer is STRESS! As a culture, we are overwhelmed and over- stressed. The causes are many, but the foundation is the same; too much to do and not enough time to do it. Sounding familiar? I’d like to introduce you to 10 easy steps to reduce your stress and live a happier life.
We live in a fast paced, achievement focused society. Our worth is determined by how much we achieve and how fast we accomplish these achievements. When we get there, we are expected to go even further and in fact questioned as to why we aren’t already there. Then, when we are nearing the end of our proverbial rope, some well-meaning person, be it our friends, family, coworkers, boss or even stranger tells us to chill out, relax, enjoy life, find your happy place… (Insert ensuing explosion here!)
The expectations we put on ourselves or that others put on us snuff out any time or energy we have for this elusive “happy place”. We stress out about money, health, kids, parents, spouses, work, bosses, coworkers, the endless to-do list. Some of these things are real and some are irrational. This is when it’s essential to shift your focus from stress overload to a calmer state of mind. I’m going to show you how to put the brakes on anxious, negative thinking and switch gears.
STOP Technique Let’s start with the simple STOP technique. STOP stands for Start To Observe Positives. First, you need to literally, STOP. When a negative thought pops into your mind, say out loud, STOP. Picture in your head the red octagon shape with the white letters you learned to read when you were a toddler.
Use this as your visual cue to STOP thinking negatively.
The next step is Start To Observe Positives. Look at each situation and find something positive. It can be a lesson you learned, a comical observation, a new way of understanding another person, or even the all-powerful, ”well, I’ll never have to do that again”. Learning to consciously shift your thinking from negative to positive is a huge step. You’ve been thinking a certain way for many years. Be consistent with this new way of thinking. Think of it like learning a new language. Just as it takes consistent repetition and practice over time to perfect a new language, this will also require practice!
Here are 10 simple, easy steps to reinforce positive thinking. Break this down into one a day for ten days:
Day 1. Take deep breaths – set an hourly alarm on your phone and take ten deep breaths each time it goes off
Day 2. Say please and thank you (to as many people as you can)
Day 3. Smile (A LOT and to as many people as you can)
Day 4. Tell 2 people something you appreciate about them
Day 5. Write 5 positive intentions for your day on a sticky note and carry it in your pocket
Day 6. Visualize yourself accomplishing a goal
Day 7. Get physical (walk, bike, jog, stretch, skip)
Day 8. Set up a “coffee date” with someone (increase your social time)
Day 9. Take 15 minutes for yourself (read, walk, meditate, take a bath, have a cup of tea, listen to music…)
Day 10. Write 5 positive things that happened today
Once you’ve reached your 10 day mark, congratulate yourself on a job well done! Evaluate which of these tasks were easy and which were more difficult. Each of these tasks plays an independent and integral role in your road to greater happiness. These 10 steps, done in combination, and repeated over time, will change your life!