At any moment, about 48% of people are experiencing chronic stress that is impacting their happiness, productivity, and relationships or disrupting their sleep. What’s more, about three-quarters of people report feeling physical pain, tension, or energy loss as a result of their everyday stress or anxiety. This suggests that learning how to create a stress-free life is an essential tool for happiness, and something that nearly every person can use to improve their quality of life.
Continue reading to find out our first 6 essential steps to creating a stress-free life, starting immediately and which persists going forward.
STEP 1: RECOGNIZE WHEN & HOW STRESS IS AFFECTING YOU
Stress has a way of building up slowly and only becoming apparent when it becomes unbearable. Consequently, being mindful of when and how you are experiencing stress is a key starting point for creating a stress-free life. Though each person is unique in how they respond to daily stressors, early manifestations of stress include decreased energy, diminished resilience in the face of change/complexity, physical tension, and pain, and disrupted sleep, focus, and relationships.
STEP 2: LEARN TO ASK FOR SUPPORT WHEN YOU FEEL STRESS
Asking for support during times of stress invites productive energy (high positive energy) into your life, which can help you build a more positive affect (mood).
Research shows that receiving social support is one of the most effective mediators for psychological stress, and can dramatically reduce the emotional and psychosomatic symptoms of stress. Yet people are often more likely to give someone else support than ask for support during periods of high stress.
STEP 3: CHALLENGE THE NEGATIVE COGNITIVE BIAS STRESS CAUSES
The more frequently and more significantly you feel stress, the more stress rewires your brain to only recognize and respond to negative stimuli. As a result, this “negative cognitive bias” is a central part of how people experience stress-induced anxiety and depression. Learning to challenge the feeling that “everything is going wrong” and looking for good things to be grateful for and mindful of can significantly reduce both feelings of stress and emotional distress.
STEP 4: PRACTICE BRINGING POSITIVE ENERGY TO STRESSFUL SITUATIONS
You can set the stage for resilience in a negative situation by approaching it with productive energy. This kind of energy should reflect your determination to see the situation for what it is: temporary, manageable, and not mutually exclusive of happiness.
Underscoring this, there is empirical evidence that “positive energy” can change a person’s responses to stress. Even individuals who experience chronic, life-disrupting stress can benefit from these types of positive psychology-based interventions.
STEP 5: PRACTICE POSITIVITY “HACKING”
Some actions cause the hormonal changes associated with decreased stress and increased happiness and positivity even in the absence of actual emotional changes. For example, physical activity, smiling, chewing gum, and hugging/kissing someone all prompt near-instant changes in brain chemistry (including flooding with good-feeling oxytocin and decreasing stress-inducing cortisol levels). In periods of high-stress, it can be helpful to engage in these behaviors as a way to jump-start your stress relief.
STEP 6: IDENTIFY HABIT CHANGES THAT CAN REDUCE ANXIETY
Oftentimes, feelings of stress and anxiety come from everyday sources, including money, health, work, family life, and relationships. Moreover, loneliness, work-based dissatisfaction, and consumer culture also each have a measurable impact on psychological stress. In each case, people who identify the triggers for their anxiety and develop skills to better navigate them (like learning better time management to combat stress due to facing a heavy workload) can have significantly more success managing stress.