You wake up in a great mood… until you check your phone. An email from an angry client, tons of notifications from your work group chat, and a friendly reminder from your credit card. And it’s only 7:00 am!
Over the day, your stress levels go up. Little things like bad restaurant service or a conversation with your boyfriend adds to bigger stress, like family problems or financial anxiety. By the time we get home, we’re exhausted – but it’s not just because of what we did but what we thought about. Our heads are full of worst case scenarios and negative thoughts that sucked out all our energy.
How do you prevent stress from taking over your day and your mood?
Expand your emotional vocabulary
We use the word “stress” to describe every bad feeling, but that’s like calling every kind of cat a lion. You can be bored, annoyed, disappointed, hungry, offended, sad, or uncomfortable from the heat – all valid feelings, but not all are worth being labeled as “stress.”
When you feel your mood shift, stop and analyze what you’re really feeling. Sometimes all you need to say is, “I’m not stressed, I’m just hungry. I’ll reread this email after I’ve had lunch when I can really understand what this client wants from me.” Or, “I’m not stressed – I’ve had worst fights with my boyfriend, I’m just disappointed he cancelled out date.”
Diffuse or compartmentalize problems
Calling a situation stressful makes it bigger than it really is. You don’t always have to feel good, but you don’t always have to feel everything is an emergency either.
There is the situation, and there is how we feel about a situation. Very often the feelings are bigger than the actual problem.
Let’s say you get your credit card bill, and you’re worried about how to pay for it. That’s a real problem, but your emotions can create imaginary obstacles and consequences. You start worrying over money, which makes you start thinking if you should get a higher paying job, which makes you obsess over your career and life choices, which makes you think about all your classmates and cousins who have it easier, and then you think life is so unfair… And before you know it, you feel like such a Big Fat Loser.
Girl, you need to compartmentalize.
There’s Problem # 1: The Credit Card Bill. Everything else may be a real but unrelated problem (i.e., you hate your job) or an imagined problem (you’re jealous of your cousin, but her life really isn’t as perfect as you think it is).
Get out a pen and paper and write down each problems as separate items that you can work through in order of urgency and importance. Don’t try to solve them all at once. Focus on one thing at a time, and write down concrete action plans. Credit card bill is about budget. Hating your job is about updating your resume and spending 30 minutes each day expanding your LinkedIn network. That’s so much more productive than panicking over The Big Mess That Is Your Life (which it is not).
Invest in your mood and your energy levels
You recharge your phone every day, right? Well you have to recharge yourself every day, too. Promise yourself to spend at least 1 hour on something that makes you feel happy, confident and totally in love with your life. It’s not an “indulgence” it is a necessity. How can you expect yourself to be at the top of your game all the time when you’re burnt out and borderline depressed?
So treat yourself. Right now, write down everything and anything that cheers you up (even in a silly way). Be as concrete as possible. It can be as simple as “really good coffee” or “kitten videos” or “the sound of the ocean.” Think of ways to incorporate a few of those things into daily life.
Repeat: It is MY job to make MYSELF feel happy
Not your boyfriend’s. Not your boss’s. Not your parents’.
They can make you feel bad, but you can’t blame them if you don’t feel good. That is your responsibility, not theirs.
So how do you take charge of your happiness and moods?
Start with this list: Treats and Rewards. Is it a weekly massage? Extra pretty lingerie? A bottle of good wine? Don’t wait until your next big vacation to feel good about yourself. I also like to add a few small, cheap things to rescue my mood after a particularly hellish day. If you need pizza delivery on your phone speed dial, by all means do it.
Know the difference between feelings and motivations
Feelings are transitory emotions that can be triggered by anything, even people or situations that don’t really matter to you. A stranger in a street can make you feel bad by stealing your cab, but by tomorrow you won’t really care. Even an auntie who calls you fat will make you cry, but later on you realize she’s just a mean person and you don’t really listen to her anyway.
Motivations are feelings that are grounded by life choices and dreams. You really want to travel and feel wistful whenever you see pictures of faraway places, so you decide to save a part of your salary each month so you can see the world. You want to be healthier, so you sign up for a gym membership and work out even when you rather stay in bed. You enjoy your job and are learning a lot, so you suck it in when you’re exhausted or irritated, because you know this will pay off in the long run.
Stress caused by feelings are easy to shrug off. Stress caused by motivations are worth it. Once you know the difference between the two, you can actually say: “This doesn’t matter” or “This is part of a life I love.”
Get a good support network
Hint: They’re not always the friends on Facebook and Instagram.
Sometimes you’re in a funk and you can’t get out of it. You need good friends who will listen to you, without judgment or unsolicited advice, tell you that you’re awesome, and help you laugh it off. They’re also the same friends who will know when you’re already wallowing in an unhealthy way and will scream at you to get your act together.
Unfortunately, social media has taught us to focus on creating this perfect image to impress people who added us or follow us, but don’t really know us.
Instead of building a following, build relationships with people who really truly care about you. When you’re stressed, you can turn to them without feeling that you always need to be perfect and pretty.
Nobody has everything together 100% — but you can control how you feel, and you can choose the people around you. That’s how you manage stress!