We live in a world that is full of busyness. We have schedules packed with church meetings, kid’s baseball games, coffee dates, homework, appointments and a thousand other things. On top of these things we need to sleep, eat and work. Trying to do it all leaves many of us feeling stressed. So what, it’s just a little stress right? Maybe it seems like just a little but chronic stress has many negative outcomes. Stress can lead to digestive problems, sadness, insomnia, acne, rashes, a compromised immune system and more.
In light of these things what can we do about our stress? We can’t just take long expensive vacations to feel better. Who has the time and money for that? We need practical ways to relieve stress in our day-to- day lives. The goal of this post is to offer some suggestions of small ways to deal with stress. To start off our conversation I am going to offer some information about three different states of mind that impact stress levels.
States of Mind
We all have three states of mind, the reasonable mind, the emotional mind, and the wise mind. These three states of mind influence the way we deal with stress. The concept of these mind states comes from Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Thankfully it sounds more formal and complicated than it is. You don’t have to be a professional to practice these skills. Now that you know where this information comes from, let’s talk about the three mind states.
Rational and Emotional Mind
Rational and emotional mind are two of the mind states. Logic, facts, and statistics drive the rational mind. The rational mind essentially analyzes the data and makes decisions. The emotional mind is driven by emotion, impulses, and desires. The emotional mind asks, “What do I feel in this moment?” and makes decisions based on the answer.
Aspects of both the rational and emotional mind have importance. However, if we only think with one of these mind states we run into difficulty. Just think about it. If we only used our rational mind how could we enjoy life? How would we experience purpose and meaning? Likewise, if we use only our emotional mind we we’ll run into some issues. What if we only did what we felt like doing or said everything we were thinking? Clearly functioning solely out of one of these mind states isn’t effective, however, if we act out of a balance of the two we will have positive outcomes. Now we can address the third state of mind, the wise mind.
The Wise Mind
The wise mind is a balance of the emotional and rational mind. When we think with our wise mind we consider our logic and emotion. We make sound decisions that consider all aspects of the current situation. Because wise mind considers only the current situation acting out of the wise mind helps us to experience life as it is happening. We aren’t distracted by what happened yesterday or what will occur tomorrow. Instead we are focused on the current moment. This allows us to live richer, fuller lives. Not only does this lower our stress level but also increases our quality of life.To find more information on the states of mind follow this link.
The goal of the stress fighting suggestions I will give you is to pull you out of rational or emotional mind and into wise mind. Though it’s not always easy to get back to wise mind, with practice you can become good at it. Don’t be discouraged if it is difficult at first. Most of us tend to default to rational mind or emotional mind under stress- it can take a long time to learn new habits. Here are three suggestions I have to help you fight stress.
Take deep breaths. This may seem like a weak suggestion to combat stress, the power of breathing should not be underestimated however. Science tells us that taking slow deep breaths can help us to regulate our emotions and experience less stress. Right now sit up straight, close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Fill up your lungs as much as possible and exhale slowly. Even the five deep breaths you took have the power to help you calm down. Studies show that controlled breathing may calm your brain, regulate blood pressure, tap into emotional control regions in the brain, and have other health benefits. For examples of breathing exercises click here.
Take a Break
Believe it or not taking a break doesn’t have to take more than five minutes. Sometimes when everything feels crazy we just need to stop for a minute and do something different. Think of it as taking a tiny vacation. The possibilities for a short break are endless. You could pray, take a walk, watch a funny video, or write someone an encouraging note. Anything that will help to take your mind of your stress and focus on something else is helpful. Check out this article of 25 things to do during a five minute break.
Change Your Mind
It can be really hard to think clearly when we are feeling high levels of stress. We think of one thing that is bothering us and that leads to another and another and another. Before we know it our mind has gone from worrying about being five minutes late picking up the kids, to worrying that they won’t eat healthy food when they move out of the house someday. It is easy to say, “I’ll think about something different”. Knowing what to think about can be difficult however. A good place to start is with truth. Trying choosing one verse in the Bible and repeating it to yourself. Focus on one word like faith, hope or trust while taking deep breaths. I won’t promise that thinking about truth will automatically make you feel better and turn your day around; it likely won’t hurt anything though. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 what sort of things to think about. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.” Romans 12 tells us that we can be transformed through renewing our minds. Changing our minds can certainly help relieve stress.
I don’t want to downplay the effect of stress in life. Stress is a real problem that can dramatically impact us. What I want to emphasize is that you don’t have to be controlled by your stress. I don’t promise that you’ll breathe, take a break, change your mind and then magically feel better. These are just tips that have worked for me and many others. Find what works for you. Take heart and know that we all fight stress. We are all in this together.