Next time anger, disappointment, fear, or anxiety threaten your mood, take a pause. Then, take a few minutes to try one of these research-based methods for retraining your mind to stress less.
Make a personal inventory of your talents, skills, achievements, and qualities—big and small. Celebrate your accomplishments. Take a look at that list of positives. Does that put today’s problem in perspective? Which of your strengths and your talents could you draw on again?
Feeling stressed? Notice what goes through your mind. For example: Your boss criticizes. Feel like the end of your career? Maybe your boss actually viewed your stumble as a one-off. Or maybe she wishes she had supported you better. Could there be other ways to look at the situation that are just as accurate?
Research suggests that having a sense of power over your life helps you cope better with distressing situations. And, the perception of personal control is more important than actual control. Try focusing your thoughts and energy on the things you can influence. Look for solutions, set achievable goals and take actions on what you can change.
First, identify the problem, and be as specific as possible. For example, instead of, “I can’t walk because my feet hurt,” try “My feet hurt because I can’t find shoes that fit well.” Now, make a list of ideas, people, or resources that could help you tackle your difficulties. Pick one and try it, then check the results. Didn’t work? Pick another idea from your list and try again.
When you think of demanding situations as a threat, it’s easier to focus on what can go wrong. Reframing to a challenge mindset focuses you on your ability to take action and make changes. Think of life as a continuous learning experience. Consider that there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.
It works! In one important study, people who expressed their deepest thoughts and feelings about something bad that had happened to them reported fewer symptoms, fewer doctor visits, less missed work, and improved mood compared with people who simply wrote about ordinary things like their plans for the day.
Don’t plan to share your writing—that could stop honest expression. Write continuously without worry about form or clarity. You might even try setting a specific time of day and write for 15 minutes—even if you run out of things to say. Repeat yourself!
Simply observing and accepting life just as it is, with all its pleasures, pains, frustrations, disappointments, and insecurities actually helps you become calmer, more confident, and better able to cope. Researchers aren’t sure exactly why it works, but there's strong evidence it can help us better face our sources of stress.