Somewhere on the way to the rest of your life, you realize that things aren’t going as planned. You might suffer from money woes or realize your marriage is in turmoil. It’s the kind of thing that makes you sit up and take notice – and seek help before it gets the best of you.
Some things you can work on making better. If you need to stop spending money, you can develop a savings plan. But some stress is derived form the inside-out. It’s the kind of anxiety you have about who you are as a person compared to who you always hoped you’d be.
As time passes, you’ll be facing your fair share of obstacles. You may have to repair relationships, tweak your career, or learn some new coping skills to help you deal with being a parent.
But if you take this step first – the step to becoming the kind of person you want to be – it’ll make facing those stress factors a whole lot easier. In fact, when you devote time to making your own self better, many of the things you’re stressed about now will dissipate.
You don’t need an expensive therapist or rock climbing with an encounter group. You aren’t in denial about what’s bothering you. You just need a little help analyzing yourself and taking action to become a new you.
Becoming Your Best Self
The Army is right with their slogan, “be all you can be.” Of course, you don’t have to go to boot camp to make that happen. You can create a self-care boot camp at home, which is gentler than the soldier’s version.
One aspect of boot camp that you want to copy is the intense personal training regimen, which focuses on building a better you.
Daydream on Paper
Take a page of lined notebook paper and fold it in half. Using the right side only, write a description of your ideal self. Don’t stop to be critical or analyze anything you write.
Be specific. Instead of saying, “I would weigh less,” say, “I would weigh 30 pounds less.” Rather than, “I would have a better job,” say, “I would like to manage the sales department.”
When you’ve listed everything possible on the Ideal Self side, turn to the left side and title it, Real Self. Again, without being critical, describe who you are today. What is your career? Where do you live? What motivates you to keep going every day? Describe yourself physically and emotionally.
Then open both sides and compare. With a bold pen or highlighter, draw lines between the items that are similar as if you were playing a matching game. Then look seriously at how far your Real Self is from your Ideal Self.
In some instances, the distance between Real and Ideal isn’t very far. In others, it’s a big stretch. Choose two Real/Ideal comparisons as your self-help priorities. Save the list for later.
After completing one transformation, you can choose another goal. These priorities become self-improvement goals. You may be able to learn a new computer skill in a few weeks by attending a class because that skill will be important to earn a promotion to get a career that will provide less stress for you in life.
Losing weight takes more time. What’s important is that you have a goal and can plot a direction. Before you know it, your Real Self comes closer to your Ideal Self. As you become the person you always wanted to be, you won’t have the stress of being dissatisfied with how your life’s unfolding.
Make a Future Timeline
Timelines are a great way to look back over your life and your career. Start by making a timeline of your personal life or career life, whichever is most pressing for you now and whichever causes more stress in your life.
One way to really see where you came from is to make the timeline on a poster board and add photos or other graphic images that reflect the events. You might be surprised as you recall strengths and abilities that you forgot you had from past experiences.
Get another poster board and create a future timeline. Here’s where you plan the life you want – the life that provides deep satisfaction instead of extreme stress. Mark increments on the line for one to five years, then in five-year increments.
Go ahead and dream. If money wasn’t an obstacle, what kind of career would you have in five years? If the funds were magically available for you to return to college or graduate school, what would you study? What degree would you earn? What job would you have after earning that degree?
Once finished, set up the past timeline on the left and the future timeline on the right. Prop them up against a wall in your home where you can just look at them for a week.
As you mull over these ideas, you’ll find yourself focusing on a few areas over and over. Maybe one day you realize, “Hey, this is really what you want, so go for it!”
Save your future timeline and mark off the changes you choose to make in your life. In five years, you may be where you projected or even beyond that point. As long as you focus on being your best self and reaching your goals, you’ll make some progress in your future timeline. And if you are better aligned with the purpose for your life, then inner conflicts and stress because of your dissatisfaction with life will fade away.
Improving Your Body
When you’re trying to lessen the stress you feel, it’s important for your body to be able to help your mind relax. Our modern lifestyles are so busy and crowded that fitness often takes a back seat to everything else on the daily to-do list.
If nothing else will bolster your goal to exercise, think of it as the best all-natural stress reliever, which it is! You may be used to working forty hours plus overtime – then rushing home to cook dinner and, if you have children, driving them to sports and activities.
A ten-minute uninterrupted shower may be the only relaxation time you get in a day before falling exhausted into the bed at night.
1. Take an honest look at your fitness
Most gyms are glad to give you a free week or month to try it out. During that trial period, ask for a fitness evaluation. Are you winded after ten minutes on the treadmill?
Did the calipers measure more body fat than you realized was there? Are you stretched to the limit with work but unable to do muscle relaxing stretches? Another fast-track approach to fitness is to hire a personal trainer for a series of personal workouts. Once you learn which exercises are right for your fitness goals and practice the right way to do those exercises, you can work out on your own.
2. Curb harmful habits
If you think that going outside to smoke or chugging cans of highly caffeinated drinks are ways to deal with stress, you’re fooling yourself. These are likely to create more health problems and more stress.
Take an honest look at the ways you cope with stress. Smoking, drinking, drugs, caffeine and food binges are reckless choices with long-term health consequences. You’re setting out to reach new goals and dreams and you need to be in prime health to enjoy those positive life changes.
Start with learning all you can about your harmful coping method. Knowledge is power. While researching, look for local support groups. If you can’t find one, join an online support group. Your closest Seventh-day Adventist Church may be able to help you with materials or supportive courses for smoking cessation.
For some complex issues, self-help begins when you admit that you need help and seek others who can support your changes. An important way to avoid negative coping methods is to nourish and train your body for optimal health.
Improving Your Mental Outlook
The most physically fit body goes nowhere if your mental outlook is bleak. You have to believe in yourself to turn your goals into new realities. Even positive people are hit with difficulties that are hard to manage. That’s when you need stress busting approaches to bolster your mood.
Face your fears
Do your hands get clammy, your throat dry and your mind take you back to your worst day in sixth grade each time you have to speak in front of a group? You might suffer from stress surrounding certain events.
People at work or in the civic group want to hear what you have to say. Sign up for a local Toastmasters group and take the first step to conquer your fear of public speaking.
Did you turn down a great job because the office was on the 25th floor and you’re scared to ride elevators in tall buildings? Climbing the stairs daily might be good for your legs, but it takes time and just isn’t practical.
You can work with a therapist to face this fear and get over irrational stress. Or you can do your own version of “systematic desensitization.” That’s a therapy technique in which you gradually face a fear a little bit at time until you finally overcome it.
Ask a trusted friend to go with you as you work on this. Think about what the real fear is – that you’ll get stuck or that it will plummet to the ground floor when the cable suddenly snaps?
You’re feeling what you expected to feel based on past experience. Once you have your “fear-feeling pattern” worked out, you know what to expect. Ask your friend to ride with you in an elevator to the second floor then back down again.
Repeat that trip. Then go up to the fourth floor. If you’re seriously in a stress-filled panic, take the stairs back down. Or if riding down is easier than riding up, start by walking to the fourth floor and riding down.
Little by little, increase your ability to handle the stress by pushing yourself a little farther each time. You can conquer your fears when you name them, examine them, research them and set a plan to meet them. Over time, you’ll notice your stress level doesn’t rise as high when you’re faced with this particular obstacle.
Learn to forgive
Sometimes we carry our baggage that makes us all emotionally wrapped up with something that has happened in the past. We cannot change what has happened, but we can choose to change our attitude towards the people who were involved in it. If you keep anger and bitterness in your heart, it is like drinking a poison, and expecting that the other person will die from it. You will do yourself a favor if you learn how to forgive, to let things go.
Forgiveness does not always mean that things will be just as before, it does not always mean that you need to reconcile a broken relationship. But what you need is to let go of the feelings of resentment, the angry emotions that eat you up from within, just let it go! Do not allow yourself to continue to suffer about the things that happened to you in the past.
You may say that you are unable to forgive somebody, since they did something terrible to you. If you have no force to do it on your own, pray to God that he is giving you strength. Look to Jesus at the moment they were nailing him at the cross. He was able to say to his prosecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” He can give you the force to do the same. Do whatever is needed to get over the feelings of anger and resentment, in order to experience the liberating power that forgiveness can give to you.
Improvements in our lives involve change. We may dread these changes first, but after we see the improvements, we are glad that we did it. Sometimes we need to step back and analyze the changes necessary in order to get us on the right track. When we are wrapped up in our stress, we often get short-sighted and do not see the obvious changes we need to make to resolve the obstacles that are in our way.
Take courage, see what you need to change in your goals, your health habits and your mental outlook of your life. Never settle for a life filled with stress when there’s something better waiting for you.
When you working on improving yourself, you will probably come closer to the purpose that was given to you in this world by your Creator. And when you know you are fulfilling not only your goals, but also your purpose, you will feel a satisfaction that will help a lot to melt your stress away.
Do you need a guide to help you understand how to cope with Stress in an all inclusive approach? Learn how to combat stress, mentally, physically, emotionally and strategically in your life.
Martin Neumann was trained for Lifestyle Interventions in 1998 at Wildwood Lifestyle Center & Hospital. Since then he has lectured in different parts of the world about a healthy lifestyle and natural remedies. He is the founder of the Abundant Health website.