Take a deep breath.  Nothing is as hectic as it seems.  Nothing is worth weakening your health.  Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety and despair.

The mind can go either direction under stress – toward the positive or toward the negative: on or off.  Think of it as a binary spectrum, where the opposite ends are unconsciousness at the negative end and presence at the positive end.  The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by emotional strength and training. The ability to manage stress when you’re under pressure directly affects your overall performance in all walks of life.  In fact, several scientific studies over the years have found that successful people, in various fields of study, are highly skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.

There’s actually new research out of Cal Berkeley that reveals an upside to experiencing momentary stress, and then reinforces how important it is to keep long-term stress under control.  The recent study found that the onset of stress challenges the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory and cognitive ability.  However, this effect is only seen when stress is temporary.  As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it actually interferes with the brain’s ability to function and grow new cells.  Kind of scary, isn’t it? And there’s more to the story too.  Besides decreasing your brain cells and intellectual performance, stress also increases your risk of heart disease and depression.  Fortunately, though, unless a grizzly bear is chasing you, the bulk of your stress is unnecessary and under your control.  Successful people have well-honed coping strategies that they employ in stressful situations.  This lowers their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment, ensuring that the stress they experience is temporary and not prolonged.

1.  Successful people monitor and suppress their negative self-talk.

A big step in managing stress involves stopping negative self-talk dead in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power they have over you.  And most of our negative thoughts are just that thoughts, not facts.  When you find yourself believing the pessimistic things your subconscious mind says, stop and take a deep breath.  Then ask yourself:  “Are these negative thoughts true?  Are they facts?”  Once you’ve taken a few moments to slow down the momentum of your negative thinking, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating the reality of the situation.

2.  Successful people refocus on the positive.

Sometimes you have to give your wandering mind a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about.  Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention.  When things are going well, and you’re in a good mood, this is fairly easy.  When times are tough, however, and your mind is flooded with negativity, this can be a real challenge.  In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small.  If you can’t think of something from today, reflect on the previous day or even another recent time. The point here is to have something positive, no matter how small, that you’re ready to shift your attention to when negativity starts stirring in your mind.  Even if you have to look a little harder than usual, it still exists.  

3.  Successful people avoid “should have” and “what if” statements.

These statements just fuel the fire of needless stress and worry.  In life, things can go in a billion different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the missed opportunities (should haves) and negative possibilities (what ifs), the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking positive action that will calm you down and move you forward.  Successful people know that “should haves” and “what ifs” will only take them to an emotional state of mind they don’t want or need to be in. 

4.  Successful people reach out to their supporters when they need them.

It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to do everything yourself.  To reduce stress and increase productivity, you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help, advice, or just a listening ear when you need it.  Something as simple as talking about your worries will help you overcome them.  Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they’re not as emotionally invested in your unique situation.

5.  Successful people practice mindful relaxation techniques.

They know mindful relaxation is the key to mental and physical recuperation.  There are many ways to do this, but the foundation of all of them is focused breathing (a form of meditation).  Your breath is the bridge between your life circumstances and your consciousness – it unites your body and your thoughts.  So when you’re feeling stressed, take a ten-minute break to sit quietly and focus on your breathing.  Close the door, put away all other distractions, and just sit in a chair with your eyes closed and breathe.

The goal is to spend the entire time focused only on the feeling of your chest inhaling and exhaling, which will prevent your worried mind from wandering and overthinking.  This sounds simple, but it’s challenging to do for more than a minute or two, especially when you’re just starting out with this ritual.  And it’s perfectly fine if random thoughts sidetrack you this is sure to happen, you just need to bring your focus back to your breathing.

6.  Successful people sincerely appreciate what they have.

Taking time every day to think about what you’re thankful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do, it also helps you feel more relaxed and content, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by over 20%.  Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to openly express their appreciation and gratitude experienced improved moods, energy levels, and physical health, even during bouts of stress.  It’s highly likely that their lower cortisol levels played a major role in this. 

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