how to out-smart stress

Recently my sophomores did a project on adversity. After reading the autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, they wrote an essay about their own adversity, connecting it to Maya’s own personal struggles.

I suspected what many of them would claim as their adversities, but the response was more overwhelming than I thought.

Anxiety and stress topped the list. Here are these teenagers, practically still kids but practically almost adults in this weird in-between time of their lives that is supposed to be one of the best, and they are stressed out. They are panicking, living in anxiety.

So, how should we out-smart stress? I mean, do we really even have a choice? Absolutely we do. I’m not talking about chemical depression or other mental health issues that need medication – I know we can’t choose everything. But I do know that these little tips can help to defray some of the symptoms that leave both teenagers and adults alike in a frenzy.

  1. STOP (collaborate and listen – just kidding). The first piece of advice is just to stop. When I feel myself getting worked up inside, I stop and take a few breaths. I slow down and make my brain slow down. This helps with the hamster wheel in my head that is getting ready to take off for irrational land. I sit and only concentrate on my breaths for a couple minutes. It really helps with stress.
  2. CHANGE YOUR LANGUAGE. A while back I wrote a post about deleting the word “busy” from my life. I have found that removing the language from my life that makes me feel overwhelmed has also removed some of my overwhelming feelings. Speak positively. Don’t talk about your full plate all the time. Talk about what is good and fulfilling in your life.
  3. LIVE IN THE MOMENT. I’ve been trying to practice living in the moment – not thinking about what I have to do next, just what I have to do now. This has really helped me from feeling overwhelmed by all the AP Composition papers I am always grading. I just worry about this paper. Then I’ll worry about the other ones.
  4. EMPLOY THE “WILL IT MATTER?” RULE. Apply the “will it matter in a year? a month? a week? a day?” rule. It really helps put things in perspective.
  5. DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE. The people I meet who are most stressed choose to leave out the things they need the most. We choose our schedules – they don’t choose us. We get more stressed when our innermost needs aren’t met. If you love to read, then read at least 10 minutes a day. You can spare 10 minutes. If you need to be with people, then do that. If you need to exercise, do that. If you aren’t filling yourself with the things you need, your stress will only compound.
  6. START DELETING STUFF OR STOP COMPLAINING. If you find yourself complaining a lot about lack of time or being too busy, then it’s time to delete stuff. But if you love all the things in your life, then stop complaining about them (maybe try my No Complaining Challenge).  Like I said before, we choose our schedules. So maybe some of the complaining you’re doing is adding to your stress level. If you refuse or can’t delete something, choose to embrace it.
  7. TALK TO SOMEONE. Keeping your stress and anxiety all to yourself is dangerous. There is great catharsis in being able to just vomit out all your stuff so that it is out in the open. Just imagine that every time you talk, some of the pressure is alleviated and there is more breathing space.
  8. EMBRACE OR ERADICATE PROCRASTINATION. If procrastination is what gives you the stress, then you need to figure out how to eradicate it. If procrastination is how you live and what ultimately results in your best genius, then embrace it, and once again, stop complaining about it. What you speak about yourself is what you believe about yourself. So speak truth, and as my youth pastor says, get rid of the trash.

These little tips are nothing magic by any means, but they are ways I’ve tried to help myself with the stress I’ve faced this year. Since I moved into a new position at the high school and took on some new courses, there was some added pressure. But I found that much of the stress I felt was dependent on my thought life, my words, and my response to the stress. When I can intentionally choose to do the eight little tips above, my stress reduces dramatically. I hope it works for you, too!