How to Reduce Stress and Increase Contentment

Most of us have a tendency to spend at least some parts of our days worrying and stressing about situations that are beyond our control. And while doing so we waste time dwelling in unnecessary negativity that affects our health and how we interact with people around us.

Let me give you an example. The other morning I was on a bus that was moving at snail’s pace in a congested traffic. I was cursing under my breath for jumping into the bus instead of catching a train that would’ve left 10 minutes later. “Would’ve saved both time and stress and wouldn’t have to sit here wondering whether I’ll end up being late for the first client of the day”, I thought to myself while squeezing my hand into a rather solid fist.

We’ve all been there, whether it’s raging and banging the steering wheel and cursing how everyone else but you drives like Nathan. Queuing up in the local motor registry or, feeling your brain being soaked with stinging levels of anxiety because you are behind with work tasks. Or the most anxious wait of them all, staring at the microwave countdown clock desperately waiting for the soup to heat up. All of those moments filled angst and anger about something that, at that point at least, is out of our control.

Yes, there’s situations worth worrying about: whether you need to get out of the way of the approaching truck to see another day from somewhere else than the hospital bed (if lucky). Or rushing to the hospital if you step on a used heroin needle. Then there’s things that are not worth your worry. Things that only add aimless stress to your mind and body: sitting on a bus and cursing the traffic because you might be late from a meeting, like I was. Stressing about the turbulence when flying, like I do. Or banging the microwave door because your blood sugar is crushing.


Accepting the Situation

The next time when you find yourself in those situations may I suggest an alternative to complaining and stressing over it. An alternative to blaming someone else, such as the traffic, shitty bus driver or Chad, who you might remember as the douchebag from previous blog post. First, accept the situation as it is. Accept that if you want to enjoy the convenience of sitting in the air conditioned bus instead of running a half marathon to work, you will have to put up with the traffic. If you want to eat a hot soup instead of experiencing the culinary effects of the old Soviet block (eating cold soup, that is) you need to insert a bit of patience in your life. Hey, at least you have the luxury of using a microwave in the first place.

So back to the bus-moment happening the other morning. When I caught myself having these thoughts I straightened my back and took a deep breath. I reframed the situation. This is where my daily meditation practice pays off. It helps me to find the calm, which in turn does wonders for my long-term wellbeing. And I said to myself, “There’s nothing I can do right now. So just chill, dude. Read your book.


The Question You Need to Ask Yourself

Once you’ve reframed what’s going on it’s time to take a step back and ask what can you do differently to avoid this situation in the future. Leave home earlier to allow extra time for travel? Don’t let your hunger get unbearable before igniting the microwave? If you’ve got a big project to finish, start early to avoid the last minute stress of getting everything done.

Here’s a golden rule to follow that will help to alleviate the stress and even stop it from happening in the first place:

Estimate how long it will take you to get something done (or to get somewhere). Then multiply it by three.

I guarantee that most times you will be well on time, unless there is a major incident or a holdup. In which case, c’est la vie, mofo.


But It’s Not My Fault

There’s people who always seem to have something going against them. People who go from a bad situation to another without ever changing anything. You know the type: a lot of complaining about the hardships of life and how everything that happens to them is always someone else’s fault. They themselves are perfect but life just keeps giving empty promises and loose rope. It’s because they’ve become accustomed to react to what’s happening around them instead being proactive.

Even when you find yourself in a negative situation that is not your fault (which is most times, no doubt), inspect the moment and what led to it to find the 0.1% that you could improve on next time. When you are able to exercise healthy criticism toward yourself you are able to find something you can evolve on to become a better person. There is always something you can do..

It’s too late to cry once you’ve shat your pants. That’s not to say that there’s never any unavoidable or close to unbearable hardships in life, there is. But as you are reading this on your smartphone the odds are you’ve got things pretty good in life compared to people in poorer parts of the world.  If you are someone who falls from one negative situation to another it’s worth taking a hard look at what’s happening and how you are affecting the outcome.

Be in a constant road of improving yourself and don’t be afraid to find faults in your own actions. Control what you can and let the rest fall sideway. You will be happier and less stressed for doing so.

What you’re thinking is what you’re becoming. – Muhammad Ali