“Stress is the trash of modern life — we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” ~Terri Guillemets

This past week I attended a class in which the presenter asked, “what is the number one cause of death in the U.S.?”

Of course, if we are talking statistics here, then heart disease is the clear winner.

But his question was purely rhetorical and put in the presentation to make a point, as he went on to assert that stress, not any sort of chronic disease (which make up 7 of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. according to this list), is responsible for the majority of deaths in the U.S. “Stress,” he stated, “causes us to smoke, to eat poorly, and to engage in decisively unhealthy habits which in turn lead to these diseases.”

While the link between stress and health is well documented, I couldn’t help but fault his overly simplified logic. Never mind the fact that a complicated and intricate web of societal factors and influences play into the lifestyle choices most of us make; if indeed a simple explanation is needed, it seems to me that poor stress management, not stress itself, should take the blame here.

After all, we all experience stress. These days, in a face-paced, technology-driven and constantly plugged-in world, with constant demands and pressures from work, family, friends, and finances, the possibility to feel stressed is about as guaranteed as breathing in a bit of air pollution (unfortunate, I know . . . )

The good news is, we don’t have to let stress overtake our lives and wreck our health. We don’t have to numb away our stress with junk food, binge drinking, smoking, and getting lost in hours of television or video games.

Below are 5 simple mindset tricks to help manage stress in a healthy, positive way:

  1. Recognize that stress is not the enemy.

    It was Bill Phillips who said, “stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle.” Consider, where would you be without any stress at all? The truth is, stress enables us to be productive, push ourselves past the point of comfort, and reach our goals. As Shawn Achor points out in his book Before Happiness, stress is a crucial marker for indicating when something is important to us, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Instead of perceiving stress as something negative, try to appreciate it as a necessary and helpful emotion.

  2. Accept that worrying doesn’t solve problems.

    We can sit and worry about the various stressors in our lives all day long, but this worry will not make things better, and can often lead us into feeling even more stressed and anxious! Stressors fall into categories, things we can control and things we cannot. If we can control something that is causing us stress or anxiety, we ought to take action to change it, and if not, we ought to let it go!

    [bctt tweet=”Worry will not change our circumstance . . . only action can do that. “]

  3. On that note, take responsibility for, and control of, your circumstances.

    Back at the beginning of the year, I felt stuck in a job that I hated. I was super stressed and grumpy every day, and it took me a long time to realize that staying in that job was my choice. I didn’t have to stay (certainly no one was forcing me), though leaving would mean financial insecurity and perhaps a major change in lifestyle.

    It can be easy to feel powerless in many situations, like a victim of our own circumstances. But recognizing that we almost always have a choice allows us to evaluate our wants and needs and the trade-offs that we will have to make to get them met.  We can always make changes and work towards better, more comfortable circumstances, just as long as we are willing to make sacrifices and take responsibility for our own shit.

  4. Focus on what you do have and cultivate gratitude.

    Being grateful, despite how dire our circumstances may seem, is perhaps one of the most powerful tools for managing stress and creating happiness. Take a few minutes each day to write in a gratitude journal or just make a mental note of 1-3 new things you are grateful for. This practice helps to draw our mind away from our perceived stressors (the negatives), and bring our focus back to the positives!

  5. Focus on how you can give to others.

    Time, money, a smile or simple friendly “hello,” whatever! Giving to others helps to take to focus off of our own perceived problems and stressors and instead places it on making others feel good. And when we give to others and help others feel good, we feel good in return. It’s a win-win!

By working to incorporate these mindset shifts into our way of thinking, we can dramatically reduce the amount of stress we experience, which helps us to not only cope better and avoid unhealthy numbing habits, but also live healthier, happier, more fulfilling lives.

Have you had success in changing your mindset to reduce your stress? Share your story in the comments below!

Wishing you health and happiness,