As Richard Carlson, author of the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” reminds us, “it’s all small stuff.” He is talking of course, about the little stuff of everyday life that gives us grief, causes us to sweat, to get anxious, upset, or angry. If we give in to these negative reactions, or allow them to overwhelm us, our stress levels go up, causing our cortisol levels to rise and creating an environment of chronic stress in the body.
Studies show that chronic stress can lead to all sorts of physical ailments, and can negatively affect our quality of life. Attaining peace of mind is important because chronic stress weakens our immune systems and increases the risk of heart disease. However, there is hope! There are many ways we can train ourselves to “stop sweating the small stuff.”
We can train ourselves to use the reasoning part of our brain, rather than the emotional, more primitive part of our brain, for example by naming our emotions, acknowledging how we feel and then immediately looking for solution. This helps our rational mind to outweigh the primitive emotional side and can help keep us on a more even keel.
Life is a series of moments. How we feel in each moment is key to determining the quality of our overall life. Those single moments add up, into hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Soon we are looking back on a lifetime. It is up to us to choose how we live in each moment. Do you choose stress, or peace? It is up to you.
Train Your Brain
To help you get started on training your brain, here are a number of tips and ideas.
Be Kind Not Right
What is more important? To be kind, or to be right?
Having the upper hand may give you a sense of temporary power, but at what cost? You may cause the other person to feel disgruntled, inferior, or even hurt. Is there genuinely value in that? Having power over another will ultimately result in your feeling disconnected, from yourself and from others.
If you choose kindness over being right, you will find your connections with others deepen, you will be loved and you will feel a sense of inner peace that was not there before. Do your own little experiment and see which approach brings you more ease and serenity.
Find A Role Model
Find someone who embodies the qualities you are seeking. Who is calm under pressure? Who seems to have success and opportunity land in their lap at every turn, effortlessly? When you identify this person, try to figure out what it is that keeps them on an even keel. What do they do that brings them opportunities? What do they do that allows them to flow through life with such ease? Then emulate them. Copy their traits, their work habits, their thought processes. Notice what changes for you when you adopt their habits.
See Every Setback As An Opportunity
This is a question of seeing the glass as half empty or half full. Our reactions to situations are triggered by the perspectives we hold. It is possible to change our perspectives. We can see the opportunity within each apparently negative event by looking for the “silver lining.” For example, suppose the friend you were waiting for doesn’t show up. Instead of fretting that they are keeping you waiting, consider this a golden opportunity to practice relaxation, or breathing, taking these precious, quality moments to connect meaningfully with yourself.
Mindfulness keeps you focused on what is occurring in the moment. It takes energy to focus on the past or the future. Worrying about the future, or regretting what happened in the past, are ways to avoid living your life fully, here and now. The mental energy required to think about the future or the past will drain you and leave you exhausted and stressed.
Try noticing what is occurring right here and right now. What do you see? What colors and objects?
What do you hear? Birds, traffic, street commotion, a radio?
What do you touch, in this moment, with your body? Do you notice your muscles or bones on the chair? Your fingertips tapping the keyboard? Your hand holding the phone?
Notice tastes and sensations when you are eating.
What can you smell right now? Perfume, flower scents, coffee?
When you come into the experience of your senses in the moment, you are becoming more mindful. Your body begins to slow down, your thoughts stop racing and you begin to experience life in the present moment.
Adding to this the practice of allowing thoughts to arise, and then letting them go, without judgment, will help to keep you present and allow you to experience the pleasure of life, moment to moment.
Judging, criticizing, and blaming: all these are negative perspectives that ultimately create discord within ourselves. Thoughts are energy. Our body mind cannot distinguish between self and other. If we direct criticism at another, the body mind perceives this negative energy as directed at self.
It is much healthier for you to practice suspending judgment, or actively thinking positive and affirmative thoughts. As in the old biblical phrase, “What you sow, so shall you reap,” whatever thoughts you put out will come straight back to you.
Whenever you feel stressed, take a few minutes to just breathe. Contrary to what your grandmother might have told you, don’t “Take a deep breath.” Science tells us that breathing in increases the stress response while breathing out helps to relax us.
Try breathing in for two and out for four.
Take Five Minutes
If you notice yourself getting hot and bothered, or overwhelmed and anxious, take a break. While it may seem counter-intuitive when you are under pressure, taking a break can help you reset your system. With stressful feelings running high, you are not going to be very productive anyway.
Take a break, do something completely different for a few minutes, stretch and breathe and then, when you come back to the task at hand, everything will seem that much easier. Taking your mind off something by taking a break allows you to gain new perspective.
Our response depends on how we view a situation. Reframing something means looking at a problem from a new angle, or seeing something in a new light, preferably going from a viewpoint that makes us feel unhappy or uncomfortable to one that makes us feel better. Kind of like the glass, half empty/half full scenario. So for example, suppose you believe “I’m too fat and need to lose 10lb,” you can reframe this belief with “I’m fine just the way I am.”
How Will This Look One Year From Now
This is a great way to get a new perspective on a situation that is causing you to stress: how important is it really, and what will it look like a year from now? Chances are, you won’t even be able to remember it a year from now. This can help you move on when you are feeling stuck on something and can even help you see the humor in a situation.
Remember That It’s All Small Stuff
After all, when you boil it all down, our lives are made up of moments. Getting fixated on a particular moment, responding to it negatively and obsessing over it can cause us undue amounts of stress.
Taking the premise that whatever happens in life has no inherent meaning, can take the hook out of the situation, once we realize that, we are the ones who ascribe meaning to a situation. We really do have the power to decide how to respond, in each and every moment. Why make ourselves suffer when we can choose happiness, moment after moment after moment?
Think About Win-Win Situations
When you try to “get one over on somebody,” one person wins and the other loses. In other words, someone is going to be hurt, or feel less than, or feel unhappy.
Although you might get a short-term gain from the “win,” you may still feel stressed knowing that someone else has suffered because of your gain. When you think about win-win solutions, you accommodate everybody’s needs and you end up feeling happier. No tainted victories, just pure feel good factor.
Stuff Happens. It’s Always Going To
Life is made of ups and downs. There are times in life where everything seems to be going your way. However, just when you think you’ve got it made, that’s when life throws you a curve ball. Can you relate? Remembering the premise that situations, events and so on are devoid of any inherent meaning can be very helpful in creating a subtle shift in perspective, and some distance between your standpoint and the event.
Then when something happens, you don’t have to dramatize it into a catastrophe. You can just see it as life doing its thing. Accepting this, having that little bit more detachment, can help you to choose happiness, no matter what is going on around you.
Don’t Take This Life Personally
Remember, it’s never about you! If somebody hates you, it’s not about you. If somebody loves you…it’s still not about you! Each human being views life through their own unique lens. They have their own personal blueprint of how their mind is made up, how their thoughts operate, and how they view things. Their thoughts are composed of positive and negative.
Everything they perceive in the world is a result of the particular interplay of their mind with their environment. We all have our own unique-to-us worldview. Therefore, whatever another person thinks or believes is ultimately about them! That is why there is absolutely no point in taking anything personally. You can save yourself an awful lot of blood sweat and tears with this realization alone.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Our assumptions are very often wrong. We can get ourselves twisted into knots thinking that someone doesn’t like us because they ignored us in the street the other day. We make this assumption without checking the facts. In this scenario, the facts are that that person was short sighted and didn’t even see us. We make up stories about situations that are not based on reality, or on fact. When we do this, we can cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary grief. Ask questions to root out the facts: don’t make assumptions!
Practicing gratitude is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give yourself. The more you are grateful, the more you experience feelings of happiness and contentment and the more you are open to receiving gifts of abundance and the joy that life has to offer you. Find a reason to be grateful in each and every moment of your day.
This will breed patience, calm and generosity into your character and you will become a much more grounded, levelheaded person who sees opportunity in every situation and whose life is filled with abundance. As you give thanks, you naturally fill your system with positive feelings and stressful feelings literally melt away.
Practice Giving Love
If you are feeling unloved and unappreciated in your life, practice giving love. The love you give out will instantly be felt within you, rather than the aching sense of loneliness and longing. Other people will respond to you more positively when you express loving actions and intentions. If you are angry and defensive, they will respond in kind. If you are loving and giving, they will respond more positively, and you in turn will feel much happier, about yourself and about the world in general.
Accept What You Cannot Control
The serenity prayer, used in Alcoholics Anonymous and related meetings around the world says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”. This prayer can be used to the benefit of each and every one of us, no matter our circumstances in life.
Its wisdom can teach us how to let go of situations where we have no control, and to accept with graciousness the knowledge that there is nothing we can do. By the same token, this prayer encourages us to take action over the things, which we do have control over. More often than not, the one place we have control over is within our own heart, mind, and soul.
Come At A Solution With Compassion
Next time you feel reactive because somebody did or said something that really pressed your buttons, take a step back for a moment. Instead of reacting with anger, take some time to just breathe, and think, how would this be if I viewed the situation with compassion?
Sink into the feeling of compassion, and notice the sense of expansiveness that comes with it. Remember the other person has needs too. How would it be if their needs and your needs were met?
Through the lens of compassion, you may find yourself coming up with inspired solutions, which never could have been allowed, to surface if you were stuck in anger and negativity.
Knowing that life is a string of events and happenings, each without inherent meaning, can help us take a step back from situations that may have us reacting with frustration, anxiety or other negative emotions. That little bit of detachment can give us the insight needed to remember we can choose to respond differently.
Knowing that we may well have forgotten the incident a year from now can help us see the humor in the scenario. Reframing our negative thoughts can help us train ourselves to respond positively to situations.
Being mindful can help us enjoy the present instead of ruminating on the past or obsessing about the future. Becoming aware of our breath can help calm us. The more we practice gratitude the more frequently we experience happiness and contentment.
Remembering not to make assumptions and not to take life personally can keep us in the stress free zone for longer. Learning strategies from a role model can be a game changer and looking for win-win solutions, from a place of non-judgment and compassion, can bring about inspired solutions while keeping us calm and unruffled.
Becoming more loving helps us experience more love in our life and being kind over being right is simply good for our health. Peace of mind is absolutely possible when we let go of the need to be in control. Relax, enjoy the journey, and “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
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