Reduce Stress: 4 ways to reduce stress using your mind

When star jumps just aren’t cutting it to reduce your stress levels, try these four techniques.

Tired of hearing to just breathe slowly or “it will be fine” when you are stressed to the nines? But you are literally about to present on stage or nervously smiling over networking drinks, wondering how you could possibly reduce stress without a stress ball in sight or doing star jumps and looking like an idiot? Here are four ways you can use to reduce stress using your mind – no physical activity needed!


1. Ask: what was your problem 3 problems ago?

I saw this pop up on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Instagram page and thought it was genius. So often we think that the problem we have right now is the worst thing that could possibly happen to us. Yet if we shift our focus slightly by asking “what was your problem 3 problems ago?”, this can put things into perspective. Now, it’s not about minimising the issues that you have right now, but realising that problems will always come and go. Adopting a ‘this too shall pass’ mentality reframes what you are experiencing right now. I love that this method uses a tangible example of what you thought was an issue, but the issue in time or through action resolves itself. Funny how things always work out, isn’t it? 

Think this instead: “I’ve figured out problems before, this too shall work out. Even if I don’t know the answer right now, I will find a way.”


2. Ask: will this matter in 5 years?

This is a fabulous technique to reduce stress if you have done something embarrassing or plain stupid. We all make mistakes, but giving a situation too much energy and thought doesn’t always serve us.

Asking if an issue will matter in five years is a quick, in-the-moment question to ask yourself to prioritise and put into perspective how much stress and thought you should be allocating to a task or issue. Some actions may matter in five years, but rest assured others you won’t even remember! A not-so-nice comment on social media will not matter in five years. Nor will stuffing up a speech. You can always recover and get yourself out of hard situations. 

If it won’t matter in five years, literally stop spending time overthinking it. Stop the rapidly growing snowball of negative thoughts by simply choosing another thought or saying “I don’t have to think about this right now”. Everything has a way of working itself out and stressing about minor comments you made, or how you tripped over in front of your team or that time you sent a confidential email to the wrong client, will not serve you. Parent yourself and take responsibility for your actions. And in the end, it probably won’t matter in five years. Patch up the issue the best you can and move on. 

Instead think: “I don’t have to think about this right now”. Choose another topic to think about. Even if its last night’s episode of The Bachelor. 


3. If the narrative ends with you dying, it’s probably just your ego trying to protect you

If the story in your head ends up with you saying “Well I will lose everything, and then I will have to live on the streets and then I will die!”, it is probably a slight exaggeration and most likely your pesky ego (see this research article for more info). This does nothing to reduce stress but gives our ego a delicious problem to sort out (egos love solving problems!). Our brains hate change and want us to stay in our comfort zone. Brains prefer to stay on auto-pilot doing the same thing every day and not changing much as this requires extra energy and work for your body. When we present our brains with a new problem, our ego jumps in and starts weighing up the positives and negatives. And the negatives can be endless and quite powerful at stopping us from completing tasks and resolving issues. The thing is, our egos can overinflate sometimes and make small issues much bigger than they really are. Treat your ego like a third person (you can even give it an annoying name like Karen) and tell Karen to bugger off when she starts telling you all the things that could go wrong. You will figure out a solution to it. You always figure out a solution. You’ve got this. 

Do this instead: Prove to yourself, in small ways, that change is okay. Be bold and soon you will realise it was just in your head. Feel the fear and do it anyway. 


4. Visualize or talk about the outcome 

This is the best hack I have heard of for nervous flyers (aren’t we all these days!). Use this instead of stressing about the flight: chat about what you will do once you arrive at your destination. If you have a huge presentation, think about what you will do after, even if its how relaxed you will feel on the drive home or what you will watch on TV later that night. Time is relative, but if in an hour or two it will all be over, focus on getting to that endpoint.  

Do this instead: Think about what happens after the issue is solved. Clapping as your presentation ends? Swimming in the hotel pool after your plane lands? Focus on that. And more importantly, how you will feel once you achieve the goal or complete the task. 

Oh, and hey. You’ve got this. Own up to your mistakes. Make the world a better place. Share your ideas. Some days will feel long, but life is short. Make it worth it.