How I Learned to Overcome Stress
“Rule number one is, don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule number two is, it’s all small stuff.” - Robert Eliot
I have a few jobs that are considered stressful. One is practicing Emergency Medicine in a busy and sometimes hectic environment and another is flying. I fly helicopters and planes, sometimes in bad weather conditions.
I’m a doctor in a level one trauma center that sees hundreds of patients a day. These patients are typically high-risk individuals with a number of medical issues. It isn't uncommon to be treating multiple patients all with high-risk needs at the same time. In these situations, it is easy to become stressed and react negatively.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” - William James
Over the years, I’ve learned that being stressed is detrimental to me, which in turn could affect my patients. I know, if I am stressed in these moments, the outcome is going to be much worse.
When I am in those stressful positions, I make sure I am the calmest one in the room. I consciously control my breathing and talk slowly and softly. In doing this, I am able to stay at my absolute level best during those moments.
Stress can be overwhelming and all-consuming. And it can feel inevitable in today’s busy world. Once you have started to spiral, it can be difficult to snap yourself out of it. That ball in the pit of your stomach and the tightness along your shoulders is the worst feeling. But there are ways to minimize stress and live in the present moment.
“Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries.”- Astrid Alauda
Throughout my life, I have worked on minimizing stress and making sure that, when it does arise, I know how to let it go as quickly as possible. This has come from practice, reading and being mentally present.
Below are some of my favorite books that have helped put things into perspective and helped me eliminate stress.
- This is Water by David Foster Wallace
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- Mands Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl
- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
- Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson
“What matters most is not what our obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.” - Ryan Holiday
11 Ways to Manage Your Stress
- Workout—get some physical activity. When you are stressed, adrenaline and cortisol increase in your body. These “fight or flight” hormones can be metabolized by physical activity. Helping your body and mind relax and calm down.
- Sleep more—lack of sleep causes and exacerbates stress. Turn your bedroom into a peaceful oasis. Get electronics out of the room, meditate, take a warm bath beforehand, read a book.
- Talk it out. When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, talk to someone about it. Explain what is going on and why you feel this way. After verbalizing your feelings, the stress lessens. And the person you are speaking to might just have some good advice.
- Journal—write down everything you are feeling and thinking. Like talking to someone, writing down why you are overwhelmed helps release the stress. Journaling can also help you figure out what triggers that stress.
- Manage your time. Prioritize the tasks you need to get done and check them off one by one. When you are in a state of stress, everything seems overwhelming. However, if you focus on one thing at a time and stay present, it will be easier to complete your list.
- Put the phone down. Scrolling through social media, texting friends, looking up random things online— they can all contribute to stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, step away from your electronics, go outside or read.
- Practice saying “no.” If you are always busy, overbooked and overwhelmed, then it is time to take a step back. It can be hard to say no when you are invited out or when someone has asked you to do something for them. But it is okay. Sometimes you have to put yourself first and focus on your own mental and physical health. If you know it is going to add to your stress, then say “no.”
- Meditate—Meditation helps decrease stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and decrease tension. Through regular meditation, I have learned how to remain in the present moment, relax and let go. Meditation is a great stress reliever because it helps quiet the mind and releases your stress.
- Be prepared. When it comes to managing stress, preparation is key. Be prepared for what life throws at you—at work, at home, while driving. Preparation isn’t necessarily about material items. Prepare mentally. If you have thought through situations ahead of time, you will be prepared to handle and control the stress.
- Practice gratitude. It sounds easy, but practicing gratitude can be pretty difficult. A lot of the time, our thoughts veer toward the negative. Instead look at the positive in any situation and throughout your day. When you wake up in the morning, write down three things you are grateful for. This practice will help you start your day with the right state of mind.
- Stop and breath. This is an easy and important tool. And it is one I use whenever a stressful situation arises. Instead of spinning into that stress, stop and take a deep breath. Unclench your jaw and release your shoulders from your ears. The simple act of conscious breathing and relaxing the body can help.
In modern society, we are constantly bringing stress into our lives. If we are continually in a state of stress, that “fight or flight” feeling will never go away.
“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens. And response is something we can choose.”- Maureen Killoran
You are in charge of how you react to a situation. If you focus on that stress and let it absorb your mind, you will always be anxious. Let the stress hit, acknowledge it and then work to let it go.
Like Confucius said: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”