In the 21st century with the vast array of distractions and sensory stimuli, we humans experience a range of stressors, especially anticipatory stress which can constantly overwhelm us. Fortunately, here are 4 strategies to help you manage them.
Austin Caffrey
March 13, 2019

If you found this article via a notification then we apologise now,  but this ‘ping’ truly does come with a nice surprise. Although we are all too exposed to the negatives of notification overload, this one carries 4 brain-hacks that will help you cut through the noise & reduce that ever-familiar feeling of being distracted, over-notified and ultimately - overwhelmed.

First, let’s get some context. In the 21st Century, many of us have become exposed to increased levels of anxiety and stress due to our bad tech habits and 24/7 work routine. That’s because we humans experience a range of stressors, especially anticipatory stress, which can constantly overwhelm us.

In other words, we always worry about imaginary and unlikely scenarios - which isn’t helped by always being ‘available’ in today’s fast-paced world.

Unlike zebras, just our thoughts can be enough to turn on the same stress response that zebras experience when fleeing from a lion. It is our stress response being constantly turned on that leads to chronic stress.

Many of our mental processes are automatic and this can often be very helpful. For example, isn’t it amazing to be able to type without consciously thinking about where each letter is on your keyboard? However, often the automatic processes your mind chooses are not in your best interest.

Many of these automatic thoughts are often acting against us. For example, when we are feeling down, we often have negative thoughts that take us in a downward spiral (e.g. I have failed, I should have done better, I am going to lose my job) so we end up becoming consumed with these unproductive thoughts, instead of being present and focusing our energy on trying to change the reality or learn and rectify the situation.

1. It really does help to breathe.

Pause, get perspective. We can create more space in our minds and be more conscious of the decisions we are making by simply focusing on our breath. This acts as an anchor that grounds you back to the present moment. You can do this every time you feel overwhelmed or fearful.

I challenge you to try this and let us know how it works for you.

If you want to take this to the next level, you can engage in short periods of meditation.

A recent Harvard study showed that mindfulness meditation can actually decrease the brain cell volume in the amygdala, the brain area responsible for fear, anxiety and stress, and respectively decrease participants subjective levels of stress.

2. Positive visualisations can help us conquer our fears.

As most of our thoughts that trigger stress are future based, start by recognizing that the event you're dreading doesn't have to play out as you imagine. Rather than worrying about what might happen, start focusing on what will be created as the positive and successful outcome you want.

When you believe things are going to go wrong, you create self-fulfilling prophecies that can bring your fears to reality. You also create cognitive biases that will interfere with your ability to see opportunities.

Try visualising a positive outcome. Your mind often can't tell the difference on a basic neurological level between a situation that you've visualized going well repeatedly and one that's actually happened. This is an extremely effective and powerful tool.

3. Replace negative automatic thought processes with positive ones.

Find one automatic thought or behaviour you want to change right now. For example, thinking you’re less worthy or capable and feeling deflated when seeing others succeed.

From now on, every time you notice yourself having these negative thoughts or practising an unhelpful behaviour, take a deep breath and replace it with productive thought. For example, when seeing others succeed you can say to yourself ‘’If they can do it, I can do it too’’, think about what you can learn from them and get motivated.

But remember, you have to replace the limiting thoughts rather than just try to stop them!

The aim is to train your mind to use positive mental scripts as your default setting (rather than the unhelpful ones) which are motivating and energising.

4. Plan and Prepare.

Be realistic and understand that there may be obstacles on the way, but positive enough to know that you can overcome them. Make sure you are prepared to deal with the worst. Setting an action plan can greatly reduce any anticipatory stress that you may feel. However, always keep a positive mindset and expect good outcomes. This will stop you from overthinking and from creating unnecessary conflicts.

Always be prepared for the worst-case scenario, but expect the best one to happen!

These are our 4 tips on how to reframe our mind, acknowledge stressful situations and prepare ourselves for when our body goes into fight or flight mode. Practice these tips until they become a habit and second nature to you.

What tip are you going to implement today?

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