It does nobody any good to complain about unfortunate things happening. If you have yet to realize this, stressful things are literally part of what it means to exist in the world. This is why your daily decisions regarding how you will react to and internalize these things are directly related to the joy or pain you feel in your life.
Even during good days, it is easy to let unfortunate and unwanted events unnecessarily upset you and cause you stress. It may be that the overwhelming sensory overload and clichéd busy living has us primed, perpetually sitting on the edge of an overreaction to the unwanted events that inevitably come our way.
But there are a lot of things you can do to keep unwanted situations from ruining your day, and they do not just come from handling them in the moment – a lot of how you react to something is a result of habits. Because if your mind and body are not in a form to take on your day, your reactions to situations will reflect that more than you would probably like them to.
1. Yes, You Need to Exercise
Our ancestors were perpetually physically engaged, whether that be hunting, farming, or defending themselves from predators. We may have sensory stress in our lives, but the physical side has almost disappeared, and the imbalance is causing us a lot of harm. Exercise can literally make you feel like a different person – a far happier, energetic, and confident person who can now face something terrible, without it negatively affecting judgment, mindset, or problem-solving skills.
Physical exercise is exercise for your brain, and when you exercise your brain, you are actually directly making life far less emotionally stressful. Exercise increases blood supply, and blood carries the tools necessary for your brain to literally grow and improve the supply and effectiveness of neurohormones and the connections between them. It improves cortisol levels (a stress hormone that negatively impacts memory), and the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for things like the regulation of emotion. Exercise makes you calm mentally and physically, allowing you to be in prime form to be reasonable, and think clearly, anytime.
Sleeping makes us defenseless, which would have put our ancestors at risk of being attacked, so if it was not an absolutely vital part of living, it would not be something we would carry with us through evolution. When we sleep the brain gets rid of waste build-up and assimilates the information it received that day. Sleep decreases the stress the brain is under during our waking hours, including through decreasing cortisol, which is the hormone associated with stress, weight gain, and memory (forgetting things is a big source of stress, too!), and it strengthens your immunity (you know what is also stressful!? Being sick! So, prevent it as much as you can).
If I could offer just one piece of advice to improve sleep, it would be to stop eating four hours before bed. Are you hungry at 10 pm? That is fine! If your body is busy digesting food, it won’t let you sleep as well as you could if your stomach was empty. A few hours of hunger at night is not the end of the world, and I assure you it is an absolute game-changer for sleep quality.
3. In the Moment
You have to accept the stressful thing that has happened, has now happened – freaking out about it will not make it go away, or give you a solution. I know it is easy to say this, and easy to say that you know this, but actually putting it into practice is extremely hard (and surprisingly effective!).
Getting angry over something that has already happened just ruins your mood and ability to think clearly. Some do deep breathing, some do mental reflection, but personally, I am a bit more unconventional: I find it cathartic to let out a really good yell in my brain (or out loud if I am alone), and with that instant burst of anger out, I am able to calmly take as long a pause as I need to rationally analyze the following:
1. What parts of what happened are no longer within my control to change?
2. What parts of what happened are within my control to change?
Category 1 immediately leaves my realm of caring. This does not make me heartless, it does not mean what happened did not affect me on a personal or emotional level, but crap things happen all of the time, and when we give too much of ourselves to these things, we exhaust our mental and emotional ability to deal with the things we can change.
Category 2 is where I focus my attention. It can be the case that the only one thing I have within my control is my mindset about what happened, but other times, there are actions I can take to mitigate the negative impact. And these are what should be proactively worked on.
4. Do Not Pretend What Happened Didn’t Bother You
It may seem contradictory to Category 1, but it isn’t. If there is a person responsible for what has caused you stress, have a candid conversation. Confrontation can feel incredibly awkward, but if you are calm and approach it without defenses up, you allow for the possibility to have the issue resolved, or at the minimum you have done what you can do relieve your internal tension. It will surprise you how receptive people can be to a kindly approached, honest conversation. Or just talking it out with someone you trust can help alleviate the stress and be effective at coming up for solutions for those things that fall into Category 2.
5. Remember That Value Is Relative
You are the one who ultimately puts the value on how much something has in your life – good and bad. Allowing something to weigh on you throughout the day, or longer, or reacting harshly in any given moment, are conscious decisions that (whether you want to take responsibility for this or not) you do make for yourself. Before you react to anything, take a moment to analyze how much of yourself you will give to each situation you are faced with.
Life Is Not Rosy, but You Can Handle It
Life is never going to go smoothly, and stressful situations will never stop coming. If we let them all ruin or moods or weigh on us they will start to feel heavier and more significant than they need to be. By taking care of yourself physically and mentally, you are priming yourself on a mental level to be able to handle sorting through anything that life throws you.