Stress Management and Training Your Brain to Be More Optimistic

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Are you the type of person who easily sees the bright side in every situation? Or are you more hesitant and wary, with a tendency to think of the worst?

Most people are somewhere in between, but with the recent events happening lately one can’t help but dive deeper into that part of their brain that’s more inclined to stress, worry and fear. 

This phenomenon has become so prevalent that stress has been dubbed “The Silent Killer”, leading to increased risk of illnesses and weaker immune system. The thing is: we can’t live our life without encountering setbacks and difficulties. There is simply no way to completely remove stress from our lives. 

So how can you mitigate stress, take control of your emotions and become a more optimistic person in these difficult times? After my high-stress job as a lawyer and investment banker that led me to serious burnout and depression, I have learned that there are 6 key things I can do to take control of my stress levels and achieve peak performance. 

1. Turn off the news.

The news loves drama. They love stories that are intense and attention-catching, and if you scrutinize them further, you’ll find that they always feature disasters, deaths and scandals. 

Now, I am not saying that you should close your eyes to the realities of the world and become a hermit. I’m saying that maybe you don’t need all that information to function as a responsible citizen. 

I personally limit my news intake, even business news. I check out the headline and read something only when it is truly necessary for my work. The right amount differs from person to person and you have to decide for yourself what amount of news is good for you to stay informed without sabotaging your daily mental and emotional reserves.

2. List ten good things.

Although it seems like there are people who are simply born happy and optimistic, most times we can train our brains to see the bright side of things. Listing 10 good things daily is a good exercise that forces you to pay attention to even the smallest good things and shifts your focus to positive interactions. 

When you sharpen your focus to find something positive in your daily life, you are bound to find a lot. Dedicate a portion of your daily journal to positivity or make it a habit to compliment the people you meet. Make optimism a habit and you’ll wake up one day without needing to make an effort to see the wonders in your daily life.

3. Eat your greens.

Food has a direct impact on your mental and physical health. Sugar is particularly bad especially if you’re sensitive to it because it can worsen anxiety and depression. You may turn to a sugary treat when you’re feeling down but this dependence is a negative loop that will sabotage your mental, physical and emotional health. 

If you need an afternoon treat, stick to dark chocolate or fruits such as a banana or dates. Pair it with some nuts for a good dose of healthy fats as well. Having healthy snacks available at home or in your office desk is so important to make sure you don’t just mindlessly grab a bag of chips or a bar of chocolate when you’re stressed.

4. Acknowledge the negative things.

Bad things happen. It’s an inevitable part of life. How I deal with negative things throughout the years has changed a lot and along the way, I learned the importance of using my logical brain more than my emotional brain when I am experiencing difficulties.

Rule one when it comes to stressful situations is: don’t be reactive. This is especially important for leaders. The first thing I do when I’m experiencing a stressful situation is to ask myself if there’s anything I can do about it. It’s an action-oriented question that allows me to fully process what is happening. If I can’t do anything about it, I accept the loss and give myself time to find my grounding once again. Otherwise, I’ll plan my next step of action and get to work. 

5. Get help. Don’t suffer in silence. 

The thing is…you know your own brain the best. You know your limits and your capabilities. Most of the time, you can push yourself. But at any time when you feel that you’ve reached your limit, you should know that you are allowed to pause, take a step back and ask for help. 

You can ask your friends and family and properly communicate your situation to your managers and your mentor for advice. You can also get professional support from people trained to address your current mental and emotional challenges. Whichever route you choose to take, know that there are people who can help you in your journey and that you aren’t alone. 

6. Choose to be joyful, and say no to things that make you unhappy.

Sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason for it. Sometimes, we just decide that we’re going to have an amazing day and accomplish it like it’s another task on our to-do list. Some days, it takes active effort that involves you saying no to things that you know aren’t right for you. 

Someone from your team is asking for a work favour on your day off. No.

Someone’s inviting you to a greasy dinner because they had a bad day. No.

A prospect is being rude and demanding impossible claims. No.

…But say no respectfully. You can disagree with people without being rude, just make sure you don’t allow them to peer pressure you into doing something. You have to set firm boundaries to protect your own happiness. 

Especially during the holiday season, you are bound to encounter more challenging people, demands and requests. I hope that no matter how busy you are at work, you are taking time for yourself to still enjoy the little things in your daily life. 

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