We've published a handful of articles on how to deal with stress, from ways you can feel less stressed at work to things you should do on weekends to help you de-stress. They involve having to do something, like treating yourself with sweets or your favorite food, giving yourself a pep talk, watching a movie, and exercising.
All of those are pretty good especially if they help you feel better, but they might not help you manage your stress properly since you can feel stressed when the fun's over and you have to get back to work. What's bound to work is dealing with stress from the inside—in your mind. It's not so much about how you perceive stress (although that counts a bit); it has more to do with knowing and understanding yourself.
Dr. David Brendel, a psychiatrist and an executive coach, encourages self-reflection by asking yourself what a good life is to you, what kind of life will make you the happiest, and what traits you value most. Doing so will help you make the right career and personal life decisions because you already know what it is you want in life. In a way it'll give you one less thing to worry about, and it's even the first step to actually heading to where you really want to go.
But what happens when you're in a harrowing situation, like you just got laid off or you're having some financial setback? What would your self-awareness do for you? According to Dr. Brendel, those who are self-aware and in such a situation "carefully appraise their core strengths and resources, rather than panicking or disconnecting from reality. They humbly seek and accept help from others, maintain an open mind about next steps, and develop rational action plans to care for those who rely on them."
Simply put, if you know what you value, you'd get the necessary things done—whether that's asking for help, finding another job, or making big sacrifices—right away. Sure, you might do things with a heavy heart at first (because face it, it sucks to lose things you're not ready to let go of but that'll go away when you've assured yourself that you're on the right track).
Psychology and neuroscience have even seen that self-reflection does something in our brain that in turn affects our behavior. Cognitive psychology research shows that one of the most effective methods for reducing stress is to practice self-reflection that looks at stress as a challenge, not a threat. On the other hand neuroimaging research shows that self-reflection lights up the brain's anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, which are linked to regions that mediate emotion and decision-making. That means self-reflection, because of how it affects our brain, helps us weed out what's irrelevant (hence not worth stressing about) to the relevant (what's worth stressing about).
Brilliant, right? Who would've thought thinking about and talking to yourself would actually help you? (Okay, philosophers did, but that's not the point.)
You might wonder who has all the time in the world to just sit down and evaluate oneself. Well, the great thing about self-reflection is that you don't have to really drop everything to do it. You can ask yourself "What do I really want?" "What kind of person do I want to be?" when you're brushing your teeth, taking a bath, and commuting to work or back home—make it a part of an essential yet mindless daily routine. Your answers may vary from time to time, and that's fine because you're growing as a person and learning new things. Even if that's the case they'll surely guide you in dealing with any stressful event and make you even stronger.
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