We all experience stress and we all know that extended periods of stress are terrible for our health — which is just one more source of stress in our lives. But there are also some quick and easy ways to drastically help you manage your stress levels.
Here are a few of our favorite self-reflection exercises for reducing stress
1. Identify and write out one specific experience that is bothering you
Stress can make everything seem awful and get us bogged down in anxiety. We might replay the same experiences over and over in our mind. We might generally feel that an entire day was awful, even if we’re only worried about one particular thing.
The best way to get started in combatting this effect is to identify just one specific experience that is bothering you and write about it. Initially, don’t worry about getting analytical. Just describe the situation, focusing on the facts of your experience and your thoughts about it.
Research has shown that the process of externalizing your thoughts and emotions by writing them down can help calm you by reducing your cognitive load. This process not only reduces stress but makes it easier for you to analyze the situation.
2. Label your emotions
Naming your emotions, is scientific parlance, is called affect labeling. It can feel absurdly simple to spend a brief moment saying “I feel discouraged, worried and helpless,” but doing so is also a powerful exercise. Labeling your emotions does a few different things. It reminds you that you are not your emotions and that your emotions are temporary. You may feel anxious right now, but there is more to you than that anxiety and that anxiety will eventually go away. Second, it shifts the active parts of your brain from the portion involved in generating strong emotions to the portions that manage logical thinking.
3. Identify your needs
When you are overly focused on a given situation, it’s easy to forget that you, and everyone else involved, are simply trying to meet some fairly basic human needs. Those needs might include health, control, connection, respect, achievement or any of the many needs that all humans share.
When you reflect, ask yourself what you actually need from this situation and try to distill your needs down to their most basic form. This can help shift your line of thought from stressed-out worrying down a more productive path. This is particularly helpful if other people are involved in the experience, since identifying your needs and the needs of other people can help you communicate and problem solve in more productive ways.
Once you’ve identified your needs in a situation, comparing your short-term needs to your core values can help you remember what is truly important to you and put an experience in context.
4. Consider related experiences
Thinking about similar experiences can help you learn more about yourself, encourage you to brainstorm solutions, or even just put your experiences in context. When I was in college and grad school, I would spend the last few weeks of almost every semester convinced that I would never be able to get everything done on time. I did this roughly twice a year for eleven years and every time my mom would remind me, “You said the same thing last semester, and you still managed to get everything done on time.”
When I was engulfed in end-of-the-semester stress, it was hard to be realistic. Having her remind me of the bigger context — that this has happened many times before and I have always managed — helped me put my stress in check.
Expressing gratitude for all the things in your life that are good can help pull you out of a negative mindset. It can remind you of the bigger picture picture when you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress.
The Inome app guides you through exercises like these, making reflection as simple as possible. Check it out here: Inome app