You’re stressed. Right now. Here’s a meaningful way to help you minimize stress and feel secure right where you are by creating a new — more empowering — narrative. All it takes is going through five simple steps to understand what’s causing your stress, and help you create a new (less stressful) story to carry you forward in your day.

1. Identify

You feel stress in your body. It presents itself as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and tension across your forehead. You can identify the physical sensations, but how about the mental ones? Are you really stressed about the situation at hand, or reacting to something else that has caused you stress recently? Like a shin splint that turns into a stress fracture, stress builds over time in our body and progresses from a nag to a sharp pain.

Often by the time we feel the pain, it’s too late to identify what really caused the stress. Ask yourself what caused the stress and make sure you are really reacting to the right event. If you just got in a fender bender — you have every right to be stressed now. But if you got into your car and are stressed out when someone cuts you off, chances are the stress is caused because of something else. Perhaps you’re already running late, forgot an important deadline, or fought with your partner on your way out of the house. Identity what’s really causing the problem so you can deal with the issue at hand.

2. Acknowledge

After you have identified the real issue behind stress, acknowledge that you can’t change the past stressor event. But you can be proactive to see how you might address that issue moving forward. Maybe you realize that every morning you get in an argument with your partner, and that it causes both of you stressful mornings. When you acknowledge the underlying issue, you can give it the attention it deserves.

3. Set an intention

Instead of blaming yourself or someone else for past stress, set an intention to start to work on better stress management. For example, if you and your partner are both stressed each morning, you might want to set a positive intention to start mornings with more grace. Perhaps there is a better way you can wake up more mindfully, or earlier to have more time together, or incorporate exercise a few times a week to minimize some of the rush and angst of the morning routine.

Make sure when you set an intention that they are positive and affirming statements, such as “I start each morning with grace,” or, “I am going to have more time each morning,” rather than “I am going to stop running late” or “I won’t argue with my partner.” These latter statements are still coming from a negative mindset. Reframe them to “I am going to be more aware of time passing, and I will have loving conversations with my partner.”

4. Breath.

When you hit your stress moments, make yourself count down from 60, taking deep breaths. While this seems like a long time, it won’t take more than 2–3 minutes even if you are counting very slowly. If you are still stressed after this break, then readdress the issue and ask if you’ve properly identified the cause.

Chances are that the reason for your stress will seem less significant after a few minutes of mindful breathing. If it still seems as pressing, then the breathing will give your mind a chance to calm and perhaps problem solve from a new angle.

5. Move beyond fear.

Fear is a limiting belief, and often stress comes from fear. If you find yourself stressed due to fear about what the future might hold, understand that this is just a control mechanism to try and project what’s ahead. It’s common to have fear about certain outcomes, but remember that fear comes from your self image, and not yourself.

Instead of fighting your fears, observe yourself experience fear without judgement. Understand that it’s normal to want to have control. Through the power of observation, you’ll find a way to tap into control in the present through positive intention setting and breath control, and trust yourself to deal appropriate with what might happen if it does.

Remember, the most powerful stories are the ones we repeat the most. We can get stuck in the loop of fearful and negative stories — don’t let these be the narratives running your life. As you work to change the narratives you surround yourself with, you’ll see your life take shape of the story you begin to tell.

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