6 ways to prepare for stressful situations before they happen
We’re all looking for ways to eliminate stress. And it’s possible to be successful at least reducing it sometimes, but stress itself is inherent in the human condition, says Robyne Hanley-Dafoe, author of Stress Wisely: How to Be Well in an Unwell World.
“Our survival is based on us utilizing our stress systems to increase the likelihood that we will be okay,” she says. “When our world gets turbulent, what we’re trying to do is increase our threshold for being able to manage it when it arises.”
Hanley-Dafoe says the idea that we need to avoid stressful environments or create systems to handle them, is faulty logic. “The better logic to approach this is to say, ‘We know stress is inherent. What are we going to do so when it comes, we have [room] in our lives and strategies and behaviors and tools to manage it? How can we be proactive?’”
To get ahead of the stress that’s on the horizon, Hanley-Dafoe suggests taking these six steps:
1. Know It’s Coming
The first step for managing stress is to know it’s inevitable. It helps to understand your current methods for taking care of your physical and mental health so you can better understand your needs.
“How do you meet your feelings?” asks Hanley-Dafoe. “How do you make space? Some of the things from our past tend to repeat if you don’t repair them. So, how do you make sure you’re being proactive about managing your emotions?”
2. Identify Your Home Team
Humans are social creatures designed to belong. To better deal with stress, Hanley-Dafoe says you need a team of people who are on your side and can talk you through situations, or simply listen. This can include your family as well as your friends.
“The idea of ‘lone-wolfing’ it or grinding by yourself isn’t sustainable,” she says. “We are meant to be in a community. It’s the people on your ‘home team’ that you know you can rely on when things get tricky.”
Hanley-Dafoe says people who are on your “home team” are the ones you allow to see your messy kitchen. “If you’re cleaning your kitchen before they come over, they aren’t somebody who’s on your home team because you’re still maintaining your social self with them,” she explains.
3. Practice Gratitude
There is also a spiritual realm to preparing for stress, but it isn’t pigeon-holed into religion or dogma, says Hanley-Dafoe.
“People who have practices of gratitude, of meaning-making, of knowing where to rest and how to surrender are better equipped to handle the stress that comes their way,” she says. “Those are people who, when they get into difficult situations or when they have a crisis, find meaning and purpose and values during hard times.”
4. Get Clear on Priorities
To handle stress, you also need to know what matters most. Be careful, however, that your list isn’t too long.
“When we have too many priorities in our lives, we have no priorities,” says Hanley-Dafoe. “Get radical clarity on your values. I often ask people to start by answering, ‘Who are you? And who are you not?’”
Having clarity informs decisions as well as planning your schedule or building your life. “There are things that are just noise that our society does a really good job making seem very important,” says Hanley-Dafoe. “But at the end of the day, they don’t mean anything when we’re going through a hard time.”
5. Make the Invisible Visible
You also need to understand your values. Too often, though, values are more like aspirations swirling around your head and heart. Instead, you have to make that information visible.
“Unless we see it, it’s really hard to put it into action,” says Hanley-Dafoe, who recommends doing a free-flow writing exercise. Ask yourself, “Who am I?” Then write down descriptions until you’ve exhausted all the answers. Then dig deeper, looking at the answers behind the written answers.
“We’ve all been conditioned to have fast Jeopardy-style responses,” says Hanley-Dafoe. “How quickly can we answer the question versus thinking, ‘What is this really about?’”
For example, you may write down, “I am someone who values my health.” If you dig deeper, you might decide, “I’m the type of person who feels more productive and stable when I start my day with movement.”
6. Cling to Good Habits
In good times, it’s easy to stick to your values and priorities, but it’s another story when your world is falling apart, says Hanley-Dafoe. When stressful situations happen, it’s important to keep your values and priorities in the forefront.
“Knowing that these are the foundations your good days are built upon increases the likelihood that you will be able to handle the stressful things,” she explains. “Habits create the quality of your life. Even when you’re going through a loss or trauma and your world turns upside down, the fact that you have control over yourself helps.”
For example, if you normally spend the first five minutes your day meditating, it can be tempting to change behaviors while you’re in a crisis. “It’s okay to acknowledge the part of you who may not want to take that action,” says Hanley-Dafoe. “But remember the part of you who does. Say, ‘I’m choosing to show up and give energy to this part of me that I know is working toward the greater good.’”
Managing stress isn’t as far away as you may think, says Hanley-Dafoe. “We think it’s something in the future, but really, it’s one right choice after the other that we braid together to have good days. Those little wins, on a daily basis, will help us feel better in the stressful moments.”