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6 mins

How to Beat Stress Before It Starts

They say prevention is the best cure but when it comes to stress, sometimes it hits us before we even realize it. Here’s how to beat stress before it starts.
by Carrie M. King | Sep 1 2020

Stress may be a normal part of life, but it has a way of creeping up on us before we even realize it’s there. In obviously stressful situations, we expect to feel its physical and emotional effects, but everyday worries in the backs of our minds can also affect our stress levels over the long-term.

When we feel under pressure, our nervous system gives us a dose of stress hormones to get us ready for the situation at hand. However, this can often misfire, leaving us feeling like we’re about to have a heart attack before we go on stage or have a chat with our boss. On the emotional side of things, panic spirals are not uncommon and can make you feel like the world is about to end. The truth is, however, things are rarely as bad as you think they are—but trying to convince yourself of that once you’ve already begun to worry is no easy task. That’s why reducing stress before you feel its effects is deeply important.

In the video above, Page and Turner explain a simple three-step stress management method that will stop worry in its tracks before it’s properly begun, and make it easier for you to deal when something goes wrong. This is one of many tips from Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, which has taught millions of people how to stop worrying, and to be present and happy in their everyday lives.

If worry is something that plagues your day-to-day life—and don’t we all worry unnecessarily from time-to-time?—then it’s really worth picking up a copy of How to Stop Worrying and Start Living to get a whole host of techniques you can use to do just that. If you just have a minute, check out the video above to learn how a little acceptance can stop you catastrophizing, and if you have a few more, then this article has some extra tips to get you on your way to a less worried life. You can also read or listen to the rest of the key ideas from this title on Blinkist in just about 15 minutes.

Why Dale Carnegie Wanted to Help Worriers

Every person’s life comes with a host of worries and stressors. It’s the nature of being a person. But while worry is a completely natural reaction, it’s also one that’s likely to complicate our lives and make them more difficult to live. Excessive worrying can be damaging to your health—please, don’t start worrying about that now!—and can result in physical illnesses, not just mental anguish. The mind and the body are intimately linked, and we have more control over how we feel than we realize.

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Again, a certain amount of worry is completely natural, but if we get ourselves into situations that cause us to worry excessively, or simply tend to worry over things we can’t control, then we’re very likely to end up with physical symptoms over the longer term. Worry also stops you living in the present, which ultimately stops you enjoying your life. So, in order to get the most out of the moment, to lessen stress symptoms, and to learn how to stop worrying, here are some key tips from Dale Carnegie’s, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Clarity Beats Confusion

Think about something that worried you a lot over the last year or so. There’s a high likelihood that the aspect of that worry that caused you the most distress was your confusion or uncertainty about it. We worry most when we’re not sure what the outcome or reality of a given situation will be. Will you lose your job or not? Is that person angry at you or not? Are you going to get a cold or not before your vacation? Overthinking the many possibilities of what could potentially happen can take up valuable mental space and can exacerbate your stress symptoms to a point where your worries simply take over. In these situations, it’s best to create as much clarity for yourself as possible by firstly, looking at the facts—not the possibilities—of the situation, secondly, analyzing those facts—consider ‘what can I do about it?’—and thirdly, make a quick decision about what to do about it and follow through. By imposing your own clarity on a confusing situation, you’ll help to defuse your own worries and take a meaningful step towards a better outcome.

“Let’s not allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. Remember “Life is too short to be little”.”
Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Take Action and Move Forward

Another big source of worry in many people’s lives is fretting over decisions after the fact. Think about buyer’s remorse, or the feeling that someone else might have made a better life-choice than you. Second-guessing your decisions once you’ve already made them is a recipe for unnecessary stress and reinstates a sense of unclarity to a situation you’ve already addressed. Don’t worry about whether or not you did the right thing or took the correct path. Simply try to be satisfied that you have taken action at all, and don’t try to reverse-engineer that decision by taking it back to the analysis stage. If you have a tendency to reconsider your decisions after the fact, then try to learn to stick to them rather than dwelling on them. By moving forward as soon as you’ve taken action, you’re far less likely to worry unnecessarily.

Remember: Today is All You Have

Do you ever worry about what the future might hold, or get upset over things that happened—or didn’t happen—in the past? While a certain amount of that is a very natural human behavior, it’s also a useless one. You’re not guaranteed that you’ll have tomorrow and ruminating over the past doesn’t change it. The only thing in your life that you can impact, that you can truly live and experience and enjoy, is right now. None of us really have anything but the present moment, and you can decide to either be there for it, or to worry about something that hasn’t happened or something that has that you can’t change. Be kind to yourself and try to live in the present as much as possible—it’s a surefire path to fewer regrets in the future and a more enjoyable life generally. If this is a struggle for you, it could be a good idea to employ some simple breathing and mindfulness techniques to connect you to the here and now.

“…the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today’s work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.”
Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Give for the Sake of Giving, Not Gratitude

Think about the last time you did something for someone else, or perhaps gave them a gift. Were they grateful? If they were, you likely got a warm rush of accomplishment from that gratitude, and if they weren’t, you might have felt a little overlooked or insulted. And the reality is, those are both really valid reactions, but they also point to a not-very-altruistic motivation for your kindness. It’s also a case of expectation management. If we expect a huge thank you from someone we’re helping and don’t get it, it can be very upsetting and disappointing. However, if you go into the situation trying to be helpful for the sake of it and not expecting a reward or recognition of any kind, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised when, more often than not, you receive it. Taking joy simply from the act of giving rather than expecting anything in return puts you in control of how you feel and ensures that you’ll continue to feel good for longer, rather than feeling resentful or anxious about it in the long run.

“When we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us: power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health, and our happiness.”
Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Remember to Rest

When we’re tired, we tend to be in a worse mood, can’t work at the peak of our capacities, and generally, enjoy life less. Being tired also makes us far more likely to experience negative emotions which in turn, tire us out even more! For most of us, we think that rest should come when we get tired, but in actual fact, rest is far more beneficial when we take it before the negative effects of fatigue kick in. Then, we’re not recovering, we’re reinforcing. If you rest and relax adequately before you wear yourself out, you’ll be more productive, less worried, and generally happier than if you keep working to the point of exhaustion before you take a break.

For expanded versions of these tips, and many more, check out the key insights to How to Stop Worrying and Start Living on Blinkist. If you’re now anxious to relieve stress, you can find a full list of its signs and symptoms and ways to reduce the effects of stress—including easy-to-implement remedies like introducing physical activity to your routine—on the American Psychological Association website.

But the next time you feel panicked, remember that stress hormones are trying to prepare us for tough situations which is why, when you feel telltale symptoms like your heart rate starting to go up, that’s your body getting you ready to protect yourself or run away. Stress and worry are your body’s way of trying to keep you safe and though that won’t solve the problem by itself and long-term or chronic stress should be treated seriously, it might help to know that your body is looking out for you.

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