How to de-stress your life

Well-being image

Learning what you can control and ignoring anything you can’t could help you breathe a little easier and control the level of stress in your life

There are two ways to live your life: at war with reality or at peace with it. No one would want to live their life constantly at war, stressed out and on edge all the time, so it’s a question of figuring out a way to achieve peace.

Our enemies here are everyday stress stimuli. We’re constantly surrounded by stressful environments, people, phone alerts, news updates, foods, advertising and conversations. Our natural responses to stress evolved to help us survive in the wild, but now they’re being triggered by these modern-day stressors.

To regain control, we first need to understand some of the basic principles of stoicism and then find easy, manageable ways to implement them in our lives.

It’s all Greek to me...

Avoiding that endless list of stress stimuli is simply not viable; you’d have to remain indoors and utterly disconnected for the rest of your life. But even if you did that, you would just find a new list of frustrations as the isolation and lack of fulfilment gnawed at you relentlessly.

So, if we can’t avoid these frustrations, stresses and aggravators, we need to learn to control ourselves better.

This is where stoicism comes into the picture. Roughly sketched out by the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium, with the colour filled in by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, stoicism is a comprehensive philosophy which suggests that virtue and self-control are the keys to living a fulfilled life.

But this isn’t about reading ancient philosophy every day (it’s long-winded, difficult to read and, quite frankly, fairly boring at times). Instead, let’s take one simple question that you can ask yourself to help you prepare for the day, for situations of pressure and for any adversity you may face. And that question is this: is this within my control?

Stress budgeting

Broadly speaking, there are two things in your life that you have true control over: your attitude and your effort. Everything else you can either influence to some extent (your health, your sleep, your friendship circle and your working hours), or not at all (lockdown restrictions, the weather and the behaviour of the vast majority of the population).

When it comes to things that you can influence, you must decide how much time and effort you are willing to commit to influencing it. The moment it exceeds that budget, it’s time to let it go.

If something costs you your peace of mind, it has become too expensive. This letting-go of the things you can’t control isn’t easy, but it’s based on the idea that our ego often dictates to us that we’re far more powerful than we really are. Being realistic about the amount of control you actually have will allow you to analyse various aspects of your life and, if necessary, remove those things that
cause you stress.

Simply asking yourself, “Is this within my control?” whenever you’re stressed will allow you to prioritise, adapt and live a more peaceful, fulfilled and enjoyable life.

Try it – after all, if you carry on as you’ve always done, nothing will ever change.

Check out the IMI’s Taking care of your headspace and wellbeing webinar for more insight into how to deal with stress

James Elliott is a military mental resilience coach

This is an edited extract from IMI's new MotorPro magazine, received free as part of IMI membership. Time to find out more about becoming a member of the most influential community in UK automotive…?