“Remember, stress is information about what is going on in your life,” says Kathleen Hall, Ph.D., founder of both The Stress Institute and Mindful Living Network. “Before you create an action plan, it is great to have a general knowledge of your stress triggers.”
Three components are the foundation for living an intentional life in balance, Hall says—awareness, choice and energy. (“Just remember the acronym, ACE your life,” she says.)
Related: 11 Strategies for Managing Stress
Hall offers this exercise to help:
Reducing your stress begins with increasing your awareness (A) of daily experiences. Listen to what ignites your passion, energy and love, and what drains you, distracts you and irritates you. These are clues to becoming more aware of what you love and what stresses you.
Action: Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the center, with a plus sign on the left for positives (happiness) and a minus on the right side for negatives (stress).
Under the plus side of the paper ask yourself, What creates energy and happiness in my life?
Write down five things such as your work, dog, spouse or playing golf. Think through your day and recall moments that made you happy. After listing your five positive experiences, rate them on a 1-to-3 basis. 1 = Least; 2 = Moderate; 3 = Extreme.
Add the numbers. If your total is less than 10, please examine your life. “Never forget the five things you love most in your life,” Hall says. “If your life wanders from these, stop and do whatever it takes to move toward your treasure.”
Under the minus side of the paper ask yourself, What creates chronic stress and unhappiness in my life?
Write five things that sap your energy and make you worry. These might be finances, your job or a personal relationship. These are your stress triggers. After listing the five things, rate them on the same 1-to-3 basis as you did on the plus side.
Add the numbers from your list. “If your total is 10 to 15, you are very stressed,” she says, “and you should seek the help of stress-management training, a counselor or your physician.”
Now that you identified your major stressors, choice (C) can decrease your stress levels and unhappiness.
“Your current life is a result of the choices you have already made,” Hall says. “You may not control some of the circumstances in your life, but you can choose your attitude and perception in response to stressful circumstances.”
Action: Choose one item that you rated a 3 from the negative side of your list. Create a plan that will guide you to resolve this situation either by leaving the situation or changing your perspective of it or the way you deal with it from a negative to a positive. When you know you will be in this situation, make a conscious effort to practice stress reduction.
Take a look at the positive side of your list, too. Choose one or two things you enjoy most and commit to doing those things more often.
Developing your awareness and making choices creates new energy (E), health, productivity and happiness, and less stress in your life.
Action: “When you decide to live a more mindful life, you will become more aware of the effects of what you are eating, who you are living with and where you go to work each day,” Hall says. “You will begin to notice an energy swelling within you as you become more aware.”