Everyone feels stress from time to time. We know what it feels like: pounding heart, shallow breath, tight muscles, racing thoughts. You may try to zone out with food, alcohol, shopping, or mindless TV and be tempted to try to banish all stress from your life. That’s impossible. What is possible is learning to train your brain to react differently to the inevitable stressors in your life, as shared by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. in her latest book.

When you’re under stress, your body gets a signal from the primitive part of your brain and it reacts very quickly with its natural “fight or flight” response. When this happens, you may behave in impulsive, destructive ways such as saying things you later regret, sending off an angry email, or drinking too much. In order to change your reaction, you need to use another part of your brain (the more evolved, executive part); one that sends different, calming signals to your body and allows you to react in more positive ways. Below are a couple of strategies for accessing the executive center of the brain.

Slow Down. Try to slow down and breathe. Give the executive part of your brain time to kick into gear. Slowing things down helps for all kinds of stressors, such as when a colleague criticizes you or when you open an unpaid bill. Stepping back and giving yourself a time-out activates the higher brain and gives you more control over your response.

Be Mindful. Practice redirecting your mind away from automatic fears and worries and toward a more accepting mindset. Be the “third person observer” of your thoughts. You may be angry and tempted to say something nasty but, instead, ask yourself what the best response would be in this situation. Being mindful is a skill and mindfulness practice works best when you’re not under stress. Meditation helps, too.

Try these suggestions next time you’re feeling stressed and you may find yourself thinking and reacting differently. Next week, we’ll share three more ideas to try.

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