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4 Steps to Less Stress -- and a Happier, More Loving You

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Awareness brings its own reward.

Most of us have no idea how stressed we are because we've been that way so long. For years I had no idea how bad it was. Even when I knew that I needed to do something about it, I didn't. Besides I'd heard that for people who really want to make things happen, stress is a good thing -- keeps the juices going, clarifies thinking, and stimulates creativity, or some such malarkey.

Despite repeated promises I did nothing to reduce the stress that kept building year upon year. It finally took breast cancer to wake me up. Once the initial terror died down, I began to write in a journal. As each page filled with my thoughts and feelings, I realized I'd been plagued by not taking care of myself for most of my life. And I knew that the cancer was delivering the message in a way I couldn't ignore.

Please don't wait as long as I did to rid yourself of stress. If you follow these four steps you'll be on your way. As I shared in my last blog, "Time's Running Out -- Slow Down," my stresses have disappeared, I'm achieving far more and doing it happily, and my relationships with my family and friends are much more enjoyable and far more loving.

Step 1: Become aware of my stress.

Take time to assess your current level of stress. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stress you can imagine, how would you rate your stress level at this point in your life? The first number that comes to mind is correct -- trust yourself.

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, and its symptoms run the gamut from emotional to physical to mental to behavioral. As you read these examples, make note of the ones you've experienced.

  • Easily agitated, frustrated, or moody
  • Difficulty relaxing and quieting my mind
  • Frequent colds or recent serious illness
  • Procrastinating and avoiding issues or responsibilities
  • Overweight or other eating problems
  • Worrying and/or forgetfulness

Add any others that you're aware of, remembering the importance of taking care of you.

Step 2: Slow Down.

Where are you going so fast? Are you afraid if you slow down you won't...

  • Get there on time?
  • Finish everything?
  • Keep them/him/her happy?
  • Ever have time to relax?

Fears like these keep us moving so fast it's no wonder we're stressed and anxious.
Next month things are going to slow down. Yeah, right. Somehow it never comes, does it? Once I woke up to the price I was paying in terms of health, well-being and my relationships, I took my foot off the gas -- and I've rarely looked back.

Every day sit quietly by yourself, whether in meditation or just being still long enough to let your thoughts and emotions slowly sink into stillness.

Step 3: Love courageously.

Reach out and hug the ones you love, let them know how much you care. Connect with those not nearby, and tell them how you treasure them. Life is short, shorter than we realize. Remember the promise you made to yourself the last time you lost a loved one?

As my daughter-in-law Katie said to me after sharing about her lifelong friend Susan O'Malley, who had died suddenly at the age of 38 just two days before she was to give birth to twins:

No one is guaranteed a tomorrow...

2015-04-11-1428777618-413978-Susan.landscape.jpg Susan O'Malley

I've read the newspaper report of her passing many times, and she is an inspiration. Yet she was gone in an instant. At her memorial her husband Tim, now alone instead of sitting beside his wife and holding their brand new daughters, stood before hundreds of people and spoke just 20 words:

I love her, and she knew it.
She loved me, and I know it.
100 years would never have been enough.

Let's stop playing it cool, holding on to our stories, and waiting for others to say how much they appreciate us. There's such freedom and joy in loving courageously.

Step 4: Have compassion for me.

I've become aware of how easily I am hurt. The pain radiates in my heart, and the tears get stuck in my throat -- and I take myself away from the one I believe has hurt me. Slowly the loneliness builds while I long for someone to hold me tight, express their compassion, and take care of me the way I believe I take care of others. Yet until recently I had no idea how to have compassion for myself.

Recently a beautiful friend shared his story about the deep hurt he suffered as a child, seeing that his mother favored his brother while hearing his parents say they wished that he, their third son, had been a girl. This pain stayed with him all his life until someone taught him how to take care of and feel compassion for himself.

He shared that now when he feels hurt, he doesn't react immediately. Instead he talks silently to himself, imagining he's holding himself as a small child, and telling him that It's OK -- all is well. I doubt I'll ever forget his words. In the meantime I'm doing my best to remember this wisdom from the Dalai Lama:

If you have no compassion for yourself,
you're not able to develop compassion for others.

When I do find compassion for myself, my heart is full and my compassion for others is naturally abundant.

If these 4 Steps make sense to you or touch your heart, please take a moment to think about how you're going to bring them alive in your life... before you rush on to the next thing.

Where will you start?

  1. Become aware of my stress.
  2. Slow down.
  3. Love courageously.
  4. Have compassion for me.

Be in touch by leaving a comment below or writing to me directly at Tell me how you're progressing when it comes to taking care of yourself -- and becoming a happier and more loving you.

For more by Jinny Ditzler, click here.
For more on life lessons, click here.
For more about Best Year Yet, click here.

P.S. To make your own Best Year Yet plan, you choose one of these options: