Life coaching tip: the easiest way to manage stress is the hardest one to believe.

Think of stress like the pressure in a soda can, and think of you as the container. When life shakes us up, it builds pressure. At some point, we reach the limit of our ability to contain that stress--and the bomb goes off. Here are 3 approaches for saving ourselves and those around us.

Approach #1: Strengthen our capacity to contain our stress. If we get better at monitoring our behavior and choosing our words when we're under stress, it causes less damage. This is what most people refer to as self-control (which is technically inaccurate, but that's a different topic for another day). Let's call this the "output filter" method, since it emphasizes our ability to filter what comes OUT despite what's going on IN us.

Approach #2: Manage what's going on IN us. In other words, if our stress level is at a 6 and rising, we learn how to recognize it before it causes damage and then to reduce it in a healthy way. This is what most people refer to as stress management, and it involves all kinds of techniques to release stress safely, like deep breathing, counting to 10, exercising, praying, calling a friend to vent, or doing something enjoyable to redirect our mind. The more life shakes us up, the more stress we have to deal with, and the more time and energy we must devote to these kinds of stress management techniques.

Approach #3: This is the most powerful and effective approach, but least understood. When life inevitably shakes us up, this approach is similar to shaking up a bottle of water instead of a soda can. There simply isn't as much stress to manage in the first place. In fact, the better we get at this approach, the less we need the others. 

I like to call this the "input filter" method since it involves a change in how we process what happens on the outside of us (a driver cuts us off, someone disagrees with us, etc.) BEFORE it gets INSIDE of us and becomes what we feel--anger, defensiveness, judgment, rejection, etc. 

 The first and hardest step here is fully accepting a rather uncomfortable truth

Are you ready to hear it? 

Seriously, you might not like it. 

Alright, here it is: all our stress is ultimately self-induced.

I know--it sounds so harsh. It can even feel threatening, because if it's REALLY true it means the real problem isn't "out there"--it's "in here." But in reality, it's freedom. It frees us to make a distinction between the objective events that happened (driver cut me off, he disagreed with me) from our subjective interpretation of those events (they must think they're better than me, he's such an egomaniac). It frees us to consider entirely different reasons for what happened ('they didn't see me--an honest mistake I've made myself', or 'he might have a better idea and I just don't see it yet'). It frees us to let go of toxic assumptions and destructive self-talk and to restructure our inner thoughts that determine so much of what we feel and say and do.

It's not a quick fix. But it's a better, healthier fix that produces a better you. It takes time--quality time with yourself to reflect, examine, challenge, and reprogram a bit of code in your inner operating system. But when we invest in ourselves in this way, we're working at the roots of our stress instead of hacking at its leaves.