12 Ways to Turn Your Crippling Stress into Happiness

Happy Meditating Woman

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” ~Chinese Proverb

You are a slave to stress.

I can relate. Stress crushed my life and dreams.

I started a business and faced intense criticism over this decision.

Everyone was sure I’d fail. My friends and family attacked me while I was combating my own self-doubt.

My stress level was insanely high.

Then the worst happened. My business failed and I lost all my savings. I was crushed.

It took a long time to finally accept this failure.

Today, whenever I work, stress still lingers in my body like the shadow of my dark past. But now I know how cope with it. Let me teach you how.

1. Consider getting a pet.

Sharing negative feelings with close friends can significantly reduce stress. Studies show that spending time with pets relieves stress in the same way. Also, when you’re accompanied by a pet in stressful situations, it prevents your stress level from rising.

I have a cat. He was my only friend when nobody was supporting me. I’m grateful to have him by my side.

If you don’t have a pet, consider getting one. It may change your life in surprising ways.

2. Stop dwelling on your problems.

Kant State University had an eye-opening discovery. Apparently, the more you talk about your problems, the more you’re likely to suffer from depression.

Of course, it's healthy to share what you're going through. But when you're mindlessly dwelling on your problems, it doesn’t solve anything.

I never talk to anyone about my problems because no one supports me. This propels me to actively seek solutions instead of blindly mulling over things that could stress me out.

If you’re fortunate to have supportive friends, do seek their support. What’s important is that you don’t just whine about your difficulties, but actually act.

3. Shower yourself with gifts.

You’re being brutally hard on yourself.

You take success for granted. Worse, you exaggerate failure.

When you’ve reached a goal, you move on nonchalantly. If you don’t, you torment yourself mentally. You scold, devalue, and deprive yourself.

I’ve been there. I know this is self-destructive.

Reward yourself for reaching goals. Research shows that when you’re rewarded for an action, you’re likely to repeat it. This is called a positive feedback loop. It’s much more effective than punishment.

If you gain stress from failure, without happiness from success, the only outcome is stress.

If you earn happiness from success, without stress from failure, the only outcome is happiness.

4. Exploit bad habits to your advantage.

I used to run away from problems. When stress hit, I’d instantly give up on whatever I was working on and resort to escapism.

You may have experienced this too.

Escapism may entail over-eating, indulging in unhealthy foods, TV, Internet, porn, smoking, and drinking. Over time, they form destructive habits.

Exploit escapism by using it as an anchor.

Pick healthy alternatives, such as meditation, stretching, listening to motivational talks, napping, or light exercises.

Before you escape, do thirty seconds of an alternative first.

Say you’re angry with your boyfriend. You think you need to eat some junk food to calm down. Before that, meditate for thirty seconds. Then you’re free to indulge.

Do this for two months. Then increase good habit time weekly, until the good habit completely drowns out the bad.

This way, I built new automatic responses to stress and broke my escapist habits completely. Now when I feel stress, I either take a short nap or move along to uplifting music.

After a few minutes, I’m recharged and motivated to face new challenges.

5. Unleash your anger (and cry yourself to sleep).

Don’t always try to appear perfectly calm. You need to express difficult emotions—anger, for example.

Discuss your frustration with friends. Journal your rage and analyze it objectively on paper. You can even confront the object of frustration assertively.

Remember to release your anger under control. Don’t throw tantrums or yell impulsively. Express it as a means of problem solving.

This applies to other difficult emotions, as well, like sadness. It’s healthy to express these “negative” emotions.

6. Reach great heights by letting yourself suck big time.

I’ve learned to accept my devastating failure. I have to. Otherwise, I’d be completely destroyed and discouraged from pursuing anything ever again.

Some people cannot accept mistakes. Everything has to be perfect from the start. They think others will look down on them if they appear to be flawed.

These people are frequently stressed.

The happiest and most successful people focus on improvement. They love mistakes and flaws, because they see them as opportunities to grow.

Learn from these people.

Have lofty goals, but have realistic standards. Don’t judge yourself based on the results of your action. See them as feedback, and seek improvement from there.

7. Be shameless about not doing things.

You don’t have the time and energy to do everything you want to do.

Inevitably, things are left undone, and you beat yourself up. This creates stress.

Consider what’s truly important to you. Kill the rest shamelessly.

This way, you gain more time and control over your life while making more progress.

I focus only on my career and my relationships. I’ve postponed other ambitions, like becoming a martial artist and a calligrapher, because they’re comparatively unimportant.

8. Declare war on useless crap.

I’m clearing up my apartment. It's now clean and spacious. When I’m inside, I feel more relaxed, concentrated, and in control.

Psychologists found that clutter competes for your attention and overloads your brain. This makes you stressed and even damages your ability to think.

Trash this useless crap ruthlessly.

Begin with discarding one item per day, for two months. It’s easy, and it trains you to detach emotionally from your possessions. Later, you can expand to junk more items daily.

9. Learn how to use your body wisely.

I always keep my back straight and try to appear confident.

Why? Because posture has a direct relationship with your mood and behavior.

When you position your body in a natural and comfortable way, you feel less stressed.

Also, when you appear confident, you feel more powerful and in control. Confidence balances out stress.

Read books on correct posture and body language. These skills not only reduce stress reliably, they also keep your body healthy.

10. Extract everything from your overloaded head.

When your mind is overloaded, you feel agitated, you malfunction, and then you collapse.

Extract all your mind clutter in one place, out of your head.

Observe your thoughts for five to fifteen minutes, and let information resurface from your mind.

You’ll be surprised how much stuff pops up. Things you have to do, things you’re waiting to do, open loops, creative ideas, long-term plans, and many more.

Write down everything as soon as they come up, no matter how trivial they may seem.

This helps organize your life and clears even the smallest mind clutter. When you can see everything on paper, you’ll find them more actionable. Life becomes less overwhelming.

I personally prefer pen and paper for this. A sophisticated to-do system works too, but avoid spending too much time on that. You might create stress in the process.

11. Learn from the Chinese: the spectator’s eyes.

Stressed people are masters at exaggeration. They magnify every little problem.

You can’t see the big picture when you are caught up inside a problem. Then you begin to exaggerate and freak out.

A Chinese saying goes, “The spectator’s eyes are always clear.

Ask a friend for his honest opinion on your problems. This will likely help you recognize when something truly isn’t a big deal. Learn from spectators, and analyze your problems objectively. Then you can see problems as they are, and act wisely.

12. Laugh: meet apocalypse with humor.

I watch comedies a lot. They give me a brief escape from my stressors.

One day I had a revelation.

Visualize these scenarios: bombing a job interview, getting fired, being unemployed, getting robbed, getting sued, getting rejected by the opposite sex.

Disasters. But they’re all funny in comedies. There’s something funny in every problem.

Maybe you burned your food. Maybe you dropped your phone into the toilet. Have a laugh!

Once you can do this, you’ll completely turn your perspective around. You’ll see the positive in every situation, and face problems happily.

This Second, You Can Transform Stress Into Happiness

It’s not impossible. Many people have done it.

Pick one lesson that looks appealing to you, do some research on it, then act.

You’ve let stress dominate you long enough. Now is the time to live differently.

Do you want to stay crippled by stress? Or do you want to turn life into happiness?

The choice is yours.

Happy meditating woman image via Shutterstock

About Blon Lee

Blon Lee is a Chinese Buddhist who helps people transform suffering into joy with Buddhist wisdom. Download his free guide: Buddhist Meditation Ultimate Guide: A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding True Inner Peace.

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  • Marsha Lawrence

    Articles on changing your mind or habits to live happier usually end up being trite and disappointing. Either that or they’re too long and involved to read when you’re in a stressed or depressed state. This one was just perfect! Thank you for a brilliant piece of writing and some excellent strategies.

  • Lisa Arcelia

    I am feeling overwhelmed today and this article helped me get back to center. Thank you.

  • IBikeNYC

    Wonderful advice, beautifully written! 😀

    I love the idea of writing stuff down as it comes up, and I, too, am a pen-and-paper lover. I started a Gratitude Journal last July and found a tiny version of those black-and-white marble notebooks to keep it in! I carry it everywhere so that I never miss a thing. I find myself looking for stuff about which to feel grateful, and of course I find it! It’s a lovely form of Mindfulness, I think, and an excellent stress neutralizer.

  • Diane Elayne Dees

    Re: no. 2: Rumination is a personality style, and a dangerous one because it forces cortisol to be chronically produced, amd that creates serious problems throughout the body. However, it may also be a symptom of clinical depression and, as such, cannot just be willed away. Also, if you are clinically depressed, you very likely cannot take any action. If rumination feels uncontrollable, it’s a good idea to check for clinical depression.

  • Just when I needed it!

  • Love point #7 especially. I need to get better at being shameless about all the things that are left undone. I’m working on it. 🙂

  • I am glad it helped, Lisa!

  • You are absolutely right. Clinical depression is a real illness, and should be treated with time and care. Like you said, if you feel the symptoms of depression, you should seek professional help asap.

  • Thanks for the compliment, Marsha. Glad you like it!

  • Donna

    I was once stuck in a cycle of rumination and depression that lasted months and months. My therapist suggested I got a puppy. It changed me and I have been well for over 8 years now. I still need to be reminded though of what I can do to look after myself on a daily basis. Thank you for the post. It reminds me that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

  • Julie Rudnick

    I think I have to post this on my bathroom mirror. SImple but great thoughts. I am a ruminator, I grind over things and have an unquiet mind and it kills my ability to sleep properly. I am learning not to panic in advance and actually had a great (in my mind) reaction to a recent job loss. It’s a job, not the end of the world. Thank you Blon for some sensible, gentle reminders to be kind, especially to yourself. You’re not much good otherwise. I appreciate this.

  • Tonya

    You make excellent points! I’m sorry you don’t have the support you should have from your family. It’s so hard dealing with these things alone. I’ve been struggling with my businesses for a couple of years. I keep getting pulled down with feeling of failure and pretty much feeling like a total loser. I’m 4 years sober but now I turn to food any time I get stressed. I love all of your points, one of my issues is #4. When I feel like stuffing my face with donuts (my go to comfort food) I will try to bring awareness to the situation and will do some slow, deep breathing before just giving up and giving in. This has really helped me today. I’m going to read this article until I have it memorized! Thank you!!

  • Thank you for your kind words, Tonya. It’s very impressive to be able to stay on the wagon for 4 years! I hope my article has helped. Also, remember to do more research on breaking bad habits if you want to break your donut addiction