How To Shift Perspective To Minimize Stress

Gain Perspective, Stress Less

Looking at things in a different way can make all the difference with stress. Buero Monaco/ Getty Images

Take A Step Back--Way Back!

One popularly-recommended strategy for putting stressors into perspective is to imagine floating high above your life and looking down on things, where they may seem smaller next to the "grand scheme of things."  Another is to imagine yourself in the future looking back--will any of this matter in 6 months, a year, 5 years, or 10? (And when you look back, will you perhaps be able to laugh about it?

) Even imagining the Earth from space, and remembering that you are a tiny speck on the planet--a planet that contains countless people with problems like yours and worse, but appears peaceful from this outside perspective--can help. The next time your problems seem overwhelming, see if you can take a step back from them and see them in a different light.

Choose Your Comparisons

Often, we compare our current situation to an ideal, and find ourselves frustrated and angry that things are not better or easier. We have "shoulds" in our minds, like, "things shouldn't be this way," that make us feel that things are hopelessly off-kilter and unfair. This makes it more difficult to endure our current circumstances without feeling stressed about it. If you find yourself comparing things in your life to how you believe things should be, you may want to shift your comparisons. Instead, compare things as they are to how they could be--yes, they could be better, but things could also be far worse (usually).

Rather than comparing your circumstances to others who have it better, for example, compare them also to those who have things worse than you. (See this article for more on how to do this, and why it's important.) Rather than comparing things to how they once were, or how you'd hoped they'd be, compare things in your life to how they could be if things were worse.

 (This process can cultivate gratitude, which is another great coping resource.) Watch out for your comparisons, and you'll likely find that things are better than you thought they were.

Rate Your Stressors

If you "rate" what you are experiencing on a 1-to-10 scale, you can remind yourself that you are not facing the most challenging circumstances you could face and that you still have that to be thankful for. (Or, if you are experiencing a "10" level of difficulty, at least you can validate that it is understandable for you to be stressed, and you can congratulate yourself on your coping abilities so far.) Once you've identified a number from 1 to 10 (where 1 is "not at all stressful" and 10 is "unbearable stress"), you can compare what you are facing to what you've faced in the past and what others are facing. This can remind you when you are facing a situation that seems more intimidating than it is. It can remind you that you are strong enough to handle this.

Use Your Memories

Remind yourself of times when you faced situations like this and experienced success.

(This reminds you that you were strong enough to face similar situations in the past, and are strong enough to get through such situations again.) Go over what you gained from the challenges you've faced. (This helps you to see life's challenges in a more positive frame of mind.) Remember when you faced bigger challenges than this, and came out okay. (This reminds you that things could be more difficult, and you would still be able to handle them.) Using your past to gain strength and perspective in the present can help you get to a better future more easily.

Talk To Someone

If you can, talk to a trusted friend about what is stressing you. Choose someone who can really understand what you are facing, and can also help you to get to a more optimistic place. (This means passing up the friends who can't understand what you are going through, are quick to give advice that may not fit your situation or personality, or friends who are struggling so much with this situation themselves that they may not be able to offer much in the way of perspective. And, of course, avoid frenemies.) If you can find a friend who can offer empathy and validation, then a sense of perspective that allows you to see things from a more positive frame of mind, this is an idea. If you don't have access to someone like this, it could help to talk to a therapist if you're having trouble finding the perspective you need on your own.

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