We all experience stress in different ways and at different times of life. Prolonged periods of stress can become unsustainable and damage our health.
Here are a few simple things to help you recognise and manage your own stress (or help a friend or colleague who you notice is more stressed than usual):
Acceptance - The first and most important step is to recognise and accept times when you feel stress levels increasing. Being honest with yourself is not easy as we are conditioned to ‘push through’ and ‘keep going’. Ignoring the signs will only add to the stress and could mean you spiral further into burnout, and deeper mental health illness.
Awareness - Stress presents itself in a number of ways so remembering to tune in to yourself is an important part of day to day life. Whether you meditate, journal or simply breathe, take a walk in nature or sit in stillness, tuning in to your mind and body is vital.
Spend time planning - Overwhelm and stress go hand in hand, and often when we’re stressed we think we don’t have time to plan, so chaotically bulldoze our way through tasks - never having enough time and never seeming to accomplish the big tasks. Take time out for planning and prioritising. It will be invaluable and at the point when you don’t think you have enough time, that is the point you need it the most. Write a list - get everything on paper. Prioritise it. What are the urgent things? This will give you focus as well as helping you feel a sense of achievement.
It is OK to say no - Stress can arise from taking on too much and for not being able to say no. Saying no is a strength. It says you have respect for yourself and for your boundaries. It is in no way rude or unhelpful to say no, and if you struggle with turning things down, it may be time to rephrase. Practice saying no, and getting comfortable with your limits and build from there.
Investigate; what is at the heart of your stress? - Where is it stemming from? Sometimes we avoid thinking about the cause of the stress as it may mean tackling or confronting uncomfortable situations. We deflect and distract ourselves from looking at the real issue as it might be painful or mean getting vulnerable. This will only magnify the issue. Think about the times when you feel most stressed, what are those situations? Try the meditation exercises above - where can you feel the stress in your body? What are you feeling? When you know the cause you can start to address the real problem.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle - With stress comes the temptation to stop good health and well-being practices. Stress affects sleep, which affects energy levels, which impacts motivation and results in needing comfort = comfort food, binge eating, no energy for exercise. All of this impacts our mental health and feels like a stepper hill to climb to get it back. Be kind to yourself and listen to your body, whilst at the same time, nourishing your body and your mind. Rather than a run in the cold, can you wrap up and go for a walk. Rather than a HIIT class, can you go to a restorative yoga class? Can you batch cook up a hearty veggie hotpot in the slow cooker?
Share - Sharing is caring and although we often bottle up feelings of stress and anxiety, it helps to talk it through with people you trust. Simply talking about it, helps you make sense of it, but they also may be able to provide support, offer solutions or even share their own experiences. It helps remind you that you are not alone.
Positive mindset - A period of stress gives birth to negativity. Manage your thoughts, be aware of what your thoughts are telling you and identify the unhelpful thought patterns. Do not dwell on things you can’t control and see obstacles as opportunities to grow. Maintain positive practices such as noting things that went well in the day, and listing the things you are most grateful for.
"One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren't enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress." Viggo Mortensen
If you are experiencing stress, it is important to seek help. These are some tips to help you but do consult your GP for ongoing periods of stress.