Updated: Aug 7, 2022
How to keep the feeling of stress at bay
We know that managing stress is a part of everyday life and it is often used in everyday language too, but sometimes we experience situations where we feel unable to cope, and/or have too many demands thrown at us. Managing stress under these circumstances can be difficult.
Whilst stress is not a classified mental health disorder, it is closely linked to other mental health difficulties. For example, when you are stressed, you may feel more anxious or low in mood. Similarly, low mood and anxiety symptoms can make it difficult to carry out everyday tasks, and this can cause you to feel stressed.
What is stress?
Typically, the stress experience occurs because there is an imbalance of our perceived coping abilities and demands. Visualise it like this:
You might be thinking - why am I feeling stressed about this? I've been able to handle a lot more in the past. And this is probably true! Sometimes we have to remember that we become more vulnerable at different points in life, which means that our ability to manage stress can lessen.
How to tip the scales
We can manage stress better by either decreasing our demands (both internal and external) or increasing our coping strategies. If possible, we'd aim to do BOTH! Here are some tips to help you regain balance (click the angle bracket on the left to expand each tip):
During stressful times, it is common to be living life in 'auto-pilot', which means it can be all go, go, go! Tracking your mood and daily activities can serve as a time to check in with yourself and help you to evaluate what's working and what's not. It's only through awareness that we can make changes.
Self-expression is key during times of stress. It is important to have a way of communicating your thoughts and feelings. Find a trusted person to confide in as speaking to another person can provide a new perspective. As they say, better out than in (can I use this phrase here? hmm, oh well).
Find an outlet
A healthy one that is! When I say 'healthy' I mean finding something that helps you and relieves the problem rather than making it worse. Some examples include exercise, changing your environment, engaging in meaningful activities, relaxation, journaling, music and creativity.
Relieve yourself from internal demands
Ever started a sentence with 'I should' or 'I must'? Yep, me too. Should and must statements can be very common, especially during periods of stress. Whilst it may be an automatic way of reminding yourself of what to do, it can indirectly add more pressure. How? Well, let's see...
- Should implies it's a given and if you do complete it, you give yourself less recognition and acknowledgement because it's something you should have done anyway
- Must can create pressure around the tasks that you have in mind to do. It leaves little room for flexibility. You may find yourself becoming self-critical when you are unable to get the task done.
Try to reframe your language; make use of phrases such as 'I will aim to...' or 'I would like to...' If it doesn't work out, that's also OK. Try again.
Give yourself a break
Over-responding is a common habit that we fall into in today's society e.g. responding instantly to emails, texts, calls, but what that means is we are constantly in drive mode. The reality is, if we are giving outwardly all the time and neglecting our inward needs, our cup will become empty. We cannot pour from an empty cup. Breaks enable us to give more, do more and be more.
Delegation and support
Whilst you may feel the need to be in control of a situation, this may lead to taking on too many responsibilities at one time. Seek support where possible and delegate where appropriate.
Balance your everyday routine
Even in the absence of stress, it is important to have a stable foundation. Life is not just about getting the work done. Having a balance of activities that give you a sense of pleasure, rest and connection is equally important. Establishing balance in your routine naturally creates a buffer to potential stressful life events.
Stress is unavoidable at times. Whilst we cannot always anticipate specific life events that will cause us to feel stressed, there are measures we can put in place to help us better manage if and when these times come along.
Prevention is best.
Create a table with two columns - demands on the left and coping strategies on the right. For each demand that you list, have at least ONE coping strategy alongside it. You can use some of the ideas from this post to guide you.
Keep this list somewhere visible. Any time you discover a new helpful coping strategy, add it to your table.