Let’s begin this guide with a trusty cliche: life isn’t fair. From time to time, life throws you a curve-ball, no matter how hard you work or how good you’ve been, and it really is not fair. But it happens anyway. When you’re stressed, looking after yourself can fall to the bottom of your to-do list so it’s important to remember to keep your wellbeing a high priority, you’ll probably find that in doing so, your stressors will become easier to tackle.
Stress is the activation of your brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism. We need stress to help us react quickly to danger, and it can even be helpful to motivate you to complete your work to a deadline. However, stress can get too much and begin to feel overwhelming, so here are four proven strategies you can and should employ to keep yourself well.
A lot of scientific research has gone into mindfulness and its ability to reduce stress through learning to calm your mind and body, similar to meditation. Its a technique taught to people suffering from chronic diseases, nurses, psychotherapists, councilors and health professionals who frequently deal with high volumes of work that can be distressing or emotionally taxing in nature. So don’t dismiss ‘mindfulness’ as mumbo-jumbo, it has been proven to reduce levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Keep in mind this is a strategy that’s best if you get some experience doing it and make it a regular thing. If you try it once and you don’t think it works don’t give up on it altogether. Heres how you can practice mindfulness yourself:
• Take some time out to focus your mind on one thing. Here are some ideas to help you get the hang of it, focus on: how the sun feels on your skin, the taste and smell of your food, your breathing, the tension in your muscles and relaxing them methodically, all the sounds in your environment. Direct all your attention to whatever it is, don’t try to multi-task, all you should be doing is relaxing and focusing your mind on the task at hand.
• If you’re having trouble and find that your mind is wandering, that’s ok, don’t dwell on it, acknowledge it and direct your mind back to the target of your focus.
• Since you’re doing this because you’re stressed, you may have some intrusive thoughts or feelings about the stressor. That’s ok too, acknowledge the feelings, allow yourself to feel the sensations of emotion, but guide your mind away from engaging in actual memories or thinking through the problem. If you notice this happening, you don’t need to get frustrated, just relax, acknowledge it, don’t judge your thoughts, and direct your mind back to your focus.
• If you’re new to this, it’d be better to start with short periods to allow yourself to get the hang of it before increasing the amount of time you do it for. But remember that you can do this any time, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at your work desk.
• Another mindfulness strategy is the ‘body-scan.’ From your toes to your head, pay attention to and notice how your whole body feels.
• If you are someone who struggles with anxiety or frequent worry, give yourself a moment where you allow these thoughts to go through your mind, and try to acknowledge them and not engage with them or feel anything about them.
Exercise as a stress reliever is a more well-known strategy, but I’d like to push the importance of it. Engage in a level of activity that challenges you and makes you feel good. Not only does a good workout release endorphins in your brain, you have also achieved something to be proud of which is a mood booster in itself. If the stressor you’re facing is a problem that needs fixing, exercise can help you think more clearly as it improves your cognition and increases your energy. Try just going for a walk, or practicing yoga in your room. If you need some motivation or inspiration head over to the Beginners Guide to Loving Fitness.
While getting active when you’re stressed will help you, regular exercise is important to help keep you in good spirits the rest of the time as well. Exercise is especially important and recommended by health professionals for those with anxiety and depression.
3. Social Support
A problem shared is a problem halved. Confide in someone you love, get some good advice and reassurance, allow someone to help you. Don’t bottle it up, nothing good ever comes from that. Sometimes someone else has a different perspective that will make you view your problem in a different way, or they may help you come up with a plan that helps you feel like you’ve regained control.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing whatever it is that’s getting you down or stressed, then even just reaching out to someone for some quality time can do you some good. Get your cuddle on, hugs reduce the stress hormone cortisol, so get amongst. Getting someone to give you a massage can be a good stress reliever as well. Stress leads to muscle tension, and massages release muscle tension and feel-good endorphins! So relax, and let your partner or bestie put in some elbow grease to work the stress out of you.
4. Time for Yourself
A good stress reliever can simply be doing something just for yourself. Treat yourself to some quality ‘me-time.’ A bit of a pamper or even just getting yourself organised can make you feel refreshed and set to take on the world again. Time for yourself can be anything you enjoy doing, here’s a quick list of self-care ideas straight from my own personal journal:
- take a bath
- listen to music
- paint your nails
- put on a face mask
- light some candles and get some mood lighting going
- watch a movie
- bake your favourite treats
- snuggle into fresh sheets
- write a to-do list
- clean your room
- write in a journal
- go outdoors
- treat your body to some fruit and veggies
- stay hydrated
When life gets you down or gets overwhelming, just remember, it’s not a bad life, just a bad moment. How many bad moments have you had that you completely forgot about because it got resolved or seems insignificant now? Remember that this too shall pass, and you will be able to say you conquered it. If bad things didn’t happen you wouldn’t appreciate the good. Feel the emotion and appreciate you’re experiencing the full human experience, you get to experience all the feelings that come with being alive, and that’s beautiful.
- WebMD, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – Topic Overview
- Anxiety and Depression Association America, Physical Activity Reduces Stress
- Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010), Exploring self‐compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26: 359-371. doi:10.1002/smi.1305
- Khoury, Bassam & Sharma, Manoj & Rush, Sarah & Fournier, Claude. (2015). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Healthy Individuals: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009.
- Chiesa A, Serretti A (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5): 593-600.