Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Stress is a normal part of life. What isn’t normal is our reaction to it.
Back when we were living in caves it was essential to have this inner alarm system to get away from real threats to our lives, like sabre tooth tigers. Your brain would be on your side and quickly kick into fight or flight mode and decide what the best course of action was for your safety.
Stress is our inner alarm for survival, which is an amazing piece of human design. We still need this alarm for real life threatening situations because they still happen, even though we’re living in very safe times in the Western world. The problem we do have is the alarm sometimes goes off when it shouldn’t. When’s there’s no real threat to your life. It might go off when we haven’t responded to an email or haven’t got through our never ending to do list by the end of the day.
Stress is very useful to us when we find ourselves in difficult situations. If you’re not 100% sure what happens when your stressed this is how it goes…
Your heart may start to pound, your breathing gets faster, your muscles tense, and you might even start to sweat. Once the threat or difficult situation goes away, these physical effects normally fade away. But if you're constantly stressed, your body stays in a state of high alert and you may develop stress-related symptoms.
Understanding the basics of stress helps us to get a bit closer to being rational about how we respond to certain situations, our modern day sabre tooth tiger scenarios. If there’s a real threat to life then yes run off but there isn’t we have to learn to step back from what’s happening and ask ourselves; ‘is this a real threat or something I can manage and get through?’
Getting to this level of awareness with your stress and your behaviour takes time and practice. You’ve got to put the work in to override our old fashioned alarm system so you react rationally and know what to do in the right situations. You’ve also got to learn to forgive yourself if you do overreact in certain situations because you are human, not a robot.
We can’t always prevent stress but there are things we can do to manage it better.
Here are a few helpful things people can start to implement into their lives to feel less stressed:
Improve your time management
Plan out your week and your days realistically and always ask yourself: ‘have I given myself enough time to get this done?’
Prioritise and categorise important tasks
urgent and important
not urgent but important
urgent but not important
neither urgent nor important
Doing the exercise above helps people to see that things are less likely to always be “urgent and important”. It helps them to be more rational about what they need to do when.
Have a lunch break
Lots of people work through their lunch break, but this can be counter-productive. By taking 30 minutes away from your desk you’ll come back with more energy and actually be more focused and productive.
Go for a walk outside
Or try to do some form of exercise in your working day. Then you can return to what you’re doing feeling fresh and full of energy.
Work out your goals
If you take time to work out who you want to be, what’s most important to you and what you want to achieve in your professional and personal life. Then you can use this as a guiding principle for how you spend your time and how you manage it.
Introduce a mindfulness practice into your day
Studies have found that mindfulness helps reduce stress and improve your mood. You can try apps like Headspace or Calm to get you started with this.
Prioritise sleep and have a tech free bedroom
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night and have a relaxing evening routine. Try to avoid looking at screens 2 hours before you go to bed. Swap out your phone for a book and get an old fashioned alarm clock to avoid going onto your phone in the night.
Share your problems with family or friends
It’s hard to talk but sharing your worries and problems relieves stress to your brain. If you feel unable to speak to friends and family about your stress then seek support elsewhere from a counsellor, therapist or coach.
Make more time for your interests and hobbies
It’s very important to remember to have fun and make time for the things that aren’t your work. When you’re scheduling your week make sure there’s time to do the things you enjoy, that help you switch off from everyday stresses.
Use music as your medicine
If you’re stressed put on tunes that make you feel calmer, happier and positive.
You can do this at any part of your day to get you out of a negative headspace. If you find it hard to work while listening to music, make time to get your headphones on and take a 15 minute break to listen to your favourite tracks.
Take a break
We can’t all take long holidays all the time but make sure you have days in the week where you can take a break and a proper one. One where you give your body and your mind time to restore and recharge.
Be kind to yourself and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can
If you do feel stressed out then that’s OK but know you can make steps to change the way you feel and manage it better so you can feel happier and healthier in your everyday life.
For anyone reading this who thinks they may need support to better manage their stress then get in touch. I may be able to help you and/or point you in the direction you need.