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I take a broad perspective on stress management - from breathing exercises to productivity tips, every little bit helps. Take a look at past posts and feel free to email if there's a specific topic you'd like me to cover.
5. Get started with your first stress resilience tip!
This is my tried and true stress management strategy. I use it when I feel overwhelmed to take the power out of those intense, out of control feelings.
Feeling Stressed? Do This First!
You know that feeling? When it all feels like too much and you think there is no way you can manage. You feel at your breaking point. All you can think about is getting rid of that feeling.
So your mind goes racing. Ideas flash by in a whirlwind: "I need to find another job. No wait, I'm supposed to slow down my breathing. Maybe I should call a friend. Wait, what if I..."
All of those things might help. But when you're really under a lot of pressure, it's hard to focus on doing any one of them. Knowing what to do when you're stressed is one thing - actually doing it is another thing entirely.
That's why I start with this.
My go-to, get-calm-quick strategy might seem counter-intuitive. But it really works. Here it is:
Let yourself be stressed.
Yep, that's it. Stop trying to calm down.
This is part mindfulness, part theory of emotions, part my own trial and error learning. When you stop fighting so hard to get rid of stress and just let yourself feel it, it's usually manageable. And paradoxically, the less you fight it, the sooner you calm down.
The hardest part about this strategy is remembering to use it. When you've got that down, it's simple to put into place. So here's how I do it.
- Observe the sensations of stress
- Remember stress is temporary
- Make friends with stress
Stress is a powerful feeling. It seems huge (and physiologically, it causes some pretty impressive changes). It makes us feel like that's all we are - a ball of tension and fear and irritation.
To put it into perspective, get some distance between you and what you're feeling. Start with observing how stress feels. Name your physical sensations, your thoughts, feelings, behaviours - whatever stress is stirring up in you. You can do this aloud - telling yourself "My jaw is clenched and I feel sick to my stomach" - or if you don't have any privacy cause you're in the middle of running a participatory focus group, do it in your head or write it down. Don't try to change what you feel, just notice it. Imagine that you're explaining what stress feels like to someone who's never felt it (lucky person!).
Once you've observed how stress feels to you, the next step is to remind yourself that it's not permanent. It feels permanent, like you're going to be stressed forever. But stress is a temporary state. Think about it. No matter how stressed (or for that matter sad, or angry or happy) you've ever been, it has not lasted. Every feeling you've ever had in your entire life has come and gone. And this one will too.
So remind yourself that stress is temporary and it will end. Think about other times when you've been stressed out and how you got through them. Tell yourself that is going to happen again. Don't try to make it end, just know that it will. (And often much faster when you don't try so hard to get rid of it.)
If you've got the first two steps down, you're grand. This is the bonus round for keeners. Picture stress as an old friend, wounded animal, small child - whatever it takes to have some sympathy for it. Approach it with a sense of curiosity, compassion, concern or love, not dread. Consider that it's doing its best to take care of you. It's not something to be avoided at all costs, but a sign of a healthy, functioning system. When you see it that way, it becomes much easier to sit with it and stop pushing it away.
So that's it. That's my first line of defence stress resilience strategy.