What is stress and why do we need to bust it?
Having pressure is good, but stress is harder to manage. If you can put some stress-busting strategies in place, such as re-charging your batteries with 'downtime', increasing self-belief, talking things through, keeping your body active, or changing how you deal with people, then you are more likely to experience pressure rather than stress.
We can define stress as "when individuals perceive that they cannot adequately cope with the demands being made of them, or with threats to their well-being" (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984). This does not mean that we can't cope with demands, but it is about the perception that we can't. We are going to have a look at how to change this around.
Making stress positive
Having pressure is good, as it means we get things done and feel motivated. Think about how getting nervous before a presentation has helped you to perform extra well, or the worry you had when faced with making a decision ensured you covered all angles in your thinking and made a more effective decision.
It is when we feel that things are getting overwhelming that we perceive demands are getting too much. So, let's find out more about how to bust the negative stress, and increase resilience to tune into the positive, motivated side of ourselves!
Stress is biological
It's true! Did you know that the stress response is a 'fight or flight' response which is opposite to 'rest and digest'? We have an 'autonomic nervous system' (ANS) that can be defined as an 'on and off switch'. This 'switch' fires up with a perceived threat, and turns off to bring the body back into equilibrium when the 'threat has passed'. If you feel that you are not coping with a stressful scenario, then the body does not go back into 'equilibrium', but instead, stress responses can persist.
So, the first step is to recognise we are tipping into (or about to tip into) stress, and the next step is to be able to put in place stress-busting strategies.
13 tips to help with stress management
1. Knowing that something good is going to happen
If we know that, eventually, any stressful situation we find ourselves in is going to pass, like waves that eventually crash on the shore, this helps us to cope with tricky situations. Knowing that something good is going to happen gives us something to look forward to, and hope and positivity help us to bust stress and increase optimism.
It might be there is a very tight deadline at work, or that you have to organise an event and the stress is starting to build. If you remind yourself that the stressful event will only cover a finite period, and you line up some treats for when it is over, this can buoy you up!
2. Focus on the breath
We can only breathe for now, and if we think to ourselves 'I am breathing in, I am breathing out', then interestingly enough our brains are wired so we can't dwell on stressful thoughts. Give it a go. The next time you perceive a situation as stressful, mindfully focus on your breath as it goes in and out of your body. You will be amazed.
3. Talk it through
We can tend to keep things to ourselves. It's amazing how expressing how we feel to someone we trust and speaking our feelings out loud can bust stress. It can also help to get a different perspective on things.
4. Give it up!
If you are someone who is thinking that you have to do it all, juggling work, childcare, friendships, learning a new language, and adjusting to a new life or relationship, then asking for help can go a long way. Have a go at asking for support - even delegation of a small task can be super helpful!
5. Seeing the sun coming out!
We can all get into negative thinking that can be overwhelming. If we are stuck in traffic and think about how terrible it's going to be when we're late, do we feel more or less stressed?
If we see the traffic jam as an opportunity to listen to new music, for example, or look out at the sun coming out, we will instantly be stress-busting! We can swap our inner negative thinking for a more positive script; swap that negative 'black cloud' thinking for the 'sun coming out' thinking!
6. Be kind to yourself
Are you telling yourself that it has to be perfect or are you working to 'good enough' thinking? We want to do a good job, but a decent enough one with the helpful thought of 'it is preferable if I do a good job' will instantly lower those stress levels.
What would a friend say? They would point out all your good points and probably say you are being far too hard on yourself. Self-compassion is a very powerful stress buster.
7. Be present
Pre-living the future is one of the main causes of stress. If we re-live the past and pre-live the future, we are not existing in the 'here and now'. Get into the present and your stress levels will drop. Combine this one with tuning into your breathing and you will be amazed at the difference!
8. Get moving
The benefit of physical exercise, especially if we combine it with the outdoors, has a real impact on our mental ability, as it can reduce depression and anger, and bring up self-esteem. If hitting the gym and pumping iron is your 'thing' that's great, but getting yourself moving more can also mean parking further away from your workplace, taking the stairs instead of the lift, or having some morning yoga stretches. Setting yourself up to function more effectively in your body will act as a barrier for stress.
9. Tuning into your barometer
We all have a change of moods, like the weather, but we can also predict if we sit too long at a screen, or have a long meeting, for example, that we will get tight muscles. Tuning into our bodies like they are a weather barometer can help us to know when it's time for a breather.
Check how you feel before, during, and after the day. Is your neck tight? Maybe you're feeling chilly, or too hot? If you find yourself getting so immersed in an activity that tiredness creeps up on you, then stop to check-in with your body to see if changes to your day are needed.
10. Set your boundaries
It's amazing how setting boundaries for your time, and what you will and won't be able to take on, can help with stress-busting before it gets to be overwhelming. If we look after ourselves, we are much more effective in the long run. Next time it feels like you have too much on, be assertive and state your position. This might include being assertive with yourself!
11. Sleep it off
Recognising when you are at your best can help keep stress at a manageable level. Think to yourself - are you a morning or an evening person? How much sleep makes you feel that you are at your best? Recharge those batteries. It's a bit like taking too many deposits from the bank - eventually, it will be empty!
12. Can I ditch it?
What can you get rid of that will help you to build strong, resilient foundations, so that when pressures come your way you see them as challenges rather than tipping into stress? If we are grabbing one too many coffees, drinking too much beer or wine to relax, or having too much sugar so that performance becomes a fantasy that we can't sustain in the long term, it's time to ask "Is this a habit to ditch?". Are you checking your emails constantly, spending too long on social media, or taking too much on? It doesn't matter what it is. To be an effective stress-buster, what unhelpful habits can you ditch?
13. Feel on top of the world
Finally, if you can see the bigger picture, recognise that the possibilities are endless and that you have choices, then you can start to feel less overburdened and more like 'you'. Some research says that if you recall three things you are grateful for every day for three weeks, it can start to 'rewire your brain' to be your greatest supporter! Let's start the stress-busting process so we can feel on top of the world.
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