3 ways to keep stress at bay

The end of the financial year is a notorious time for stress levels to run high. There are targets to meet, things to get done, paperwork to organise… While bursts of stress here and there are healthy and necessary for optimal functioning, chronic or prolonged stress can have a detrimental impact on our health and well-being.
We experience stress when the demands placed on us outweigh the resources we have at our disposal to meet them. Whether it is our time, skills, energy, brain power, finances, or any other resource.

Therefore, the solution to keeping stress at bay lies in either reducing the demands or mobilising the resources to keep that seesaw levelled.While we might not have control over all of the demands placed on us, there are ways we can keep an eye on the demands we place on ourselves, and protect our resources from being completely depleted. Here’s how.

1. Check in with your thoughts – when we’re stressed, our attention naturally narrows to focus on our stressors, and we can gradually loose perspective and start thinking in unhelpful ways. For example:

Are you telling yourself that something is urgent, when in reality it can wait?
Are you telling yourself that your work isn’t good enough, when in reality it will more than suffice?
Are you telling yourself that you must do something, when in reality it’s not necessary? 
Are you criticising yourself, when in reality you’re doing a good job?

You can keep your thoughts in check by noticing them and asking yourself:

Is this true?
Is this helpful?
Is there another way to look at this situation?
What’s a more helpful thing to be telling myself here?

2. Check in with your needs – all of us have basic needs which, when satisfied, help us stay cool, calm, and collected. But often it is these basic needs that get neglected when we’re distracted by our stressors. For example:

Are you feeding and hydrating yourself properly?
Are you moving, stretching, and relaxing your body to release the built-up tension?
Are you having ‘still’ time in your day so your mind can process what’s happening?
Are you winding your mind and body down in preparation for sleep?
Are you remaining in touch with friends and loved ones?
Is your home environment a calm, safe, and clutter-free space you can relax in?
Are you being supportive, encouraging, and kind to yourself?

Managing stress is about being mindful of your needs and giving yourself permission to keep your health and well-being among the top priorities no matter what other demands are placed on you.

3. Check in with what you’re doing – sometimes when we’re stressed, we can become our own worst enemies when it comes to our behaviour. For example:

Are you saying “yes, sure”, when in reality you want and need to say “not now, thank you”?
​Are you prioritising getting things done over looking after your mind and body?

Are you trying to numb the stress by drinking alcohol regularly or in excess?
Are you zoning out by mindlessly binging on TV or social media?
Are you denying yourself opportunities to experience pleasure and fun because of all the other ‘to do’s?

We all have our go-to stress habits and some are less helpful than others, so it’s important to assess your repertoire to make sure you’re not placing further mental and physical demands on yourself. The key is to recognise when something that seemed helpful in the short term, has begun to exacerbate your stress levels and further deplete your coping resources.
One of the key strategies that underlies the self-care examples above, and something I have been learning to do more of lately, is to ​give yourself permission to stop.

To stop what you’re doing and go have lunch.

To stop what you’re doing and take a few minutes to release tension.

To stop what you’re doing and ask yourself “Am I OK? Do I need a break? Do I need …?”.

​To stop what you’re doing and experiment to find another way.

To stop what you’re doing and remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.

To stop what you’re doing so that you can get unstuck, regain perspective, refill your cup, and get moving again towards where you want to be (minus the overwhelm).

I invite you to pull out a piece of paper and a pen, or make an entry in your phone, and put together a little reminder about stress:

To keep stress at bay, I will:

Practice letting go of…

Look after myself by…

Remind myself that…