Let's talk about stress (Part 2)
In part 1 of this series on stress, we identified some of the different types of stress. These included ‘external’ stresses such as having too much on or not sleeping enough, and ‘internal’ stresses which included beliefs and narratives about ourselves and the world (such as ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘things will eventually go wrong’). This article aims to offer some tips to help you manage stress.
- Delegating or asking for help
This is one that many people find very difficult – asking for help. When we have too much on, we sometimes feel that we need to just keep going, or we can even become self-critical about the fact we are struggling. None of these approaches tend to be very helpful in the long-run, unsurprisingly! Are there some things, even little things, that you could ask someone else to do instead? Is there someone who might be able to offer a hand to help you out? It may be that you don’t know the answer to this unless you ask.
2. Saying No
In our society, many of us are not very good at putting in boundaries and saying no to things. It can be helpful to tune into our gut feeling when we are asked to do something – if deep down we know we will struggle to do it, or we don’t have the time, this feeling is usually pretty accurate. This can include a family member asking you to do something, or someone at work asking you to take on an extra task. This can also include things like your child asking to do another after-school activity on top of the many they already do – its ok to say no! It’s ok to stop meeting everyone else’s wishes in order to look after your own sometimes. If you find yourself thinking ‘there’s no way I could say no to anything’ – please ask yourself why this is, as this may be pointing to an underlying belief about needing to please others or needing to be perfect, which could be really getting in the way.
3. Making a small amount of time each day for yourself
This can sometimes feel impossible, but can be as simple as sitting in the garden with a cup of tea for 20 minutes, or going for a quick walk in nature, or even just sitting down and shutting your eyes. Research shows us that having moments like this reduces the stress response and helps our body regulate back to a more relaxed state. You may think that this is unproductive, though research tells us that actually people who take breaks are more productive overall.
4. Identifying stressors
We all feel stress for different reasons. It can be helpful to take note of the things that seem to make us feel more stressed, so we can focus more on helping ourselves. For example, if you notice that after going on social media you feel more stressed due to comparing yourself to others, then make a plan to reduce your time on it, or perhaps even come off it altogether for a time. If you find watching the news makes you feel more anxious or stressed, plan to stop watching it or turn off notifications at least. Perhaps it’s a certain person who makes you feel stressed or you find them difficult – it's also ok to limit the amount of time you spend with this person, especially when you are more stressed.
5. If you cannot change the situation, reframe the situation
Remember how our brain believes what we tell it…..if we tell it that ‘life is really stressful and I’m doing a bad job of keeping up’, then we will likely feel more stressed. What if instead we could say ‘there’s a lot going on, and I’m doing a good enough job, I’m doing my best’. This also applies if you are able to say no to something – ‘Even though I’m not used to saying it, I’m allowed to say no, my needs are important too’. Our brains and our hormones react to the stories we tell it, and we know that changing the story can make a big difference to how we feel.
6. Being realistic
Many of us place high expectations on ourselves, and then criticise ourselves when we don’t live up to it. It can sometimes be helpful to think about what the main focuses or priorities are in your life right now. For example, if you have young children and not enough sleep,– that may mean that your house isn’t tidy, and you don’t have as much time to do things like going to the gym or focusing on your career, and that’s ok! We all have different seasons in our life, and its natural that at different points, we will have different priorities. The problem comes when we still try to do everything perfectly, and beat ourselves up for not achieving it. This is not the same as saying ‘don’t bother to exercise and just get used to an untidy house’ – of course, there are ways of incorporating things in, but again these have to be realistic to the life you have.
7. Getting professional help.
In part 1, I talked about how some of our stress can be internal – from the narratives and beliefs we have, such as ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I need to please others’, ‘People don’t like me’, ‘I must be perfect’ – it’s easy to see how having these underlying beliefs could make everything feel more stressful. These can be harder to spot, because they are often entrenched and have been around a long time. Sometimes, people are able to notice if they have some beliefs like this, and gently start to challenge them. For others, getting professional support to help identify these and start to shift them can be extremely helpful for people.
Dr Theresa Comer, Clinical Psychologist.