World Mental Health Day is a chance to recognise our own mental health needs and start to practice some self-care. Whilst stress is unavoidable in daily life and the waves of pressure keep crashing in, there are some practical steps we can take that can help us act in stressful situations, rather than react.
External and Internal Stress
Whilst we all experience stress at times in our lives, it's often difficult to pinpoint exactly what stress means, and it can be different for each individual. Triggers can be extrinsic - situations or events that put pressure on us, or intrinsic - the feelings and emotions we feel when we are under pressure. Whatever your personal definition may be, we can learn to manage our stress better by:
- managing the external pressures so that you don't feel overwhelmed so regularly
- developing your own inner emotional strength to cope when facing a difficult situation.
Why do I feel more stressed than others?
It can sometimes feel like other people handle stress better, but the amount of stress we feel can depend on:
our own perceptions of a situation - often based on previous experiences, memories, self-confidence
how we manage our own stress response
how emotionally strong we are when faced with a challenge
Whilst there are many things in our lives that we can't control, there are some practical steps you can take to limit the amount of pressure you feel on a daily basis:
1. Identify the triggers
If you are able to identify what causes you to be stressed, then you can start to anticipate problems before they arise. These could be:
problems that you experience regularly - pending work deadlines, financial concerns
one-off events that cause you concern - house moves, exams
ongoing stressful situations - family illness, work insecurity
2. Make some lifestyle changes
Find things that help you to relax and take your mind off stressful situations:
Practice relaxation techniques - finding a mind and body technique that works for you can be difficult. There are many different methods to try out there, all with their individual benefits. Sophrology is a combination of many relaxation techniques which helps to relax your body and keep your mind alert to thoughts and perceptions.
Take up a new hobby or pastime - finding something new to focus on can move your thoughts away from stress triggers and create a refreshing sense of enjoyment. Often shared hobbies can help you benefit from the power of social connection.
3. Take care of your physical health
Looking after your physical health is key to supporting your mental health.
Make sure you get enough sleep - When we sleep, our minds and bodies regenerate themselves, enabling us to cope with pressures more effectively. Stress can make it hard to drift off to sleep, but developing a calming bedtime routine and setting aside enough hours for a good night's sleep (7-8 hour minimum) is essential to helping you function more effectively.
Get active - Physical exercise can increase the amount of 'feel good' hormones we experience and can be hugely helpful in reducing stress.
Eat well - the food we eat can effect the way our bodies feel. Too much sugar or caffeine can cause peaks and troughs in our energy levels. Eating a well balanced diet can make a big difference to how you feel.
4. Be kinder to yourself - find new ways to release the pressure you are feeling:
Take a break - time out from your usual routine can help you feel refreshed and recharged. Spending some time in a different place can help reset your feelings and change your perspective on stress.
Practice self-compassion - we all make mistakes and life can be difficult, but allow yourself to remember that nobody is perfect. Seeing mistakes as a learning process, rather than a fault, can help to relieve the pressure we put on ourselves.
5. Develop a support network - knowing that there is someone else who cares can help to alleviate the stress. "A problem shared is a problem halved" as they say.
Family support - talking to someone close to you can feel like a weight off your mind
Catch up with friends - laughter with friends is a real antidote to stress. You may find that just chatting to a close friend about what is worrying you can help to relieve the pressures you are feeling or help you plot a new course through the upcoming events that are causing your anxiety.
Stress in small doses is a good thing. It helps us to be focused and energised for upcoming events. However, long-term stress is harmful to our mental and physical wellbeing. By managing how we perceive and respond to stress, we can start to perform better and develop own our inner strength to deal with the inevitable stressful situations that life will throw at us.