‘I feel stressed’
'Life is stressful right now'
'I have had a stressful day'
We frequently say and hear these phrases - and life really can be stressful at the moment. The good news is that we can learn a few easy techniques to help us better cope with stress.
What causes stress and anxiety? The list is long, but here are a few things that come to my mind:
Imagining worst case scenarios – only seeing the negative aspect of a situation
Not being able to find a middle ground – always seeing things in black and white.
Challenges or unexpected change
Feeling unable to take control of a situation
Worries that just keep coming back
Prolonged stress affects our ability to think, our emotions and the way we behave. Stress can even manifest physically in the body, creating tension and chronic illnesses - warning signs that something is not right. Learning to manage stress and address our stress triggers can have a positive impact on our physical and mental well-being.
Here are my 5 top tips to help you cope with stress and anxiety, which often involve moving your mind away from the source of stress.
1. Adopt a positive mind set
If you find yourself stuck in negativity, try to think about what you have rather than what you do not have - switch negative thoughts for more positive ones. A good way of shifting our mind set is by practicing mindfulness. This helps us to be more in the present moment, rather than thinking of the past or the future.
An easy mindfulness exercise is to sit still and notice 5 things you can see around you. Then close your eyes and notice 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Open your eyes and notice the difference.
2. Don’t be a slave to tech
Technology is all around and so easily accessible. Although technology can be a great tool, it can also be damaging to our mental health. Try to stop using any devices or looking at any screens for an hour and a half before going to bed. This will allow your brain to completely wind down and switch off for a good night's sleep.
3. Learn to say no
It is important to be able to say no. Saying no will help you to feel empowered, while maintaining healthy relationships with others. Saying no helps you establish boundaries and enables others to have clarity about what they can expect from you. People pleasers tend to put the needs of others before their own, and often find themselves saying 'yes' only to regret it moments later. Try to gain clarity on the things you really want to do. Listen to yourself before you jump into a yes. Over time you will become more honest and authentic with others, you will be less likely to feel taken advantage of, and people will learn to come to you for the things you really want to do.
4. Start to prioritise and manage your time
Begin by listing what needs to be done in a day (or a week). Figure out why something is important - is there a deadline; will it help to move another task forward; is someone else depending on you for this task? Then put a number in front of each task depending on its priority. Prioritising is key to reducing feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed.
Try to understand when it suits you best to perform a difficult task. Some people are more productive in the morning, others in the afternoon or late in the evening. I find tackling more difficult tasks first thing in the morning helps reduce stress in my day and leaves me with a feeling of achievement that boosts my overall energy and motivation.
5. Practise deep breathing
Deep breaths are more efficient - they allow your body to fully exchange incoming oxygen with outgoing carbon dioxide. Deep breaths can also slow the heartbeat, lower or stabilize our blood pressure and lower stress.
"Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place!" - Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching
I often catch myself reacting to stress, only to realise this does not help to reduce stress. I have learnt to become aware of the cause, to pause and respond. I talk to myself in a soothing way with clear, gentle and encouraging words. If negative thoughts arise, I will insert a more positive thought - an affirmation - such as 'slow down, you move too fast' or 'let it be'.
My stress response often lies in my chest and for me the best way to calm down is to practise deep breathing. Stop everything, close your eyes and breathe! Stop doing and start being. One of my favourite breathing techniques to calm myself down is the 4 to 6 - inhaling for 4 counts through the nose and exhaling for 6 counts through the nose or the mouth. With every breath, I feel myself relaxing.
And of course, join us on the yoga mat!
Further reading on stress and finding inner peace:
From Stress to Stillness – tools for inner peace – Gina Lake
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – Robert Sapolsky
The Power of Now - A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment - Eckart Tolle