How to manage and avoid stress

Good mental health is more than a big thing these days. After all, it’s a big part of looking after yourself! Mental health can be easy to overlook, but when you ignore the impact that stress can have on you, it’s not just your general mental health that suffers – your physical health can be compromised too. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to deal with stress better.

A concrete path going through arrangements of shrubs of roses.
A photo I took at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon.

We all experience stress, and obviously in many different ways. I’m sure we all know that stressful situations and feelings of stress can be avoided, but sometimes we use a lot of energy on it, and “take a deep breath” really isn’t the most helpful thing sometimes! I’ve put together a couple of reminders on how I deal with stress and avoid stress and how you might be able to benefit from them too.

Accept that some things are out of your control.

One of the most important things to acknowledge is that not everything that happens in your life is within your control. Accepting and recognising that you can’t control everything is a small step to changing your mindset and can serve as a small reminder that some things are not worth the stress and anxiety you’re experiencing. It’s nice to know that you are in control, but certain things will happen (or won’t) happen, regardless of what you do or don’t do.

So many of us panic and get anxious over things that we cannot control. For a brief period of time I was stressed about many things related to the global pandemic, but I had to constantly and consistently remind myself that there was nothing I could do – but of course, there were things that I could do to make myself feel better. (There are a couple a little later on in this post.)

Regularly remind yourself that some things are out of your control, and that you can invest your time in the things you can control and that make you happy. 🌱

Keep things in perspective.

Sometimes we get worked up over little things and we don’t realise how small the issue was until we look back on it later. By the time we’ve learned this, we have wasted time and energy being stressed. I’m sure you’ve had that experience that something that seemed so big, so important and so significant in the moment and at the time, was far less important when you took a step back.

Remember to look at the bigger picture. Remind yourself that you might have experienced something similar. If you learned anything from that, you can use it.

Manage your time and expectations.

For many people, an inability to manage their time is one of the things that leads to them feeling stressed out. I’m one of these people! If I don’t organise my day, or even my week, I get stressed when something unexpected comes up, when I find myself with a lot of work on my plate, or when I have back-to-back meetings (all too real during this pandemic while working from home).

Time management does not necessarily mean scheduling every minute of the day. That work for some people, but it needs practice for your expectations to be managed too. There are some things I’ve found that helped with my time management:

  • Always look ahead in my calendar at important events and schedule any time to prepare for that event. The same goes for meetings, even if it’s just ten minutes to read material for the meeting and to arrive prepared.
  • Schedule nothing. It’s important to have these blocks of unstructured free time, which I’ve personally found help me avoid experiencing guilt for having free time in the first place. It also means you have something to look forward to after working and completing your tasks.
  • Make sure meetings have an agenda and events have a purpose. The same goes for phone calls and time you spend chatting with people. There needs to be a purpose or outcome, even if it’s “catch up with my friend about everything we possibly can during this period of 1 hour”. It helps to have an expectation beforehand. It doesn’t necessarily matter if that expectation was met or not, but it helps put me at ease.
  • Some things take longer than you expect. Always be patient. You might need to pad out travel time, or something might take you longer than you expect. It doesn’t mean you are a bad estimator. Sometimes you don’t know what might come up and you might change your mind or plans partway through. Learn to be OK with this spontaneity. I promise it is worth it. 🧡
  • Make time for the things that make you happy and more relaxed. This is really important. We all have some amount of commitments, and sometimes those commitments lead to stress. But similar to scheduling nothing, make sure you schedule time for what you really enjoy and what relaxes you. Even if it’s a walk out in nature (which works for me 🌳). Stress is no excuse to leave these things out of your life. 😌

Sleep, rest, and exercise!

Staying well physically goes hand in hand with good mental health. 😊 You know how sometimes you go to bed and everything feels a lot better in the morning? Resting and taking a step away from stressful situations helps. It might not solve your problems, obviously, but it lets you pause and puts you in a position where you’re less stressed. Without rest, we can feel knee-deep in that stress! 😩

Additionally, I find that getting enough good quality sleep helps me avoid getting stressed too easily. It’s not just your brain that needs a break, but your body does too. Not getting enough sleep can make you think less rationally, and sometimes put you in a cranky mood as well! 😅

Remember to eat and drink well, and avoid unhealthy crutches. Relying on things like alcohol, coffee or even drugs for stress relief is not a good long-term solution. It’s OK to have a coffee or a drink if you need a pick-me-up, but don’t rely on this to enhance your mood every time you feel stressed. It doesn’t always feel good afterwards, and they are also extremely temporary relief methods with a danger for addiction – as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Something like exercise is a better approach for relieving stress. For many people – myself included – exercise is a fantastic stress reliever and mood enhancer. I can’t recommend it enough. 😌 You don’t have to lift weights like I do, or do intense cardio, but even a walk, light jog, or even dancing or yoga can help you feel better mentally.

Laughter is the best medicine, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

When you laugh, your brain releases endorphins and that’s what makes you feel better and happier. 😁 When you’re in a situation where you feel stressed and overwhelmed, an ability to laugh it off and deal with the situation that way can be a real revelation. As they say, “if you don’t laugh, you’re going to cry”. This can be a really tough thing to do, but I know that even in times I’m extremely frustrated, Nick attempts to cheer me up by playing a video or doing something that he knows I always find funny. Even though I remain internally frustrated, I can’t deny that these small things improve my mood slightly and help me shake off the stress.

Remember that it’s OK to be stressed and frustrated about things, and it’s OK to mope. Sometimes you need to be with your emotions. But remember that smiling and laughing helps, and oftentimes, if a friend can help you, and that definitely feels like a lot less effort than it would be if you tried to cheer yourself up. 💕

Break down what you’re stressed about, and stay optimistic. 🌻

Once upon a time, I struggled with my mental health and I was very pessimistic. It’s not always easy to be positive, but even the smallest things are worth being positive about. Always look at both sides. You might have a laundry list of things stressing you out, but sometimes you’re making a bigger deal out of them than is necessary. You might actually only have a couple of things stressing you out. But really take a few minutes to break them down, and think about the reasons why they are causing you stress. Are you overthinking something? Do you not have enough information and you’re getting anxious about something? Is there uncertainty?

After that, remember again to keep things in perspective (as I mentioned earlier). I’m also a big advocate of celebrating tiny wins, so think about those tiny wins you might have experienced that are related to the stressful situation you’re dealing with. ✨ If you’re stuck on something, a tiny win might be a little amount of progress that you experienced just last week. It might be looking back on an experience that worked out a lot better than what you are experiencing. It might be knowing that you will get through this even though right in this moment you’re struggling.

Know your boundaries and honour them.

You have to be willing to create boundaries and set limits. Similar to what I mentioned in managing time and expectations, you need to know your boundaries and don’t let people cross them (including yourself). Recently, I’ve been clear about when I’ve made time for myself and the hours I want to work from home, and when I choose to take a break. I make sure people respect that and I do the same for others; I very rarely shift those boundaries because I know they can lead to frustration and stress for me.

Remember that it is OK to put yourself before others. Helping people and being there for people does not mean constantly catering for their needs over your own.

Don’t forget that your boundaries also apply to people. Your feelings matter, and you are allowed to be vocal about them, especially if you don’t feel like you are being respected. It’s also unhealthy and stressful to be around toxic people, so spend your time with people who matter and won’t add toxicity to your life. If you feel like the people you’re hanging around provide you with more stress or make you anxious, it might be time to rethink who you’re spending time with.

It’s OK to seek help from a professional.

You don’t have to deal with every situation on your own. Asking for help is not a sign of failure and is nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, we are people – and sometimes people need other people. When it comes to stress, sometimes we need other people even more. Seeing a mental health professional can help you find techniques to cope, can help you work through problems, and professionals are where they are today because they chose to spend their time helping others.

Getting help can also be quite specialised, with some mental health professionals specialising in helping people cope in a tough work environment. It can be as simple as asking for mentorship from someone you know who has more experience than you in your career or in a hobby or a passion you have.

It’s also possible to get professional help in a more indirect manner that isn’t entirely connected to the causes of your stress. If you’re struggling with taxes, speak to an accountant. A financial consultant can help with your concerns about money. If you’ve lost a family member, a funeral home can help you cope by managing the details. It might sound silly, but you can delegate by seeking help from people who are experienced to help you in certain things. 😊

I really hoped this post lifted a weight off your shoulders and gave you some ideas and reminders on how you can manage stress too. I hope you are all staying well. 💚

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