Three steps to combat stress

There are lots and lots of good reasons to try to reduce the stress in your life. However, if you’re like me, and no matter how hard you try to find time for aromatherapy baths and meditation, sometimes it’s just not enough!

I found myself getting pretty stressed out today – it was one of those days I could literally feel it creeping in to my body; a sickly feeling in my stomach… a gradually spreading headache… I decided that today would be the day I would come up with my stress-busting routine(!) so that on days like this I could spring it in to action and return myself to a zen-like state of calm.

Here’s what I came up with…

1. Breathe

Sounds a bit obvious I know, but when we’re stressed we tense up without even realising it, and a good deep breath will start to relax your body as well as getting more oxygen pumping round it. Close your eyes if you need to; don’t worry if the niggling voices in your head are still going, this isn’t a meditation – just breathe.

One of the best things I learnt from attending a Tony Robbins seminar is how you can use your body to trick the mind into thinking something different: sometimes it’s known as ‘fake it til you make it’! If you don’t feel confident, but *act* as if you are, you will eventually start to feel it. Similarly, if you just take a few deep breaths – acting as though you are in a relaxed and calm state – your body will begin to physically relax, and you will begin to feel calmer.

2. Identify the root cause of the stress

Often when we’re stressed we get completely overwhelmed and it can be hard to pinpoint the root cause of it. I’ve lost count of the number of times my husband has asked me what’s wrong only to have me scream “EVERYTHING!” at him!

But let’s try and dig down a little deeper here – yes, you may be overworked, yes your kids may be demanding, and your dog has just been sick on the antique rug (I don’t have a dog or an antique rug, but I imagine this is the most likely way those two items would interact together), but I would bet any money that I could give you the exact same problem on a different day and you would take it in your stride. So what *exactly* is it that’s making you stressed today? Do you feel like you have no control over your workload? Are you trying to split your time between work and kids? Do you feel like other people are making so many demands on your time you don’t have any left for yourself? Are you feeling ill? Are you worried about something else entirely? Do you feel like you’re not coping?

Be really honest with yourself here, or this bit isn’t going to work. It is not the *thing* that is stressing you out, it is your reaction to the thing. For example – I have a huge pile of un-filed paperwork on my desk, which I merrily walk past every day without a care in the world. However, when I want to find the paper part of my driving license, that pile suddenly becomes a source of quite a lot of stress! It’s a silly little example, but it’s important to recognise that it’s your reaction to the situation that is important here, not the situation itself.

3. Decide on your response

You can choose your response to this situation.

This is going to be different for everyone, depending on your source of stress, so I’ll talk you through my example.

One of my particular triggers is having a lot of different demands on my time, and feeling overwhelmed by them. When I looked closely at this, I realised that intellectually I know that I can do everything that is being asked of me, so that isn’t actually what stresses me out – the deep down root cause is feeling like other people are controlling how I spend my time.

On the surface, I had assumed that I felt stressed because I didn’t think I was good enough, or couldn’t cope with all the things I had to do. However, digging down I realised that wasn’t the problem at all, and once I had found the root cause of the problem, it suddenly felt a lot easier to deal with.

Feeling like you ‘can’t cope’ or are ‘overwhelmed’ are fairly abstract things, and there isn’t any easy solution that will help – you must get down to the root cause of why you are feeling overwhelmed.

Once I realised what the problem was, dealing with it became fairly straightforward. I was feeling overwhelmed because I felt like other people were deciding how I spent my time, so I decided to take back control in the following ways:

– Writing a list of things I needed to do, and deciding which one thing on that list was the most important for me to do right now. The list could include eating, sleeping, taking a break as well as any work obligations or housework. Once I had decided on the one thing I was going to do next, I gave myself permission to completely ignore the rest of it, knowing that I was dealing with the most important thing.

– Deciding that I was going to take control over how people interacted with me. I disabled voicemail on my mobile and landline, so that I wouldn’t feel obliged to return calls if someone left a message. If it’s important enough they will ring back or send me an email. (I also set an out of office for my emails, so people would know not to expect a response straight away.)

– I started using a programme to manage tasks in the different projects I was working on; I use Asana, but there are lots of them out there. This lets me decide in advance when I’m going to do a particular task – it’s kind of like a long-term version of the to do list step above.

Now I’m quite lucky in that I have a fair amount of control over my working life, and I’m able to make decisions like removing voicemail from my phone – you may not be able to do that. However I am confident that you will be able to find some ways that work for you, if this is a problem that you’re facing. Perhaps you can decide to only answer emails once a day? Or go for a walk during your lunch break, so that you can’t be interrupted and asked to do something else?

The last big important thing that I would like to say is this – be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for becoming stressed, as we all do it. Recognise that your mind is probably getting a bit carried away, and you need to calm it down (breathe) and address what is really at the root of the problem. You do have the ability to deal with it.

Cat x

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