Stress. A feeling we all know too well.
That extra weight on your shoulders pulling you down; so many thoughts and worries ticking over in your head you can’t relax; that horrible anxious feeling at the pit of your stomach that you can’t quite shift. And that pull your hair out peak you hit right as you’re about to go over the edge. Sound familiar?
As you may have noticed my blog has been rather quiet for a while. I have felt a lot of pressure lately and my brain has been overwhelmed with things to do and how to prioritise. How am I supposed to complete work for five different deadlines, coach a cheerleading team, actively participate in two other cheer teams and manage two part time jobs, whilst staying on top of my finances (especially with it being Christmas and my student loan slowly diminishing), maintaining relationships in my life and looking after myself? That sentence was so long and confusing my mind aches just from reading it back.
The pressures which affect us are all different. We all respond differently to situations. Some people will read that and think why is she stressed out about that? That’s NOTHING compared with what I have to deal with.
That’s the number one mistake in stress, in worry, in life. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Everyone is different; that’s the beauty of humanity.
But one similarity we all have is the ability to feel stress. Regardless of the cause. And the stress I was feeling was starting to take over my life. It stopped me having time to do the things I love (like blogging!) and was starting to have bad imparts on my health. So, on search for the route of the problem and a number one goal to have a stress-free life, I found seven easy steps. Voila! Feast your eyes on these and start living a happier life.
1. UNDERSTAND A STRESS-FREE LIFE DOESN’T EXIST
This may sound counter-intuitive. And I hear you. Why have I written a whole article on how to remove worry and stress from you lives, when number one on the list says that actually this is impossible?
Because before you improve you have to understand.
People are not made to do nothing. To thrive we need purpose. I think a life without purpose is probably one of the greatest fears for us all.
Have you heard of the elastic band analogy? For me, this sums up stress perfectly. When you pull that elastic band too far, eventually it snaps. This is how stress works; we can only take so much before it throws us over the edge. God Hannah, I hear you say. I realise this, that is why I’m here.
Okay, but have you ever thought of the converse? Picture an elastic band with no pressure applied to it. It’s limp, it’s floppy, it has no purpose. The elastic band was designed to be stretched, as were we. The challenge is finding that balance between healthy pressure and unhealthy stress.
So this point is the most important of all. Do not go searching for a stress-free life. It does not exists and it isn’t achievable. The key to living happily is all about balance.
2. FIND THE CAUSE OF YOUR STRESS
Okay, so you understand a stress-free life isn’t strictly what you’re after (nor achievable), but at the moment your life is imbalanced and that healthy pressure has gone too far. Lots of posts on dealing with stress and worry focus on coping strategies and, while this is important, stress needs to be shot down at the cause not just masked by a temporary feeling of relaxation due to a luxurious bubble bath and a glass (or bottle) of wine.
So sit down and make a list – on paper, in your head, whatever works best – make a list of everything that is a cause of your stress. Even tiny things: do I have the right change for the bus? Why is there so much dust accumulating on my bookshelf? Why are there holes in all my goddamn socks?!
Usually, it’s actually these little nagging things in the back of your head which are the cause of a very large stress related problem. Sometimes I get stressed with myself for being stressed for no reason!
But I’ve realised there is a reason, there is always a reason. And the sooner these are identified, the better. No matter how big or small.
3. REMOVE UNNECESSARY STRESSES FROM YOUR LIFE
This is the next logical step; you’ve identified what’s got you feeling so tense, so you can just get rid of those things, right? Ideally, yes. But it’s not quite as straight forward as this.
When people feel they are struggling to cope due to stress it’s often because they can’t remove the things that are causing the most worry. Your debts aren’t going to clear by magic. If you’ve let work build up, you have to deal with that. I can’t just throw all my uni work up in the air and quit or refuse to pay my next rent payment because it’s ‘stressing me out’.
Some stresses are unavoidable, but that’s okay.
That’s okay because some stresses can go. I can buy myself some new hole-free socks and dust my bookshelf once a week. People need to stop focusing on their main issues and start looking at their stresses as a whole. Often these large problems are only unmanageable because of the small issues which go by unnoticed. Large problems are distractions. Remove the small worries that you’ve identified, and your bigger issues will be much easier to deal with.
How do you do this? Categorise all your stresses into what I’ve called the three F’s:
- Forget: Any irrational worries which are cluttered in your brain which actually, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t important, probably aren’t going to happen and are making you feel shitty. And do your best to leave these things in this list and move on from them.
- File: Any stresses which cannot immediately be fixed. Try to prioritise these problems so when you’ve cleared everything else out your head, you can start to tackle these.
- Fix: Any stresses which are small issues which can be easily removed. This is where the socks, dust and bus money fall under. The most important thing about this list is actually allowing yourself to tackle it. Yes, my uni assignments are more important than my cold toes, but allow yourself an hour a day to fix these problems and you’ll find you suddenly have a much clearer vision of the larger problems.
4. PERFECT YOUR COPING STRATEGIES
The stresses you can’t remove from your life, while now much more manageable, can still at times start to cause imbalance again. Do not let this happen. First, re-evaluate your stresses; are there any new stresses which can be fixed or forgotten? If so, go back up to step three. If not, it’s your coping strategies which need to have primary focus.
People handle stress differently, and the most important point to take from this section is realising you need to find what works for you. Does it help talking your problems out with a friend? Do you have someone who can help with some of your stresses? Does it help by writing your stresses down? Sometimes, actually all you need is a breather. Going for a nice walk just to clear my head always makes me feel a thousand times better.
5. KEEP YOUR BODY HEALTHY
The reason stress is so bad is because it can have really negative effects on our health, both mentally and physically. Stress can leave us irritable, anxious and depressed, as well as causing physical problems which are stress related; butterflies in your stomach, feeling sick, increasing heart rate and bad breakouts.
Because of this, it’s so important you look after yourself in every other possible way.
Start off by getting a good night sleep. I know this can be hard – thoughts running around in your head make it difficult to drift off (that is once you’ve managed to pry yourself away from all the urgent work that need to be completed) – but try doing something relaxing before bed (yoga is amazing), attempt to get into a routine and establish a soothing pre-sleep regime. After a good nights sleep you’ll work through your problems much for effectively.
Secondly, make sure you exercise. Not only will this keep your body healthy, it will make you more tired, making it easier to fall asleep, and is known for helping people cope with stress by giving time to contemplate and relax. Double whammy.
And last but not least? Eat healthily. Giving your body the right nutrients and nurturing it from the inside out will make it much easier for your body to deal with outside pressures.
6. SLOW DOWN
Whilst tackling all your problems, it’s easy to get caught in a whirlwind and forget one key point: slow down. While you may be on a roll, if you don’t slow down every now and again your stress levels will build up and you’ll be right back where you started.
Make sure you take some time doing the things you love with the people you love. Enjoy life. Enjoy people. Enjoy nature. Even if you just take little breaks throughout the day, ensure you find the time for this.
Slow and steady really does win the race.
7. BE GRATEFUL
Last, but certainly not least, learn to appreciate what you have. This is probably the least obvious of my stress minimising tips, but is not to be overlooked.
It kind of speaks for itself; if you eliminate negative thinking from your life your worries will shrink. A positive outlook really is the key to a positive life. Instead of stressing about your relationships or your job or your (lack of) money, be grateful. Appreciate that these people are a part of your life. Be thankful you have a job and a home and something mentally stimulating to do. Be glad you have a purpose and have something and someone to be stressed about. There is always someone worse off.
Change your outlook and you’ll change your mind.