We all go through periods of stress in our lives. Small amounts of stress can be healthy, helping us to meet deadlines or pushing us to do our best work. But when we have too much stress, having a few tricks to manage it makes all the difference.
The tips below might sound familiar, but they can be the first things that are neglected in times of stress. And the more we practice them when life is going well, the easier they are to access when they're really needed - in those times when it all gets too much.
OK, probably sounds so obvious it's not worth mentioning, right? Most of time, thankfuly, we breathe without even having to think about it. In times of stress our breathing gets shallower and quicker. Stopping and taking five to ten slow, deep breaths can be a game changer. It can feel like a refresh for your whole system. What's more, it's free, you can do it anywhere and it doesn't take long. If you want to really tap into the calming effect, try making your exhale longer than your inhale (try breathing in for the count of five and out for the count of eight).
At times of stress, getting the recommended seven hours a night (for an adult; if you're a teen you need a couple of hours more) is a big ask. We've all experienced that lovely clear-headed feeling that comes with a decent night's sleep, which is just what you need when you're under stress - yet it can be so tough to get good quality sleep when stress hits. You can increase your chances by avoiding 'screen time' for an hour before bed, doing something relaxing like gentle yoga or taking a bath, and setting your bedroom up to be cool, quiet and comfortable.
Some of us lose our appetites when we're stressed, while some of us hit the biscuit tin. To give yourself the best chance of handling stress, good food is key. Eat regularly - and make time for breakfast. Carry a few healthy snacks with you so that you don't run out of energy when things get hectic. Don't forget to stay hydrated too. A coffee or two might perk you up, but it's not a good idea to overdo it - you'll end up feeling jittery as well as stressed out.
Releasing a bit of energy can help with stress management. Some people report that a run or a walk clears their head, while others use a dance class or a yoga session to give their thinking mind a break. There's no doubt exercise will also tire you out physically, which may allow sleep to come more easily. Find something that doesn't feel like a chore, commit to doing it two or three times a week, and reap the benefits for your mind as well as your body.
This is the biggie for me. If you do none of the others, do this one. Stress can be a lonely place, and it's tempting to think you haven't got time for friends or fun while you're trying to get through this. But real connection in times of stress soothes us, and reminds us of the bigger picture. Carve out half an hour to meet a friend for coffee; stop at the end of the day to make and eat a meal with someone and talk; spend fifteen minutes with a child doing something they want to do. It may be helpful to talk through what's going on with someone close to you. And if face-to-face connection isn't possible, connect through email, text or social media. A few kind words between friends can make all the difference, no matter how they reach you.
Sometimes stress becomes chronic, or the management strategies you've found helpful become redundant. When you're under too much stress to manage it by yourself (and with a little help from those around you) it may be time to re-evaluate what's going on for you. Counselling can help with that, as it gives you a time and space separate from everything else to look at your sources of stress and what your options are for dealing with them.