Stress is an unavoidable burden, whether you’re sitting in morning traffic, piece of toast in hand, shouting expletives into the abyss or you’re suffering from ongoing, chronic stress caused by financial difficulties or illness. The smallest of things (such as throwing your spoon in the bin and your empty yoghurt pot in the sink) can cause you to crack, and you may lie in bed at night thinking about the fast-approaching stress of tomorrow. However, there are ways to escape this seemingly never-ending cycle, and the effective management of stress is integral to long-term wellbeing. Edinburgh Prestige spoke to Rachel Roper and Sarah Gallagher of Inspired Psychology Services about the best ways to master stress.
Work out the source of your stress
As with most problems, recognising the cause of stress is central to finding a solution. As Rachel and Sarah say: “Managing stress very much depends on recognising that you are stressed and understanding what you are stressed about.” Stress can be caused by work-related pressures, family concerns, illness, financial difficulty, or a combination of a few of these things. Acknowledging stress, talking to others and thinking about why you may be feeling this way are all things that will help you to move forward. “Validate your feelings and allow yourself to feel vulnerable,” they continue. “Recognise that we live in a busy, fast-paced world and that stress happens to all of us.” If you’re not sure, keeping a stress diary can help you to identify recurring issues.
Communicate your issues
Another facet to acknowledging your stress is talking to people. Friends and family can often offer emotional, physical (i.e. with housework) and financial support, but if you’d prefer to speak to an external, impartial person then a therapist could help you to manage your emotions and any outside pressures. “A therapist can help you to recognise your unhelpful thinking and patterns of behaviour,” Rachel and Sarah say. “They will be able to help you to look at your behaviours in a more objective manner, and they can teach you techniques for dealing with life’s difficulties in the future.” By recognising both psychological and mental responses to stress, you will become better equipped to deal with them.
Learn the art of balance
Despite the hurried nature of life and the difficulties that arise, maintaining a sense of balance is important for stress reduction. “Don’t push yourself to the limit, and recognise that you need sleep,” Rachel and Sarah note. “Use mindfulness and practice focusing your attention on the here and now using all of your senses. Think about what you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste, and take time out to really focus on these things and what you enjoy.” Practice time management, and don’t be afraid to say “no” when you’re worried that you may be overcommitting. Realising that you can only do so much with your time will help you to significantly reduce stress levels.
Look after your body
Though stress is often considered to be a psychological affliction, it can have physiological repercussions. Likewise, looking after your body can help to reduce the impacts of stress. Rachel and Sarah say: “Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly, even if this means taking the stairs instead of the lift.” They also warn against unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, having a high caffeine intake, smoking and spending money on things that you can’t afford. “These things feel helpful in the short-term, but in the long-run they are likely to increase stress levels,” they say. Having a regular sleeping pattern is also recommended.
When you’re overcome with stress and you feel tense, breathing deeply and trying to regain focus can provide comfort. Rachel and Sarah recommend slowing your breathing down, as “sometimes even a few long, slow outbreaths can help. Remind yourself that this is just a moment in time and that these feelings will pass.” You can also try the 4-7-8 technique. Make yourself comfortable and breathe in through the nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven, exhale forcefully for eight, and repeat this until you feel more at ease. It’s also important to relax your muscles, as “progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can help to release tension and increase awareness of elevated stress levels,” they continue.
Check in with reality
When you’re stressed, everything can seem awful. If I don’t get everything done on time, I could lose my job, and then my house, and then I’ll be a lonely, sad person forever, your brain may be telling you. Whilst it’s natural to have some level of concern for these things, it’s a good idea to ask yourself whether you may be overreacting. There are very few problems that can’t be dealt with, especially with a little bit of realism and outside support. Ask yourself: ‘Can I do anything about this?’ If you can, great. If you can’t, it can be useful to recognise that your stress has no way of improving your circumstances.
Look into CBT
CBT is a talking therapy that works to change patterns of behaviour or feelings that may be causing difficulties. As Rachel and Sarah say: “CBT is an approach that develops understanding between thoughts, feelings, physiological responses and actions.” Not only does CBT help you to recognise your helpful thoughts, but it also points to those that are unhelpful. “When we have identified those things that work against us in our day-to-day lives and have recognised any barriers, we can work out how to use the skills that we already have to effectively manage difficult situations,” they continue. “CBT helps us to distinguish and avoid traps, and enables us to develop new skills, too.”
Support for those dealing with stress
- Samaritans | 116 123
- The Stress Management Society |0203 142 8650
- Childline (for young people) | 0800 1111