Dr Tanya Bernstein, Chartered Counselling Psychologist at Priory Hospital North London provides 5 Top Tips for recognising and dealing with the early signs of stress…
Stress is a topic of conversation which has become as common in our daily lives as talking about the weather. But like the weather, it can sometimes be a topic of small talk and the real impact it can have on us can be minimised.
1) Don’t ignore it
If you are feeling the symptoms of stress it may seem that if you plough on through ignoring all the warning signs that it will go away, but think what you could do for yourself if you didn’t ignore it. You could plan strategies for tackling the problem, ask for help or just allow yourself that one night off to recuperate. By addressing the problem you are avoiding the risk of reaching a stress related burnout.
2) Check in with your body
Stress is a whole mind and body reaction to events around you. The body acts as your first warning that you may be experiencing stress.
Make a challenge for yourself to check in with your body at particular times of the day, you could have been sat at your desk not noticing that your shoulders are all hunched up and your leg has been jiggling for the past half hour. Or having a conversation with someone not realising that your arms and legs are both crossed and your brow furrowed.
If you notice that your body is stressed, you could try getting some fresh air, if you can’t leave the situation, you might just try tensing and un-tensing different parts of your body to see if this slightly eases your tension.
3) Take a break – “The time to relax is when you don't have time for it" - Sydney J. Harris
You’ve probably heard it many times before; ‘take a break’, ‘go for a walk’, ‘make a cup of tea’, ‘have a warm bath’. They can get repetitive and feel ultimately that they won’t solve the problem, so we may think ‘what’s the point?’
But let’s imagine a caveman running away from a sabre-tooth tiger who is on the hunt for lunch. Would the caveman just keep running until he’s exhausted and collapses or would he seek some sanctuary for a brief period, perhaps hiding somewhere before his threat is back on the hunt for him? Breaks won’t solve the stressful situation you might find yourself in, but they’ll certainly give you a bit of a breather from it.
At work it may be harder to take a break to go for a walk, instead, you might try thinking about micro breaks. If the phone is ringing, don’t jump on it straight away, let it ring once or twice, take a breath and then pick up. When making a cup of tea, make it a real event, enjoy the process of making it and then when you drink the tea, really savour it.
4) Talk to someone
Isn’t it funny that even though we’re happy to tell people ‘I’m stressed’ we aren’t happy to go into any detail about it at all? Even though we know that talking can really help and bottling things up just exacerbates stress we still don’t do it.
Think about whom you could talk to and maybe even think about what sort of support you would like; do you want to just vent to someone and get it off your chest? Do you want to know if they’ve felt the same so you don’t feel so alone? Do you want some help coming up with a strategy to help the situation? Whatever it is, try to ask for it. You might be pleasantly surprised at how supportive people can be.
5) Stop being a hero
It’s great to help others, it makes us feel useful and it makes us feel part of the communities we work and live in but everyone has limits. It might make you feel good not to disappoint others and take on more but it may be compromising your health. You might try a daily mantra to yourself ‘I deserve to be happy too’, or ‘I deserve to be important too’. It won’t solve all your problems but it may help you push back on internal and external demands at times.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb "Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are." We can’t relax all the time, it is a fact that life can be stressful at times, but reconnecting with who you are through relaxing once in while may help you through the tough times.
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