April is Stress Awareness Month, and I felt it was important to write about it because stress will affect all us of from time to time. Whether you’re dealing with chronic/invisible illness, mental and/or physical, or not, it can have a marked impact on life. For some, it becomes an overwhelming, regular occurrence.
I’m not sure I could possibly be more aware of stress. I’m a chronic over-thinker, and ironically enough for Stress Awareness Month, my anxiety & stress levels have been through the roof recently. I’m also a little behind on reading blogs & replying to comments on here too, so I apologise but I’m getting there, slowly! Yes, that’s also causing me stress. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies, and I’m a hypocrite who struggles to take my own advice. Sound familiar?
Stress : From Useful To Disastrous
Far from its evolutionary uses, stress, worry and anxiety have all gone from being useful tools for survival, to banes of our existence that can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. Some stress can be a good thing for many, giving us a boost of motivation and energy. Too much can tip us the other way, leading to a loop effect of negativity and exhaustion that leaves us constantly on edge and burnt out.
Stress & anxiety can arise from a combination of various factors. While there is often an event/issue you can pinpoint as being a trigger for stress, there isn’t always. Other mental health issues, chronic illness & chronic pain, chemical imbalances, vitamin & mineral deficiencies, life events & situations, and our actual thoughts themselves can all contribute to anxiety and impact how effectively we manage stress.
I hate to say it, but in our society these days stress is almost seen as a goal, that if you’re stressed it means you’re working hard and the implication is that if you’re not stressed that you’re slacking. I’m in the UK, and I’ve noticed this quite a lot. In one job I had, everyone was stressed to the max and even a break for a wee seemed to be frowned upon; stress was like a requirement of the job.
It flies in the face of campaigns to reduce stress, and yet I feel there’s still some underlying, maybe socially subconscious, stigma about it. It feeds in to how many of us feel guilty if we’re not productive, feel guilty if we lose our jobs due to ill health, feel useless if we’re not busy and achieving. We berate ourselves, feel lousy about ourselves, get more stressed and burnt out and we suffer in this endless cycle for nothing.
Tips For Managing Stress & Anxiety
There are many well worn tips and techniques for dealing with stress and reducing it. Sometimes, they’re all easier said than done. Exercise, eat a balanced diet, get more sleep, meditate, essential oils. I don’t want to rehash the same ground, even though these points can all be really important and useful. And we all know how stress can further impact physical health, too.
Here are a few other ideas I’d like to add :
Check your meds.
It’s worth considering what effect your meds are having, as many can have side-effects on mental health that we don’t associate with being with the medication. Many common medications, from pain meds to the pill for us ladies, can affect patients in terms of anxiety, depression or general irritability. Have you noticed any patterns since taking any of your meds? Do you think any need adjusting? Speak to your GP if you have any queries or concerns. Likewise, if you take anti-anxiety or anti-depression medications but don’t feel they’re having the desired effect, raise the issue with your doctor, don’t suffer in silence.
Declutter your space.
‘A tidy home is a tidy mind’, or so the saying goes. I do think there’s truth to this, because seeing mess or piles of paperwork / laundry / general junk you need to get through can negatively impact your sense of calm and clarity.
Get an up-to-date blood test.
Various deficiencies and imbalances, such as Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, thyroid issues, hormones, and magnesium, can all play a role in stress and anxiety.
Re-evaluate what’s important to you & what you want.
Social pressures & expectations can be a cause for much stress. We feel there are things we should be doing, things we should be achieving by certain points in our lives. These ideals and goals spread from work life, social life and how we spend our leisure time, to appearances and having children. Half the time we are chasing ideals, pushing ourselves and beating ourselves up for falling short, when these things aren’t even what we want. Just what we feel we should want. Make your own path & write your own story.
Get outside, go to a museum, ask your pet to pose, and grab a camera. Taking photos can be somewhat cathartic, and uplifting when you look through them afterwards. Even better is if you can get outside and enjoy nature, appreciating it as you capture it frozen in time through your photographs.
Turn up the volume.
Music can be a great soul-soother, whether that’s to help you work through negative emotions, perk up your energy or uplift your spirits with a dose of positive vibes.
A giggle a day…
Okay, so nothing really keeps the doctor away, but laughter really can be the best medicine sometimes. Joke books, stand up DVDs and comedy films are great, but so are random YouTube videos, memes, and the plethora of random jokes and funnies online. It’s amazing how cute cats and stupid clips can take your mind off things and reset your brain for a little while.
Set Your Creativity Free & Engage Your Thoughts
Breathe, gently stretch, and do something to engage your thoughts. Sit with a hot chocolate and a good book or favourite TV show to absorb your thoughts for a while. Let loose with your creativity and it’ll give you an outlet for your stress, while hopefully boosting your mood and giving you a sense of enjoyable achievement; write, dance, create music, scrapbook, weave, knit, paint, colour, sketch, craft, whatever takes your fancy. Check out a few great adult colouring book recommendations here.
Check out some self-help style books for motivation, inspiration, support and new ideas. I noted a few good reads earlier in the year in my post on life-changing reads & self-help books.
Wash it off.
When I’m going around in circles and feeling close to popping, I sometimes just jump in the shower. Not quite jump, more like amble. Hot water and delicious smelling scents can be as invigorating as they are calming for some temporary respite and to take the edge off your anxiety.
Deal with decisions.
Indecision can be painful, leading to a loop that becomes increasingly difficult to break as even the smallest of things become a minefield. We get caught up on running through scenarios and wanting to make the ‘right’ choice that we can’t decide one way or the other. It’s not the decision itself that’s the problem, it’s making it that causes the stress. Write down the pros and cons of the possible outcomes, hash it out with someone else, do you research, but put a limit on it. If you’re caught in the trap of decisions on the small things – what to eat, what to wear, whether to go to the supermarket that day or not – take a deep breath and rip the band aid off quickly by making quicker, more confident choices. Notice how it feels to care a little less about the outcome, which often will be affected by various things outside of your control anyway.
Say No… And Yes.
Be firm and say no when there’s something you don’t want to do, don’t feel up to doing, or know it’s not in your best interest. Put your needs first a little more often. But also start to say yes to a few things that you’d like to do but perhaps say no to for other reasons, like fear or uncertainty. Taking advantage of opportunities, no matter how small, can be liberating and ease a little frustration that comes from feeling like you are holding back in your life, which leads to more stress.
Shift Your Perspective.
I’ve written before about this but I do think it can make a difference. Try to shift your perspective a little by focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t do. We can feel increasingly frustrated and stressed when we feel we have no control, so take some control back. Look at the small things you can do, the manageable changes you can make, to live your best life with the body you have & the situation you’re in.
My personal favourite affirmation-with-a-twist?
“Put it in the FUCK IT BUCKET”. When it’s all getting too overwhelming, I try to make light of it. It eases the weight of stress that’s sitting on your chest and puts it into perspective when you step outside of it for a moment. The whole ‘fuck it’ philosophy isn’t about being apathetic & not caring, it’s about choosing what deserves your care, stress & energy. It’s about learning what doesn’t and developing the strength to care less. Easier said than done. For inspiration, I love books like F**k It by John C. Parkin and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson, which you can find more about here.
Remember, you have got through plenty of challenging times in the past, and you’ll get through now and all the tough times in the future, too. Step by step, moment by moment. You are worth looking after, and you deserve the best life you can live, with the body you have and the situation you are in. Some things we have to visualise throwing in that fuck-it bucket because they’re just not worth it, especially not when we have limited energy as it is. There are ways to adapt, adjust and accept, without letting stress tear you apart constantly.
Do you have any thoughts on stress in general, or tips on how you manage it?