Everyone has to face stress one way or another.
Sometimes, it may seem like there is nothing you can do about stress. The overwhelming stress simply walks all over you, leaving you chafing.
However, you have a lot more control over your life than you can imagine. Though you can’t avoid stress completely, you can certainly learn to make it less burdensome than it needs to be.
Things to Do When You’re Feeling Totally Overwhelmed
The following ten practical tips will help you deal with a stressful situation when you are right in the middle of it.
1. Find out Your Stress Triggers
When it comes to dealing with a stressful situation, the first thing you need to do is to find out the triggers behind it.
The good news is you can readily identify the major stressors such as career change, moving to a new city, or getting over a breakup. The bad news is most stressful situations are a culmination of seemingly small triggers that are easy to miss.
For example, working with a particular colleague may be hard for you, not because he is a difficult person to deal with, but because you are always running low on patience. You can’t control your colleague’s behavior, but you can certainly manage how you react.
Just take a few minutes to reflect on what happened, whenever you get through a stressful situation. The real reason behind your reaction will soon pop up in your head. Remember, identifying a problem is the first step towards solving it.
2. Learn to Manage Your Time Effectively
The perceived sense of lack of control over things in your life is often the cause of stress and anxiety.
Though there are a few factors that are out of your control, you can learn to control most aspects with the help of effective time management. People often struggle to balance several work and family responsibilities due to the lack of time management.
Start by monitoring your daily activities to get a clear idea of how much time you are spending on each task. You may be spending more time on things that aren’t relevant to your job or personal preferences. If so, you need to create a schedule to manage your time well.
For example, if you think frequent emails and social media alerts disrupt your task at hand, set aside a few minutes every 3-4 hours a day to check your emails and messages and do it only then. Even seemingly simple steps such as these will increase your time management skills eventually.
3. Take a Chill Pill
One of the best ways to reduce stress is taking regular breaks and going on holidays. Not everyone is lucky enough to spend an entire week on a beach, sipping iced tea and bathing in the pleasant sunlight.
However, there are several other ways to take a mental break from your daily routine. It doesn’t have to be a holiday in the Caribbean (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take one). Sometimes, you just need to take a small break during the day.
In fact, you can easily turn some of your daily tasks into relaxing activities.
A friend of mine takes her lunch time to relax. She focuses her complete attention on her lunch box, acknowledging the smell, taste, and texture of the food. This trick helps her reduce the stress that the first half of the day throws at her.
Another colleague from my office spends a few minutes in the bathroom striking up a power pose. What I am trying to say is that you can come up with a relaxation technique to take a chill pill at least once during the day.
4. Don’t Make a Song and Dance about Nothing
In my opinion, the tendency to blow seemingly small things out of proportion is one of the most common causes of stress and anxiety.
Sometimes it’s just a silly argument with your spouse or your lunch buddy having a meal with someone else. Or sometimes, people create a drama out of thin air just for the sake of it, but after everything comes back to normal, it feels stupid.
Getting freaked out about nothing once in a while is okay, but if this behavior turns into a habit, it will be a catastrophic blow to your mental health.
The moment you feel the urge to blow something out of proportion, take a mental break and try to relax your mind. You can also engage in some other activity to distract yourself from that line of thought.
5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The increasing level of work-related and personal stress is depriving people of sleep. While this is true, the converse is even more so. The less you sleep, the more stressed you will feel. It is a vicious cycle.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), adults (18 years or older) need 7-8 hours of sleep a day. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you need to reschedule your daily routine.
Try to sleep 10 minutes before your usual bedtime for a week. Increase your sleep by another 10 minutes progressively each week until you have reached the recommended amount of sleep.
Quality is also as important as the quantity. Regular exercise and meditation can also improve your sleep quality. However, the exercise shouldn’t be too close to bedtime. Adhering to a bedtime schedule will improve your sleep quality over time.
6. Engage in a Physical Activity
As mentioned in the previous point, regular exercise such as yoga, meditation or running can help improve your sleep, which in turn improves your ability to deal with stress. Physical activity immediately releases endorphins in the brain, helping the muscles to relax and thus reducing the tension in your body.
In fact, according to a study conducted by Peter Strick, professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, “there is a clear connection between parts of the brain controlling physical activity and the ones controlling the endocrine (hormone) system that regulates stress.”
This discovery is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is more than enough to convince skeptics such as the author himself to take up exercising. In short, whether it is yoga, running or swimming, getting regular exercise will help you cope with stress in a constructive manner.
7. Set Your Personal Boundaries
It may seem harsh, but you can’t please everyone. So, stop being a people-pleaser. Saying “No” isn’t going to turn you into a bad person or break your relationships.
And if someone breaks it off with you just because you said no once, then it is worth avoiding the stress of being in a one-sided relationship.
Whether it is a colleague or your partner, define your intellectual, emotional, and physical boundaries. If you feel uncomfortable while doing a favor for a friend, you should make it loud-and-clear.
In essence, personal boundaries provide you with a framework to manage your time effectively. However, start small with manageable actions.
Speak about your decision with the people that cross your boundaries regularly. Make it a point to acknowledge the ones who respect and support your decision.
Keep your boundaries flexible. Use your common sense when reinforcing your boundaries. Otherwise, you will become autocratic, driving your supporters away.
8. Don’t Fall into the Trap of Perfectionism
One may assume that a perfectionist’s drive for the best will reflect on their mental and physical health. You could not be any farther from the truth.
Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism is a myth. In fact, it can be a self-destructive thinking pattern that often leads to increased stress and anxiety.
That doesn’t mean perfectionism is altogether bad for you. For instance, setting high standards for your self-improvement is a big benefit of perfectionism. However, people usually pay more attention to the negative factors such as having doubts and concerns over mistakes, resulting in increased stress eventually.
Instead of getting trapped in the vicious cycle of perfectionism, try to develop a compassionate attitude towards your mistakes, obstacles, and achievements. Identify the factors and let go of them. Don’t take yourself too seriously, winning and losing are part of life.
9. Avoid Stimulants and Alcohol to Alleviate Stress
Most people turn to a variety of stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, medication, and even alcohol as an easy cure for stress.
According to an animal study by a team of scientists at the Department of Neuroscience at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, “rodents exposed to stress had a weakened alcohol-induced dopamine response and voluntarily drank more alcohol compared to controls.”
“This line of research has implications for people with PTSD who have an increased risk for over-consumption of alcohol and drugs,” said Dr. John Dani, who led the research team.
Caffeine and nicotine are also known to increase your anxiety and stress rather than alleviate it. Thus, none of these alternatives is the sound approach to reducing stress. Instead, you should try to improve your diet and avoid stimulants as much as possible.
10. Keep a Stress Diary
A stress diary is one of the best stress management tools out there. This tool will provide you with details about stressful events.
Make sure to note down the date, time, and detailed description of stressful events, including what was the situation, who was with you, what was the preceding event, how did you respond, and how effective was your response.
You can also rate how you handled the stress on a scale of 1-10. Carry the diary with you so that you can record the details just after the incidence.
Don’t forget to record your mood when writing about the event. Try to be as accurate as possible. This baseline information will help you develop better coping mechanisms.
Stress is an inevitable part of our lives.
Though you can usually sail through stressful times, sometimes it becomes just too much to handle. However, it is possible to effectively cope with overwhelming stress at work, at home, and in general.
Hopefully, these ten tips will help you manage stress and improve your overall mental and physical well-being.