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Just a little topic I hear you all say!
This is my last blog on the topic of stress but will hopefully give you some new ideas or point you in a helpful direction. As I mentioned in my previous blog, there is no getting away from stressful life events. That said, there are things that we can do that can help manage life stressors more helpfully and build up our resources and resilience. There are also therapeutic interventions that you might consider in managing stress too.
What to try?
Below are some ideas that you might like to try out – but please remember that we are all different so it’s important to test out what works best for you. Don’t feel like you have to try them all – especially not all at once! If you think something might make you more stressed right now, try something else. Although there are loads of techniques I have put them into 6 broad topics:
Get your Mindfulness on
Get a handle on your triggers
Change some of the causes
Getting on top of your time
Develop your Acceptance Skills
Build up your resources and resilience
1. Get your mindfulness on
Mindfulness is a fantastic life skill. It’s not always easy to practice - especially when things are feeling a bit overwhelming. At the same time, it can help guide us. Being more mindful of our thoughts, feelings and urges to act is SUPER important when we are trying to identify the things that make us feel stressed out in the first place. It can also help us to evaluate the consequences of behaving in different ways to work out whether the things we try work for us or not – especially in the long-term. It is a key part of acceptance (which I’ll come on to later). Finally, although the purpose of mindfulness is not to be relaxed, often people find that regularly practicing mindfulness can leave them feeling more centred and relaxed.
There are tons of resources online about how to improve your mindfulness skills. We also have a section on our website about this and a load of helpful recordings if you want to practice. There are also books you can read about this and groups you can attend such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR - Jon Kabat-Zinn). I’ve some more details about this in the list of resources at the bottom of the page.
2. Get a handle on your triggers
This was covered in the last blog. Doing this can be really helpful for lots of reasons. Knowing what stresses us means we can anticipate problems or stressors and do something about them. Or it can mean that we can develop ways to manage more effectively if they are around. Think about the things that are more commonly around when you are stressed. For example:
What are the types of big or unusual events or situations that are likely to make you feel more stressed? For example, have you got an exam coming up in 6 months or are you thinking about applying for a new job.
What are the everyday things that are likely to make you feel more stressed? What things or combination of things really push your buttons? For example, paying bills, work tasks, checking post.
What are the on-going events that are likely to make you feel more stressed? For example, being a carer, working long hours, difficulties with a friend or family member.
Often when people think about the things that cause them stress they find that they are actually dealing with a lot of things at once! It’s also common to find that a build-up of things or a combination of things can be particularly stressful to manage. Finally, just as having lots on your plate can be stressful, not having very much to do can be stressful too.
3. Change some of the causes
Granted there are lots of things that are outside our ability to change. That said, even making a few small changes can make things less stressful for us and therefore easier to manage. Sometimes addressing the causes of stress can add to the stress in the short-term. HOW UNFAIR! However, getting to the root of a problem and sorting it out can be much more helpful than putting it off in the long-term.
We have already talked about the things that can trigger stress being around for us. Looking back at the list you have made, I wonder if there is anything practical you might be able to do to make these things less powerful or likely to be around. These are probably not earth-shatteringly massive steps that have a super quick result. In fact, it’s often good to start small. You don’t climb a mountain by sprinting up. Small manageable steps, quick wins, always keeping in mind what might be helpful in the long-term.
4. Getting on top of your time
Still in the realms of making changes, sometimes it can be really helpful to think about how we organise our time to help us feel more in control and able to manage stressful events. Some things that we can consider are:
To make a list of things you have to do. You can organise them in terms of importance. You can also break big tasks down into small chunks to help them feel less overwhelming.
Often getting someone to help can make tasks feel more manageable.
Linked to the above, set small targets and make sure the big things are broken down into achievable tasks.
Don’t do too much at once! Slow and steady wins the race! Better to do a little often and get it done than a lot for a short period and get burnt out.
Take a break when you need to. Plan them in, set an alarm on your phone or watch.
Mix it up! Don’t keep doing the same task or same kinds of tasks over and over. Try and mix exciting or interesting tasks with the ones you find more boring.
Think about what time of day you work best. Do the most critical or important tasks when you’re at your best!
5. Build up your resources and resilience
Looking after ourselves and building up our internal resources can be really helpful for us to manage when stressful events come into our lives. It can help us to be more flexible and effective when things are difficult. Think about it as putting money in the bank for a rainy day.
How to do it?
There are loads of things that are helpful in building our resources. Getting the ‘basics’ right can go a REALLY long way in this respect! When I say basics I’m referring to:
Looking after our bodies and treating any underlying illnesses
Eating well and regularly. Not too much or too little
Avoiding things that are likely to make the stress around more such as alcohol or drugs
Improving our sleep (we have a whole blog series on this !)
Taking regular physical exercise
Over and above this, there are lots of other things that we can do to build our resilience such as:
Use relaxation techniques. Often people know what works for them – take a bath, listen to calming music, go for a walk or book time in to just sit outside or use an app.
Mix it up. Change the record (literally and metaphorically). Having a change of environment or situation can be really helpful sometimes.
Get involved with your interests or hobbies or try something new.
Book in time to see or speak to the people who are important to you regularly.
Building our support networks.
Speak to the people who might be able to help us. This might be people at work or at an educational establishment. Sometimes there are practical things that other people can do to help.
Try not to take too much on. Finding a balance is hard for lots of us but it is really important to give us the flexibility to manage in a helpful way.
Celebrate successes – even if they are small.
Try to be a bit kinder to ourselves. To quote Prof Paul Gilbert, being compassionate towards ourselves might be the bravest thing we will ever do. We have a post about fostering self-compassion .
Take a break. Get out of the normal routine.
6. Accept the things you can't change
The first thing to say about this is that it is often not easy. However, learning to accept the things that we cannot change can free us to be more effective for the things we can change. It can also enable us to acknowledge and appreciate the other things that might be going on around us. We again have a whole blog series about this here if you want to find out more about acceptance.
What interventions are there for stress?
Over and above the things I have talked about in this blog, there are other things that can help with stress. You can access some of these through your GP. Some other are accessed privately.
There are a number of psychological interventions which have a good evidence base in understanding and managing stress in a more helpful way. These include:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helps us understand patterns of thoughts, feelings, psychological sensations and behaviours and develop more helpful ways to manage.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which combines mindfulness, meditation and yoga focusing specifically on stress reduction.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which combines aspects of mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to accept the experiences we have and behave in a way that is in line with our values.
Compassion Focused Therapy, which looks to develop our skills in self compassion, reduce our responses to perceived threats and enable us to manage in a more effect way.
Stress is a reaction to things happening in our lives so there's no medication for stress itself. However, there are some medications that can help with some of the ‘side effects’ or signs of stress. For example, a GP might prescribe medication to improve sleep or sleep patterns.
Thanks for reading!
I’ve come to the end of the blog on stress. I hope you have found it useful. I have put a list of books and website links below that I think are good. Please feel free to have a look J
If you feel worried about any of the information here you can have a look at our resources page for contacts which might be helpful.
See you next time,
Overcoming Stress, Bonsan and Todd (2009)
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Kabat-Zinn (2013)
Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, Williams and Penman (2011)
The Happiness Trap, Harris (2008)
Your local GP
111 or 999 if it’s an emergency