They say variety is the spice of life which means, in a way, so is stress. In small doses, stress gives us that extra push we need to step out of our comfort zones – and that’s just what we want when we’re looking to try new things, achieve something great or make an exciting career move. But what if we experience too much stress for a prolonged period of time? Our systems can become overloaded. Psychologist at OpenUp Sarah Takens, is here to give us some advice on how we can check in with our minds and notice when it’s time to take a step back.
Too much stress
“Stress is a physical reaction that we all recognize and it occurs when we experience or think about tense events. For example, you might feel stressed at the prospect of being laid off at work, or even just going on vacation, if you’ve still got loads to organize. Our stress systems are actually an ancient phenomenon, designed to prepare our bodies to take immediate action.
In ancient times, this was really useful because that fight or flight response helped us to stay safe. And, obviously, it’s still handy if we’re being chased by a bear, for example, but less so when we’ve got an impending deadline. In these modern times – when we’re in constant communication and under a lot of pressure to work hard and achieve things – many of us struggle to make sure we’re only setting off those mental alarm bells when it’s strictly necessary.”
What’s Going on in Your Head?
“Stress isn’t always a bad thing. There’s a whole stage of tension that proceeds ‘bad’ stress and it’s nothing to worry about. It’s the type of tension that you might think of as being part of the spice of life because it makes us respond more quickly and efficiently in challenging situations, such as when we’re trying to pull off a big project at work, for example, or impress somebody we like.
But if that tension persists for too long, it stops having such positive effects. You become mentally exhausted and the stress stops working in your favor: you’ll notice that you’re worrying a lot; that you feel gloomy, irritable and insecure; and that you’re forgetful and listless. At Open Up, we’re aware that a mixture of work and COVID restrictions is currently creating a lot of stress for people.
You might feel at risk of losing your job, or maybe you’re struggling to get by on a reduced income. Attempting to work whilst simultaneously homeschooling your kids can also be very stressful. And this is all set against a backdrop of concern about the virus – whether you’re worried about yourself or vulnerable loved ones becoming infected. It’s really not surprising that a lot of us are feeling very stressed at work. ’
Steps for Managing Mental Stress
Are you experiencing a lot of the mental symptoms of stress? It’s important you don’t ignore this. Here’s how you can tackle those stress symptoms that affect your mind.
1. Be micro-ambitious
Set small goals at the start of each week and make sure they’re realistic. You don’t need to take an all or nothing approach, instead keep things achievable and focus on your quality of life. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction when you’re able to accomplish these short-term goals.
2. Voice your thoughts
It really helps to discuss your thoughts and feelings. Are you looking to have a good vent to somebody who just gets it? Then choose somebody who knows you really well and views the world in a similar way to you. Maybe you’re looking for some clarity or a fresh perspective? Then choose somebody who has a refreshingly different approach to life.
3. Learn the difference between the things you can and can’t control
Pay attention to where you’re focusing your time and attention. Maybe you’ve noticed that you’re experiencing a lot of COVID-related anxiety, especially when you spend most of your time watching or reading the news. Focusing on things you can’t control can be very draining. For example, worrying about the rising rate of infection won’t help to reduce it. Shift your attention to the things that you can influence. For example, you can try spending less time on social media and more time focusing on gratitude. Take some time to distinguish between the things you can and can’t control and focus on what you can influence.
4. Change the way you think about stress
Sometimes your attitude towards a thing that’s happening affects you more than the event itself. Shift your attention to what’s physically taking place, instead of focusing on your opinions relating to your current circumstances. Take a hard look at the beliefs that might be causing you to feel more stressed and embrace the idea that they may not be the full picture.
5. The big 5
Break down a stressful situation into these 5 components: event (you’ve emailed your boss, but they haven’t replied), thought (you’ve done something wrong; you’re going to get fired), emotion (fear, uncertainty), behavior (you freeze) and consequence (you feel terrible and insecure). Once you’ve written everything down, focus on the thoughts: are they really serving me and could I replace them with something more useful? For the above example, you could go for something like: my boss is probably just busy at the moment. Moving forward, you can think this alternative thought when you encounter a similar situation, which will alter your subsequent feelings and reduce your levels of stress. You’re essentially redirecting yourself towards less stressful thoughts.
6. Look for patterns
It helps to get a better understanding of what might be causing you to feel stressed: are there any obvious patterns? What causes you to feel stressed and why? Keep a journal – are there any common threads? If you can work out where your stress comes from, you’ll get better at breaking these patterns.
Would you like to talk to a psychologists one-on-one, and learn more on how to set boundaries? Feel free to book a consultation.