You're overwhelmed and afraid.
You’re trying to do too much. You used to manage everything so well, but now you don’t seem to have the balance right.
Stress has crept up on you and suddenly, you're aware something isn't right.
It could just be a vague sense of being out of kilter or the realisation that lately you've become irritable, impatient, or aggressive. Small things have started to wind you up.
Perhaps your thoughts are racing, and you can't switch off. Or you've become over-worried and lost some of the energy and enthusiasm you used to have.
You're not alone.
Our modern lives demand a lot from us. It's not surprising that occasionally we don't get the balance right.
Thankfully, there are many stress management techniques and counsellors - like me - trained in stress counselling.
Read through this list and pick the ideas that most apply to you.
Don't think you're alone or you can't reduce your stress. There are ways to manage and deal with stress.
With these tools, you really can enjoy more stress free days ahead.
1. Get Musical
Playing serene music influences the body and brain. Studies show it can lower blood pressure and reduce hormones linked to stress. Anything relaxing will do, including sounds of nature or the ocean.
Try to find a few songs or sounds you like and play them when you need to relax. Experiment until you find a few different types of music that work for you.
2. Lean On Others
Talk to friends and family about what's troubling you. Don't be afraid to tell them something's not right. If you're the one who usually manages so well and supports others, your friends and family may be glad to return the favour.
Remember how keen you are to support your friends and family in their time of need and how grateful they usually are. Wouldn't it be nice to let them reciprocate?
3. Look Crazy
Talking out loud is just thinking out loud. Don't worry about seeming crazy. Sometimes the act of hearing your thoughts spoken can help you work through them. Tell yourself the reason you're stressed, and remind yourself to focus on the task at hand.
You may be treating yourself worse than you treat your friends. What would you say to a friend in your situation? Can you give yourself the same pep talk?
4. Avoid the White Crystals
If you're feeling overwhelmed, you might be tempted to snack on foods full of sugar and fats. While you might get a bit of relief and a short term pick me up, long-term consumption does not do your stress level any good.
Try to avoid the temptation to reach for comfort foods. Stick to a diet full of wholesome fruits, nuts, beans and vegetables. This will keep your energy levels balanced during the day.
Take some time to stop and check-in with what you're thinking and feeling during the day. It doesn't take much, just a few minutes here and there to check your stress levels and adjust if you notice them rising.
Checking in means just stopping what you're doing and paying attention to what's going on for you now. It means noticing what the 'weather' is like for you. What thoughts and feelings are you having? What tensions are in your body?
6. Dim the Lights!
Stress disrupts your sleep, and lack of sleep can help cause stress. Be wary of falling into a dangerous cycle. Don't use electrical appliances an hour or two before bed. Dim the lights and choose a relaxing activity to get you ready for sleep.
Electrical appliances with screens such as phones or computers emit blue light, which lowers your body's melatonin and reduces the pressure to sleep. Avoid these an hour or two before bed.
7. Avoid Shallowness
Shallow breathing causes stress. Breathing fills your blood with oxygen and sends a signal to your body that all is well and there is nothing to be afraid of. Don't let the everyday ubiquity of this advice detract from its usefulness.
Practice stepping out of your daily routine and just taking a few minutes to notice your breathing at least a couple of times a day.
8. Draw a Circle
To decide what's in your control and what's not, draw a circle and put only those things you can control on the inside. If something's outside the circle, try not to worry about it. Focus only on what is in your control.
This exercise is called the circle of control. It's a way of highlighting your limitations and reminding you to focus on those things you can influence, rather than worrying about those you can't.
9. Create a List
Look at the activities within your control and prioritise them. Write down all you need to do and order them in the approximate manner you want them done. Tick them off one by one. Re-prioritise if you need to.
Lists can be both an organisational tool and a therapeutic one. Seeing everything written down helps clarify what you need to do. It gives you focus and spurs you on to action. It’s also rewarding to tick things off as you achieve them.
10. Balance, Balance, Balance
Make sure the activities you have in your life are varied. Don't focus solely on work or your family. Make sure you have a balance of socialising and quiet time, work and play.
What activities do you do just for yourself? Self-care is important. Take the time to read a book, go for a walk or have a scented bath. Have you got the balance right?
11. Get Busier
If you spend some of your downtime passively watching TV, switch some of it for another challenging and rewarding activity. Setting yourself new goals and challenges can help build confidence – and increase your stress resilience.
Try to choose manageable activities. If you set yourself a challenge but don't quite feel up to it, don't be too hard on yourself. Remember you're doing these activities to challenge and build your resilience – not to add to your pressure.
12. Cut it Out
Take a moment to assess your commitments and make an honest appraisal of whether you've too much on. If so, cut those responsibilities that aren't essential. Sometimes what was manageable in one phase of life is not in another. Sometimes our priorities change.
Burnt out and broken, you're no good to anyone. If you’re struggling to say “no”, ask yourself why that is. Are you fearful of letting people down? Are you afraid of putting yourself first?
13. Avoid Excess
Don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine to cope. These habits might provide temporary relief, but they won't make the problems disappear. Tackle the cause of your stress instead.
Alcohol temporarily shields you from your pain, but it is an anti-depressant and, over time, makes you feel worse. Cigarettes can feel like they are relieving you of stress, but the only pressure you're reducing is the one created by your nicotine addiction. Meanwhile, coffee in moderation isn’t a problem, but too much in a day, and you could get withdrawal symptoms.
14. Try a New Scale
Make a note of a few things to be grateful for. It's easy to forget to appreciate what you have, and instead, make a note of all you don't have and lament the unfairness of the world. Where are you on the luck scale?
Make sure you’re not constantly comparing yourself to people who are better off than you. Ask yourself how much worse could things be?
15. Use a Dream Machine
Imagine magically transporting yourself to a far-off beach or Alpine peak. What do you see, hear and smell? Allow yourself to experience being there. Notice how calm and relaxing the place is. After a few minutes, open your eyes. How do you feel?
Visualisation techniques like these can be helpful in temporarily removing you from the stress around you, giving you a few minutes in a relaxing place, fortifying your soul before returning to the real world.
16. Screw Meditation
Lots of people find meditation relaxing, and if that's you, great! Yet, there are a lot of misconceptions about meditation. For one, you don't need to do it every day, nor do you need to do it for long, or require any training. Lastly, when meditating, your mind does not need to be blank.
Instead, you can do some short meditation-like exercises whenever you have the time. And train your brain to notice when your mind wanders. The point isn't to have a blank mind (who has one of them?) but to notice how often your mind wanders and how easy it is to become lost in thought.
17. Scrunch Up
Progressive muscle relaxation is when you relax all the muscles in your body, in order from top to toe. Start with your forehead, tense your muscles there and then relax. Do this a few times and then move down.
By tightening your muscles and then relaxing them, you give each muscle a mini-stress relaxation workout. Doing so releases some of the tension built up and stops long-term stress-related injuries from occurring.
18. Physical Touch
Physical touch can do a lot to relieve stress. Touching and stroking a loved one or a pet can be beneficial. Don't be afraid to ask a loved one for a hug if you need it. You may even be able to ask a stranger for one.
Touch releases a chemical called oxytocin which is known for its calming effect. Studies show that oxytocin reduces the 'stress' hormone cortisol and regulates interpersonal relationships positively.
19. Get Smelly
Aromatherapy is helpful for stress relief. It can help you feel more relaxed and energised. Try candles, room fresheners or personal body products. Experiment with different products and smells until you find the ones that work for you.
Aromatherapy can reduce the perception of stress, increase contentment, and decrease cortisol levels. Some studies show lavender aromatherapy reduces crying in infants and promotes sleep in infants and adults.
20. Divert Your Money
You might not be sure you can afford counselling, but can you afford not to do it? If you're looking for a long-term solution to your problems with stress, it might be worth the investment. A good counsellor will support you to find stress management techniques that work for you, while helping you explore the root causes of your stress.
Often, stress can be caused by habits that we've picked up over time. These habits are ingrained in our ways of dealing with pressure. They may have been helpful at one point but now no longer serve a purpose. A good counsellor will help you identify these habits and support you while you move to adopt different, more effective ones.
Be cool, calm and collected
You've been feeling stressed for a while and are close to burnout.
Everything has become too overwhelming.
Yet, you're not ready to give up.
Pick a few suggestions from this list and try them out. Reach out to me if you want support.
Stress is a natural response to the pressures of daily life, but it doesn't have to be unmanageable.
With a bit of support, and some different stress management techniques, you could soon be feeling better.
With the right set of tools and the correct habits, your stress will melt away, and life's pressure will become more controllable.
Over to you.
Will you prioritise yourself and try some of these techniques out? Will you reach out and get the help and support you need?