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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve probably experienced more stress than usual. Let’s be honest – this year has been an emotional rollercoaster for most of us. So what better time for me to write about how to reduce stress?
We’ve all had to make some pretty huge changes to our lives recently. So it’s no surprise that our stress levels have ever so slightly (majorly) increased. But as someone who’s had to learn the hard way what does and doesn’t help with stress, I thought I’d give you my top tips.
For the record, I’m not medically trained. These tips are just from my own years of experience and research while living with ME/CFS, where stress makes my symptoms flare-up. I’ve spent the past 20 years trying to keep my stress levels low so my health conditions don’t take over my life. And although I haven’t mastered a Buddha-like mental state yet, I’ve learnt a lot and want to pass it on.
Stress is the gap between expectation and reality. It’s how the body responds when you want something to be different from how it is right now.
So on that note, let’s jump straight into my first tip…
1. Reduce your inner battles to reduce stress
Stress is caused when you’re at war with yourself. You know what I mean – when you’re doing something but can’t help feeling like you should be doing something else.
Sometimes it’s little bits of stress and sometimes it can feel overwhelming because we put so much pressure on ourselves.
And in my opinion, the word ‘should’ can cause way more stress than most people realise. I should own my own house, I should know what career I want, I should…I should…I should. But WHY should you?
We put so much pressure on ourselves to tick certain boxes we’re told we should prioritise that we forget what we actually want.
Stress can often be the result of always trying to please others.
So next time you start feeling like you should be doing something, think about why you feel that way. Because the truth is most of us are way too hard on ourselves already without the added pressure of trying to conform to societal goals. You know, those things we should apparently all aim to achieve at certain stages in our lives.
Anyway, once you figure out what you’re doing because you actually want to you’ll be able to reduce some of your stress by letting go of the things that don’t really matter to you.
2. Try to live mindfully
Doing your best to live in the moment will help tremendously. If you have no idea what that means, I’m talking about mindful living. Basically, if you’re not living in the moment then you’re probably spending a lot of time overthinking what has happened in the past, worrying about what could happen in the future and freaking out about what you’ll do. These things are all in your mind though – they’re not happening right now. And yes, I have to remind myself of this daily.
If your mind is anything like mine then the problems it makes up will be far worse than what’s actually happening. But if you live in the moment (mindful living) you’ll keep bringing yourself back to focusing on what’s happening right now.
I’ve been a major overthinker at certain times in my life. But doing my best to live in the moment has helped me. Rather than ending up writing a whole post about it now, I’ll save that for another time. But a quick Google search on mindful living will give you everything you need to know to get started. Learning to accept what is will help as well.
When things don’t go the way we had hoped it’s easy to end up wasting time and energy fixating on it.
But that won’t get you anywhere…other than feeling more frustrated.
I mean, you’ll inevitably encounter obstacles throughout life. And if you fight against every single one of them you’ll end up stressed and exhausted pretty much all the time. But if you try to accept the obstacles as though you had chosen them you might just find a way to work with them…and maybe even make them work for you.
The secret to happiness is letting every situation be what it is, instead of what you think it should be.
I know it’s not always easy and I’m certainly not saying it’s possible with every problem we encounter. But if you at least try to accept each situation for what it is that will help you reduce stress.
3. Be kind to yourself
Why is it that we all understand the importance of being kind to others, but yet we struggle to be kind to ourselves? There have been times in my life where I’ve actually thought of myself as weak simply because I cried. Crazy, right!? Humans have emotions and experience feelings – why was I punishing myself for that!? And I know I’m not the only one who’s felt that way at some point in life.
Think about it this way though… If you went to see a loved one while you were feeling upset and they started telling you how weak you were for crying, or how you should be strong enough to handle your problems without getting upset, would you want to continue that relationship? Or would you tell them where to go?
Now think about that loved one as being your own internal voice. Horrible, right?
Stop being mean to yourself! If you wouldn’t say it to someone you love, don’t say it to yourself.
This kind of thing also applies to putting excess pressure on yourself when trying to reduce stress… Keeping some kind of journal really helps – you could write a gratitude journal, or maybe a diary-style journal where you get your feelings out, or you could keep a stress diary to see if there are any particular triggers for when you get stressed.
I’ve learnt from keeping a journal that I cope with work stress far better than with emotional stress – that sets off pretty much all of my health condition symptoms. So I do my best to live a mindful life so I don’t spend all day every day in an overthinking downward spiral.
But I want to take a moment to tell you this:
It’s ok if you don’t meditate every morning or write in your journal each evening. Don’t put even more pressure on yourself.
The things you choose to help reduce stress shouldn’t end up making it worse.
It takes time, patience and self-driven motivation to develop any kind of self-care routine. If you’re only doing it because you think you should be then it won’t stick…and you’ll end up feeling worse because of that pressure. So be kind to yourself.
Although I love journaling and find a gratitude journal helps me each evening, I don’t put pressure on myself to do it every day. I do it when I feel like I want to. This isn’t school – you don’t have to write in your journal or risk detention. Just do what feels good for you.
4. Find a relaxation technique you feel comfortable with
Journaling isn’t the only method to help reduce stress. There are plenty of relaxation techniques you can try…and it’s ok if you don’t like meditation. I’m saying that because for someone reason, loads of people seem to think it’s the only possible solution to feeling stressed.
But that’s not true at all. You can try any of these…and loads of other potential self-care/relaxation techniques until you find ones that work for you:
- Deep breathing (sometimes known as breath focus) – it’s where you focus on your breath for a few minutes to calm your mind so it closes all of those other ‘tabs’ and brings you right back to the current moment
- Yoga – there are plenty of benefits, both physical and mental to help both prevent and reduce stress
- Body scanning – a bit like focusing on your breath, but instead you stand or lay still for a few minutes focusing your attention on each part of your body assessing where you’re holding your stress so you can relax those body parts
- Time out – not like putting your 4-year-old on the naughty step. I mean take a break. One thing I do to reduce stress is play the guitar. I’m pretty rubbish at it but I’m slowly learning and because my mind is purely focused on learning it helps me to live in the moment. Gardening is great for this too.
- Journaling – this could be a gratitude journal or even just somewhere to write down your thoughts and get them all out. I’ve mentioned this already so I won’t make you read it all again.
And if you need to talk to someone then please don’t hesitate. Find someone you trust and let your feelings out. Or if you need to seek professional help then go for that too. This is your life. Do what feels right for you.
I must say though, that even if you do everything to prevent stress, there’ll almost definitely still be occasions where your Buddha-like mental state slips. Why am I telling you this? Because I don’t want you to be hard on yourself if/when it happens.
If you get stressed when you’re trying not to it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means you’re human.
5. Nourish your body
We tend to associate stress with our minds, but it’s not just about mental pressure. If your body is out of balance in any way that can cause stress too. Even just being half a litre dehydrated can affect how well your body functions, resulting in stress. So make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day.
I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of plain water. I way prefer squash and flavoured teas. So if adding a little flavour to your water will help you drink more then do it. Lately, I’ve been majorly into QuarterPast’s real fruit tea concentrates.
They’re made with real fruit (rather than just flavourings) and contain no artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners. So I’ve been sipping on them to stay hydrated while drinking something tasty. Just a tiny bit goes a long way and they work really well as a hot tea or a cool drink with soda water. I definitely prefer them as a tea though.
The turmeric, lemon, ginger and honey flavour is particularly great…and turmeric has actually been linked to reducing stress and anxiety! And the tea tastes a hell of a lot better than turmeric lattes (which I spent years trying to convince myself tasted good).
What you eat makes a difference too. I tend to crave chocolate when I’m really stressed, but more nutritious options definitely help your body to cope better with the demands put on it by stress. That doesn’t mean you need to just eat salad though – 80% whole food, 20% soul food.
And you’ll probably think I’ve gone crazy, particularly if the reason you’re stressed is because of a lack of time to fit everything in, but try to not rush when you’re eating.
When you eat super fast you’re sending stress signals to your body.
So do your best to be calm at mealtimes – savour the food and take your time.
That’ll help with your mindfulness practice too as it’s all about truly experiencing each moment, rather than rushing through the day.
And I couldn’t talk about how to reduce stress without mentioning the wonderful benefits of exercise. I’m not saying it’s going to magically cure all of your problems, but exercise is brilliant for both body and mind. I won’t go into the details as I’ve talked about the many benefits of exercise before, but it’s a great way to reduce stress.
Also, exercise releases endorphins. So you’ll get an instant mood boost. Win-win!
You don’t need to freak out about trying to cram in lengthy workouts to your no doubt already busy schedule though. Even just 15-30 minutes is better than nothing. And it doesn’t have to be gym-based – you could go for a walk or whatever you fancy. As long as you’re moving your body it’s good.
6. Stop skipping sleep
In the past, I’ve made the foolish mistake of reducing the amount I slept so I could fit more in when I was busy. And every single time I did this I’d end up unwell. Really unwell. So damn it, learn from my mistakes – put your health first.
Sleep is essential to help your body handle whatever stress it’s having to deal with.
I always feel like I’m stating the obvious whenever I talk about rest – I mean, we all know our bodies need rest. But the crazy thing is that very few of us actually listen to our bodies when they’re crying out for some time to chill.
I know how much easier said than done it is to make more time for sleeping or relaxing. It’s not like we can just create more time each day (if only). And if you’ve got a lot to get done then taking a few hours off can seem foolish because you’ll have to cram even more into fewer hours.
But if you’re honest with yourself (and I mean really honest), could you move a few of the tasks to tomorrow? Or maybe even just one of them?
My to-do list grows every single day and I know I’m not the only one who has this problem. When I got pneumonia a few months ago though I was forced to be realistic with myself and decide exactly what HAD to be done each day. And the truth was that 90% of the things I was stressing about could actually wait. Getting ill also made me realise that if you don’t make time to rest then your body will eventually force you to.
So listen to your body. And don’t shrug off the signs it so desperately wants you to pay attention to.
7. Take back control
If you feel like things are starting to get out of hand with stress, step back from the situation and assess it…then take back some control. Give yourself the advice you would give to a loved one. Would you really tell them to just carry on even when they’re showing signs of exhaustion because they’re saying yes to everything and everyone!?
Or would you tell them to implement their boundaries more? If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I’ve written about boundaries in another post.
The only reason I’m saying to give yourself the advice you would give to a loved one is because I know most of us are far harder on ourselves than we would be to a loved one.
Also, think about managing your time as well as you possibly can – try to create some kind of routine and make a plan for each day the night before. And get the thing you’re avoiding done first. It’s taken me years of procrastinating to realise how much of a difference that makes!
And while you’re managing your time, make sure you keep some for yourself…for those relaxation techniques/self-love, for exercise and for your loved ones.
Stress is the inability to decide what’s important. But you should never come last on your list of priorities.
Your peace of mind is essential. You are important.
I’ll be honest – learning how to reduce stress won’t necessarily be easy. It’ll involve breaking some old habits and behavioural patterns. You’ll need to learn to say no more (which I probably found the hardest part). But believe me, it’s worth it.
It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers right now. Life is filled with obstacles and surprises. But every obstacle we overcome builds strength and resilience.
Be kind to yourself. You’ve got this.
This post was sponsored by QuarterPast, but the views are all my own. And I bloody love their teas!
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