Stress is a part of everyday life, the pace of everything we have to do is increasing, what is expected of us as human beings is expanding, yet we are still the same people we were yesterday. There is an expectation that we have to cope with an ever increasing level of stress, however we often do not have the tools and techniques to do so.
The first and most important thing to do is to recognise the signs of stress, feeling stressed can be accompanied by physical symptoms which can include feeling exhausted with low energy, headaches, upset stomach and chest pains.
However, stress can affect each of us differently, some people have a higher tolerance to certain types of stress, but we all have a point at which we are unable to cope. You need to recognise the point, at which you are beginning to lose control of your stress levels, as this is the stage you need to take action.
Step 1 – Find the breaking point
Only you will know what your stress triggers are. Some people will tell you that they ‘thrive on stress’, however you will find that they have other triggers. Try to become self-aware and recognise the moments when a certain stress is affecting you.
A good technique to help you is to use a ‘mood graph’
In my mood chart for today you can see that there were pressure points around the morning meeting and then a review meeting with my manager. It allows me to recognise, over time, what specifically is causing stress. Note this is a very quick scribble, you don’t need to spend ages drawing a special chart, just something that you can read!
This does not have to be complicated, what you are trying to capture is the points in your day when you became angry, upset or stressed. Be conscientious for a week and track your mood every fifteen or twenty minutes and each time you have a particular stressful moment.
If you hit a high or low point make a note as to what caused it, this will create a chart which illustrates your specific trigger points. In the next step we will look for ways to conquer these.
Step 2 – Run away!
Okay, I am not suggesting that you run from your home or office but, that you run away from whatever has triggered your stress. When you recognise what is causing your triggers and you have become stressed you need to stop and escape the moment.
Stand up and walk away from whatever is happening, if you are driving find a safe place to stop, if you are in the office use the opportunity to step to the toilet or have a coffee break. If you cannot physically step away, take a moment, close your eyes and pause for just a second.
Where you can, you are looking to create a physical space from your stress trigger and you. It is important to break the cycle when you can, as you become proficient at recognising what will trigger your stress, you can better prepare.
Stop! But I cannot run away.
If you have been in a place where you cannot escape your stress triggers, including being in retail, where you cannot step away. You need to take yourself away mentally. We will discuss meditation techniques later, but in the immediate moment when someone is yelling at you remember. This is not personal, the individual is shouting at the brand or organisation and an outburst of anger is no different to a toddler having a tantrum, stamping their feet and waving their arms. Imagine the stressor as a toddler, let them run their course and behold their foolishness.
Step 3 – Be mentally prepared
Just as you would do a workout for your body, you need to do a workout for your mind. You need to develop a mindset which will allow you to be resilient and protect yourself from the effects of stress.
- Make time for you daily – first, set aside five minutes a day just for you. This is time away from your stress and only for you. During this five minute window your responsibility is to work for you.
- Find your happy place – close your eyes and think back to a place where you were truly happy. It may be the beach, a forest or even your bed, visualise this place. Think of every detail (what does it feel like, what does it smell like, feel the sand beneath your toes. Embrace every sense). While you do so touch your thumbs together. This will take practice, visit your happy place in your mind often, building your feelings of where it is and how it feels. Eventually (and yes, this will take some time and practice) the act of touching your thumbs together will create this feeling in your mind.
- Find a musical mantra – find your favourite piece of upbeat music (for me it is ‘Can you feel it?’ – By the Jackson Five). Listen to your mantra music before you enter a stressful environment, feel the upbeat music flow through you and feel upbeat in yourself. Again this will take practice, but with time you will find that this track will make you think of positive times and you can use it when you have a stress trigger point.
- Manage your breathing – follow some simple breathing exercises. Close your eyes, breath in through your nose, hold your breath for a count of ten and the slowly breath out through your mouth. Repeat this for a minute. Take your time, concentrate on slowing down your breathing.
These techniques will build your resilience, allowing you to take a moment to escape when you cannot run away.
Step 4 – Be physically prepared
Look for opportunities to exercise, physical exercise reduces your body’s stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol as it increases your feel good endorphins.
You don’t have to go to the gym necessarily, a good brisk walk or some exercises in your home will help you. The action of making time for yourself and moving your body will make you feel better.
Step 5 – Manage your pressure points
When you know what causes you to feel stress look for ways to overcome them. ‘Easier said than done!’ You may say, however this is your life and you need to manage what is making you ill. It may require a drastic change such as a new job but sometimes such change is necessary.
You should find that, when you recognise your stress triggers and have an improved mental and physical resilience, you will be better placed to cope with your stress.
Step 6 – Get help
If none of this improves your situation you need to look for help. This is not a failure on your part and there is nothing wrong in seeking professional advice. If you have followed the steps you should find that you have a better idea of your stress and a professional will be better able to help you.
Above all you are not alone, your friends and family are there to support you, failing this, there are professionals who will help you.