Stress is life. Or at least that’s how it feels most of the time. Like an old companion, stress follows me around, always there, always loyal, always unrelenting. It lingers in my day-to-day, bringing tension, adding pressure, encouraging anxiety. It throws a party in my brain at night, depriving me of my beloved sleep.
Stress steals my time. Actually it doesn’t – but that’s how it makes me feel: like I have no time. Not enough time to get work done. Not enough time to see friends. Not enough time to exercise, to eat healthy, to do yoga, to sleep, to have fun, to relax, to just – be.
A stressful approach to a stressful world
It’s been the story of my life for as long as I can remember. And I know it’s the story of many lives. We live in a fast-paced, digital world in which people are always switched on. Life is fast and chaotic. It can feel like a rollercoaster that you can’t get off. Full of twists and turns, highs and lows.
And then lockdown happened.
Suddenly, many of these pressures were removed. No pressure to socialise, to be out doing ‘stuff’. We had all the time in the world to get work done, to sleep, to exercise, to relax. It was wonderful. But something was off. Something was missing.
And then I realised: my old companion was no longer there to fuel my cortisol-induced daily frenzy.
I was experiencing a strange, subconscious yearning for stress. Like a drug, I knew it was damaging for my health. But I sought it anyway and I couldn’t relinquish my grip on it. After years of bemoaning the feeling of being constantly stressed, I realised that I was in fact addicted to stress. Not having the burden of pressure or stress should have been liberating. But it was confusing and I felt – lost?
So I began my quest for stress again. I took on too much work and I forced new projects on myself. My to-do list was a bottomless pit. I fashioned a list of tasks which had no end in sight.
It was only recently that I realised what I was doing. So I confronted this absurd obsession with stress. Ever since, I have been consciously trying to undo years of stress conditioning. I’m making slow progress but the simple step of acknowledging my damaging relationship with stress has been fantastically liberating in itself.
How to overcome stress
Here are the different ways I am trying to overcome stress. It’ll take time but I know that I’ll reap huge benefits from a health and wellbeing perspective if I make a concerted effort to significantly reduce the stress in my life. And that’s something we could all benefit from.
It’s so simple. But the power of deep breathing and breathwork have been lauded far and wide. When it’s all getting too much, when you’re about to throw your laptop out the window, pour a quadruple gin and tonic, or punch a hole in the wall – just, breathe.
It’s astounding how something so simple can completely realign and reset you.
I’m almost rolling my eyes at myself for this one, as I sit here writing this on my sofa with no motivation whatsoever to don my gym leggings and move my body. But there is no better way to combat mental stress than with physical stress. It releases all kinds of wonderful endorphins. The cortisol will be quaking in its boots.
I’ve only recently started listening to podcasts and some of them have honestly been transformative. I always get quite easily distracted when I read, but a good podcast makes me forget everything else and often offers me a new perspective. I’ll do a separate post on my podcast recommendations, but two that have really helped me are Elizabeth Day’s episode with Mo Gawdat and the Broken Brain episode with Peter Crone.
Haven’t quite mastered this one yet but I will. I WILL. Yoga helps you connect your mind and body, helping you relax, de-stress and improve your mental wellbeing. Oh, and I really want to be able to do a handstand. I realise I should get my priorities straight but if it gets me into yoga then it can only be a good thing.
5. Limit phone time
My phone brings me so much stress and I’m not even aware of it most of the time. This is particularly true when we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The news is not exactly cheerful or uplifting right now. And social media doesn’t help. Set strict rules for your phone usage and watch your stress levels decrease.
6. Connect with people
Social distancing makes this one a little tricky. But connecting with people doesn’t mean getting up close and personal. It means talking to people, seeing people when you can, and laughing with people. Feeling lonely or solitary will amplify feelings of stress. Being with other people can help you forget your stresses.
Volunteering can be a great way of building resilience. It may seem counterproductive if lack of time is what stresses you out. But find a cause that you care about and volunteer. Not only will you feel great about helping others, it can help put your own worries into perspective.
8. Classical music
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand listening to people blabber on the radio when I’m stressed. Every word grates on me and I often find myself muting the TV or radio. Classical music, however, has an extremely calming effect on me. I start every day with some gentle classical music and it helps ease me into the day.
9. Find a puppy
Not the easiest one on the list but you cannot deny the healing effects of cuddling a puppy. A small fluffy ball of cuteness is guaranteed to melt away the stress. Failing a puppy, any dog will do the trick. Failing that, just hug a human (preferably one you know).
Acceptance is essential. Accepting that you cannot control everything and recognising that that’s okay, and that it’s part of being human. Once you accept, you can let go. Everything will seem a little less stressful.
I’m far from overcoming stress, but I’m becoming more conscious of how I let it affect me. And that in itself is progress. I’d love to hear any thoughts or tips from you on how to overcome stress. Leave a comment or hit me up on social media!