Everyone—adults, teens, and even children—experience stress at various times in their lives. Whether it be as a result of work pressures, studying for an exam, being bullied, work/life imbalance, difficulties with friendships or mental health issues – no one is immune to normal day to day pressure and stress.
Stressors can come from many sources, and we will in fact be the source of many of them in our own right. Others will come from our environment.
One important group of stressors that can be self-imposed is the requirement to do something well. It can be work performance, academic performance or sport and how we manage a stressor depends on many factors including our personality, age, gender, social support, fitness and our mental toughness.
Stress can in fact be beneficial. It can help us to develop the skills and resilience we need to manage these threatening situations throughout life. It is when we step outside our comfort zones that we experience the most growth, so experiencing stress and managing the consequences allow us to step into a growth mindset.
Stress is not helpful though when it prevents an individual’s self-care. However, we can put problems into perspective by finding healthy ways to cope and even thrive in the face of challenges. Having the right mindset, getting the right care and having support can help reduce stressful feelings and symptoms and give you an opportunity to feel back in control.
Stress is a reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious. Stress can be positive (e.g., preparing for a wedding) or negative (e.g., dealing with a natural disaster). The symptoms may be physical (racing heart, rapid breathing, jittery, skin conditions, tension, headaches, lethargy, weight gain/loss), behavioural (withdrawal, aggression, crying, reduced interest in usual activities, substance abuse) and psychological/ emotional (short fuse, issues with short term memory and concentration, depression, anxiety, ruminative thinking, guilt, frustration).
Feeling emotional and nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress. To be able to manage our symptoms and move though our stress responses, we can engage some strategies to develop our resilience and mental toughness and start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
1) Regular Exercise
Exercise releases endorphins that allow us to feel happier. Negative feelings often accompany stress and exercise can burn up the adrenalin you have produced in response to a threat, eliminate some negative feelings and give us more energy to tackle tasks, not to mention the fact that it helps us to sleep better too.
2) Be Prepared for Stressful Events
If you know that a stressful event is looming; practice and prepare. If you have to give a presentation, but are afraid of public speaking, write your speech and practice in front of safe people well in advance. Manage your self-talk so that you can develop your presence.
3) Recognise What You Can and Can’t Control
There is an old Chinese proverb that says – If you have a problem that you can control, then you don’t have a problem and if you have a problem that you can’t control, then you also don’t have a problem.
Try drawing two large circles, one inside the other. In the outer circle, write down all the things you can’t control about the problem you have and in the inner circle, write down all the things you can control. Then ask yourself – where are you spending your time worrying. Take control and develop action steps for the issues within your control.
4) View Challenges as Opportunities.
If we are to embrace a Growth Mindset, then we can recognize that when we are faced with challenges, then we will often learn a lot about ourselves and come out stronger on the other side. Don’t let obstacles stand in your way. If you have a Growth Mindset, your self-image is not tied to your success and how you look to others, see failure as just another opportunity to learn.
5) Ask for Help
It is not a sign of weakness to ask others for support. In fact, it is a sign of strength. Consider the resources that you have around you, your family, your work colleagues, parents, friends etc. Speak with someone you trust and recognize that as my Nana always used to say “a problem shared is a problem halved”. You never know where support and great strategies could come from.
6) Be Kind To Yourself
Recognise that you are going through a tough spot and rather than dump on yourself with self-doubt, guilt or blame, congratulate and reward yourself for continuing to put one foot in front of the other and for the dedication to keep moving forward. Consider a hot bath, a relaxing swim, watching a favourite movie, lying on the lawn under a tree or just reading a magazine with a coffee.
7) Practice Your Breathing
I know it sounds basic, but practicing your deep breathing (5-6 seconds to breathe in through your nose, hold the breath for 2 seconds, breathe out through your mouth for 5-6 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and repeat), can do absolute wonders, especially for your physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. Give it a go with your eyes closed for just 2-3 minutes and you will start to feel the benefits.
Want to know more about managing your stress and developing your Mental Toughness? If so, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.