Stress is inevitable. No matter how privileged or lucky you may be in life, at some point or other, you will experience some form or level of stress. In some aspects, it can be very healthy and it will give you the impetus to perform well. In other cases, it might manifest itself in an unmanageable amount that will need seeing to, and I think most of us have all been there.
Being aware of how we personally react under stress is the first step to being able to handle it. Consider the following theory:
How would you boil a live frog? If you put him into boiling water, he will jump out. But when the frog is put in cold water that is gradually heated, he might start enjoying the warmth. As it gets warmer and warmer, his energy depletes, and he becomes helpless. Before he realises, he is boiled to death.
Similarly, stress can creep up on us if we’re not careful. Sometimes, we enjoy being busy and active, just like the frog enjoys the warmth. However, when we lose balance and go to extremes, we suffer. Very often, stress can be present in our daily lives without us even really realising its effects. Continual and high levels of stress can lead to a burn out, which occurs when we are overworked and become exhausted, to the point where it is affecting our health.
The good news lies in our perception of what we consider to be stress. What we choose to view as stress can also be re-framed to be thought of as a challenge. When we view an issue as a challenge, it automatically gives us the belief that there is hope for a positive outcome. Challenges can be won, overcome and risen to. We do this by using problem-solving skills, which require both analytical and creative thinking. It takes on the belief that any problem can be solved; it’s just a matter of how it’s approached. Trial and error is celebrated because mistakes or experiences inform our next decision in the problem-solving process. Skills can be learnt through practice.
I’ve gone through some recent lifestyle changes, including a new work schedule after taking a year off to travel. When I happily plunged back into work, I found struggles with managing my time and my responsibilities. Before I realised it, I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious everyday. Through this period of rapid learning curves, I was able to learn more about my personal stress signals and reactions to stress. Knowing these signals empowered me to be able to recognise when I’m going off track. By using problem-solving skills, I then created my personal coping strategies that helped me address my situation:
Planning ahead – Value the need of planning work ahead, because it means that you can also plan your joys to ensure a balanced work week.
Prioritisation – What needs to be done today? By when do you need to do what? What is your responsibility and what isn’t? One overall plan and a weekly schedule that is filled in at the start of the day.
Being present – Am I worrying about something that I’m powerless to address right now? What can I do right now? Focus on the present.
Making time for small joys – Make a list of what brings you joy. For me, it’s as simple as a shower, reading a book, watching TV, watching a sunset, connecting with a friend, some self-care or yoga. Make sure to sprinkle them throughout your week, enough to make you feel happy. I look forward to have one small joy a day.
Sleeping and waking up – I’ve found that I need 8 hours of sleep per night, and any less – especially less than 6 hours – has a big negative impact on my ability to cope with the day. For the mornings, I need enough time to wake up slowly and feel ready to start the day.
Boundaries – No answering of messages or emails outside of working hours. No thinking of them, no communication about them. It’s tempting to break boundaries due to the illusion that it will lessen anxiety or workload, but this is a vicious cycle. Be firm. It’s for everyone’s own good. If we’re not in a good place, the people we work with will also suffer.
Avoiding multitasking – No, it isn’t better to get more done. It’s better to focus on one thing at a time and do it well, rather than just crossing many things off the list. It’s an easy way to feel overwhelmed.
No Judgement Zone – I created a Facebook/Whatsapp group of special friends whom I trust and can refer to when I need connection or a listening and supportive ear. It’s a safe sharing platform for all of us.
I took an active approach to addressing an issue that was affecting my inner balance and happiness. Through this problem-solving process, I learnt a lot about myself. Although the above is not exhaustive, it is personal to me. I encourage you to create your own coping strategies and become active problem solvers.