The Mental Health Foundation explains stress as something we all feel when there is too much going on or when a situation or event feels like it is out of our control. It starts to do real damage to us physically and mentally when we begin to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope for long periods of time. We might start to experience symptoms like headaches or palpitations and see a negative effect on our sleep or memory recall.
We might not always be able to remove all sources of stress but here are our top tips for making life a little less stressful…
Recognise your stressors. What is causing you to feel out of control? Can you take back any control? Focus on what is in your sphere of control – you can’t eliminate coronavirus but you can control your reaction to it – wash your hands, keep two metres apart and limit your activities outside of your home. Limit the amount of news you watch if that helps.
Keep a stress diary to identify the stressors. This honest note will make you aware of the situations and stressors that get to you. We don’t always recognise when we are stressed. We might behave in a different way towards others, sleep too much or too little, feel physically ill, ache, be in pain, struggle with thought processes or decision-making (basically anything that can be neurologically linked).
Be realistic and honest with yourself. Is your to do list far too long? Have you bitten off to much? Remember to be kind to yourself when thinking this through, reducing what you hope to achieve will take some pressure off. I personally am not going to emerge from lockdown with new skills or a perfectly ordered house – I am just aiming to get through as best as I can.
Connect with others where it will help. Who can support you? Who makes you laugh or takes your mind off things? Just talk to someone, either to distract you or release tension by discussing things. You would want your friends to talk to you if you were stressed. Pick the most appropriate person for your discussion or maybe someone that you don’t even know, on a chat room for instance. Sometimes by talking about things aloud, you start to think about the problem differently or you might get another point of view from the other person.
Think through how you relax. Maybe try that relaxation technique you’ve been meaning to or plan in time to do your favourite thing if you can. An hour with a book, or listening to music, or a walk in the sun can make all the difference if it makes you smile.
Think through your habits around eating, sleeping, drinking and exercise. What small changes might work for you? Less caffeine in the evening? Gentle exercise every day? Mindfulness every morning? Getting up the same time every day? Going to bed at the same time every night? Time spent thinking this through will help you develop healthy habits that help you to get a good study/life balance, even whilst lockdown restrictions continue.
Write it down. Stress can be triggered by a problem that may on the surface seem impossible to solve. Write down the problem and come up with as many solutions as possible. Decide on the good and bad points of each solution and select the best one, then write down the steps that you may need to take as part of the solution.
Give yourself an hour. Allow yourself an hour to clear your head, lie down, read a book, watch a film, go for a run or a walk. Just put something else in your brain. Don’t feel guilty, you need this and you might come back to it thinking more clearly. Remember also the power of tomorrow, sometimes things feel very different after a good night’s sleep so do what you can to get one.
Focus on your breathing. Have you noticed how your breathing can change when you are feeling overwhelmed by stress? Breathing in through our nose and into our stomachs instead of the upper chest just a few times can help to calm us, and give us back a sense of control. By concentrating on our breathing, by feeling every breath, we interrupt those unhelpful Gremlin thoughts that go round and round, giving us the opportunity to introduce more helpful ones.
And my favourite – it will pass – and you have to believe that! Whatever it is work, pandemic, friendship issues, study issues, at some point it will get easier and you will feel better. We are our own worst enemies as we are more critical of ourselves than others are. Be kind to yourself.
Felling stressed is a likely experience for all of us at one point or another. It does not mean you have failed, that you are rubbish or you can’t do your job. Remember you are still fabulous!
We’ve put all these tips into a video to help you remember them:
Thank you to Lynn Tout and the Marjon Student Support team for writing this.