If you’re needing mental health assistance please call BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636. Or if social anxiety has got you good, you can always message for help at lifeline.org.au/get-help/onlineservices/crisischat/ or text White Wreath at 0410 526 562
Overwhelm. Stress. Anxiety. How to cope when things are just too much.
When we are under a lot of different pressures our bodies are hard-wired to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. As stress hormones like adrenaline run rampant, our pupils dilate, our breathing quickens and we reach a heightened alertness. On the one hand, this can help us achieve tasks under pressure. On the other hand, if exposed to high levels of stress for long periods of time this can start to wear us down, sometimes causing mental blocks, breathing difficulties or panic attacks.
Our minds and bodies are integrally connected and stress feeds us signals, via our brain to be felt primarily in the nervous system. This means that dealing with stress involves taking good care of both our mental and physical wellbeing.
In our modern day lives we face increasing pressures that can overwhelm us. Just a long commute on an overcrowded train can be enough to set us up for a bad day. On top of that you might have looming deadlines at work, a taxing colleague, financial difficulties, family disputes, the problems of a friend, or tensions with a romantic partner, and all of these things together can build up until everything gets too much.
With a seemingly endless to-do list it can also feel like you never have time to pause. But it is crucial to realise that in a state of extreme stress we won’t be able to deal with its sources effectively until we have calmed down. If you don’t take time for self-care you will only lose time later if you make hasty decisions, mistakes under pressure or if you break down completely. Also, you can only be your best, most-productive self around others, if you have taken time for yourself first.
If you find yourself in a state of stress that you know is impeding any aspects of your life there are several techniques you can use to lower stress levels and get back on track. If these don’t suffice it is probably time to seek help from a mental health professional.
Calming down your nervous system
The most simple thing to do, and if you really don’t have time to stop, is to slow down your breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. Do this again and again, slower and slower, until you feel yourself calming down. You might pause at the top and bottom to elongate your breaths and take in the oxygen even deeper. This will trick your body into thinking that any sources of stress have been averted.
Zone out with zen
A simple form of meditation can also work miracles on stress. For this, find a relatively quiet space where you can feel at ease for a few moments. Ideally you should sit down or get into a comfortable position. Then close your eyes or find a soft gaze and concentrate on your breathing, detaching yourself from any hussle and bussle around you.
Just a short moment of deep breathing by yourself will help you a little to recentre and extract yourself from any stressful activity. This can be useful as another quick solution at work, when you don’t have any more than a few minutes to calm down.
Do some yoga
If you are at home or in a situation when you can take more time to help yourself, half an hour or so of gentle yoga has been found by various reviews to reduce stress symptoms and help with anxiety and depression. If you feel unconfident about attending a group session, there are many video lessons available online, some of which are specially designed to cope with stress. For example, the Youtube channel ‘Yoga with Adriene’ has yoga videos “to melt your stress” and cope with anxiety.
Eliminate your worries
It is not always possible to get rid of your worries altogether. But you can at least eliminate the ones you can control and acknowledge those that you can’t do anything about. This is the purpose of a worry diary. Just the process of putting your concerns onto paper can be therapeutic. Each night you could write a list of your worries and circle all those you can control. It should make you feel significantly less troubled. You can then write a note for how you will tackle each controllable problem and try to follow up on these plans. Knowledge alone that you can act to solve some of your problems will ease you from the stress of constantly fearing the worst case scenario.
Try to live a minimal-stress lifestyle
Finally, as a general tip for avoiding stress in everyday life (although it is not completely unavoidable!), is that it's important to fulfill our basic needs by eating well, getting enough sleep and doing sufficient exercise. According to certain research, eating healthily by eating sources of fibre such as grains and vegetables ensures good gut health and helps avoid stress as well as stress-related irritable bowel syndrome.
We can also avoid stress by dedicating some time each day to an enjoyable activity. Make a mindmap of what brings you joy. This is different for everyone but might include activities like going for coffee with friends, cooking, dancing, watching a film or getting out into nature.
Managing stress levels may sometimes seem like a full-time effort, balancing mental and physical health. When things really do become too much it might be best to seek professional help. Otherwise there are multiple ways we can help ourselves to avoid stress symptoms and and enjoy life as the happiest, healthiest versions of ourselves that we can be.
You got this!