Overcome Stress With Greater Self-awareness And Self-care

Shirley Anstis explains why it’s important to reduce stress in our lives and provides strategies to do so

Far too many of us carry a heavy stress load all the time, so it takes very little to bring us to a point of feeling overwhelmed. Too many of us are also living in a state of constant anxiety or worry.

The life of animals is very different. Every day they have to find food and shelter to survive or have to evade being eaten by a bigger and more powerful predator. Once they escape from the lion or tiger they can rest and recover until the next chase.

Sadly, for us humans, we tend to remain in this heightened state of fear and worry, even after we’ve survived or overcome a challenge. We ruminate on ‘What if?’ and ‘What might happen?’ which eats into the time we could be spending, building supportive relationships or looking after our health and well-being.

Humans are designed to face short-term stressors. Our ancestors had solvable and urgent survival goals – to build a shelter, find food and water, and connect with their family/community.  When they failed to achieve these then they didn’t survive for very long.

Modern life has evolved beyond this simplistic model and, with modern technology, we believe ourselves to be so much more sophisticated than our ancestors.

We are connected to everyone online – and sometimes disconnected from the people in our lives and the communities where we live. Loneliness is prevalent amongst all age groups. We invite stress when we compare ourselves to people we see on social media, even though we have nothing in common with them.

Every day we are bombarded with news of suffering, divisions and greed in different parts of the world, and increasingly closer to home. This feeling of powerlessness can add to our feelings of stress.

We have access to vast amounts of data, yet we make poor decisions.

For example, we know water is good for the body, yet that is often the last thing we choose to drink. We know that healthy food keeps us well, yet we make unhealthy choices regularly. There have been an increasing number of studies linking diet to gut health to mental health, which means what we eat can affect our mood and thinking ability.

The truth is, stress can be debilitating or it can be a motivator by helping us to do better.  The first step is to recognise who or what is causing you stress and begin to take steps to reduce its impact. At the same time, build your capabilities so that you can tap into your resilience when facing a stressful situation.

Recognise that some things are within your power to control and those things you can begin to resolve. Other stressors may be within your power to influence, and you will need to work collaboratively with others to find a solution. And finally, there are stressful things in the world that we do not have the power to solve, yet we can choose to be a positive light in our corner of the world.  

So, what can you do to tackle your level of stress?

Pay attention to your body and whenever you feel stressed. Who or what increases stress in your life?

Once you become aware, you can then try to preempt these influences and become proactive instead of reactive.

For example, could you introduce clearer boundaries for yourself and others, so that you agree to demands that are realistic for you? Are there people in your life whom you love and care for, but feel stressed in their presence? Is there anything you can do about that?

As well as noticing what increases stress in your life, you can also review which practices reduce the experience of stress for you.

Here are a few ideas to improve your resilience and reduce the impact of stress on your life:

  • Take regular exercise
  • Spend more time in nature
  • Take action to enjoy better quality sleep
  • Listen to music
  • Develop more authentic friendships
  • Have a creative outlet, such as baking, journalling, knitting, colouring or painting
  • Be more present and do less multitasking
  • Undertake therapy to work through past or present pain and trauma
  • Try mindfulness, meditation, prayer – or do all of them
  • Work on your mindset
  • Find a purpose bigger than yourself that nudges you forward

Hopefully, by becoming more aware of your stressors and increasing your ability to be resilient, you will find it less difficult to cope with the many surprises life throws your way. The pace of change will continue, so it’s about finding solid ground to stand on.

Continue to develop good habits and begin to trust yourself. Let’s truly embody our individuality and do less of the comparing and competing.  

Wishing you less stress and more peace.

Shirley Anstis is a counsellor, author, life coach and workshop facilitator. Find her books on Amazon and connect with her on social media.

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