Over the past few months, I’ve had more conversations about stress and overwhelm with clients than at any other time in my career. It seems that life is unsettling for many people right now.
Taking proactive steps to identify and address the sources of stress means we can regain some control and find our way to a greater sense of inner peace.
Step 1: Conduct a stress inventory
Before embarking on a journey to reduce stress, it helps to understand its origins in your life. Carrying out a stress inventory will help you to identify the key triggers that contribute to your stress levels. Take a moment to reflect on your daily life, noting any of the situations, activities, or relationships that are causing anxiety or overwhelm. Jot down your observations in a journal or talk this over with a friend. Focus on areas such as your career, finances, health, relationships, as well as external factors that contribute to stress such as frequent engagement with current affairs or social media.
Step 2: Recognise emotional and physical signs
Once you have identified potential stressors, pay close attention to how your body and mind react to those stressors. Do you experience muscle tension, headaches, irritability, digestive issues, low mood or sleep disturbances? As you begin to recognise these emotional and physical signs, you’ll gain valuable insights into the impact stress has on your well-being as it is occurring, providing a beginning point for change.
Step 3: What can you change?
Look across the list you’ve created and consider where you have the option to create change. Choose one or two areas to tackle rather than trying to overhaul your entire life in one sitting. Make a note of a couple of small, practical steps you can take to reduce stress in these areas.
Consider also the things that can’t be changed and think about how you might interact with those experiences differently.
Step 4: Prioritise self-care
Self-care plays a pivotal role in stress reduction. If you feel so overwhelmed that you believe you can’t spare the time to care for yourself, this is an added sign that you really need to prioritise this.
Evaluate your lifestyle and identify areas where you can make changes to improve your physical health. These might include changing your sleep patterns, adopting a healthier diet, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and incorporating regular exercise into your routine. A holistic approach to wellness can significantly impact your ability to manage stress effectively.
Incorporate one or two activities that promote rejuvenation and relaxation into your daily routine. Participate in at least one form of physical exercise daily (even if it’s only five minutes of stretching or a quick stroll around the block at lunchtime) as well as something to promote mental well-being such as a brief meditation, deep breathing or limiting time on devices.
Step 5: Set healthy boundaries
One of the most common themes I see with clients during times of overwhelm is the feeling that they don’t have the option to say ‘no’. This often stems from a desire to create greater control – a response that’s designed to minimise stress but one that invariably increases pressure.
Establishing boundaries is crucial for managing stress effectively. If you’re a high achiever and someone who often takes on additional tasks, be aware that you may also have the inclination to over-commit. Recognise that it’s ok for things to be done imperfectly and consider what you can let go of. As you do this, begin to set healthy limits on your time and energy so you’re able to focus on important tasks and relationships and prevent burnout.
Step 6: Review your time management
Feeling overwhelmed often contributes to procrastination. Revisit your schedule and consider which tasks are genuine priorities and make a note of others that you can defer or potentially let go of. Break down bigger tasks or projects into manageable steps. Utilise tools such as to-do lists to stay organised but avoid the habit of constantly rewriting your lists rather than making a start on one task.
Step 7: Do something you love
Even when time is short, make time for activities you enjoy, such as reading for pleasure, listening to music, dancing, watching a funny movie or spending time with people who lift your spirits. Even a brief amount of time spent engaging in these activities can provide a healthy escape and help you recharge.
Step 8: Foster supportive relationships
Do your best to cultivate relationships with positive and supportive individuals. Share your feelings and concerns with a trusted friend or family member when you feel stressed. Talking openly about your concerns can alleviate pressure, provide a fresh perspective and give you access to valuable advice.
Step 9: Learn to meditate
The daily practice of meditation is one of the most effective ways to minimise stress – and it’s best to begin your practice when you’re not yet feeling stressed. Even just a brief morning practice can be beneficial. You’ll find a list of recommended meditations for beginners on the free Insight Timer app in this article of mine.
Step 10: Seek professional help if needed
If stress and overwhelm persist despite your best efforts, seek the support of a professional. A therapist, coach or counsellor can provide guidance, tools, and coping strategies tailored to your specific needs.