I've always envied calm people, you know, the kind who don't bat an eyelid when their train is 45 minutes late or when a hefty gas bill glides it's way through the letterbox a week before payday. That however is not me, not even close. I'm more of what you would refer to as: 'a neurotic hot mess'
It's not something I'm proud of, in fact it drives me INSANE, but if I've learnt anything in the 30 years I've inhabited this earth it's that you can't fight the aspects of yourself you don't like, you've somehow got to accept them, maybe even love them to get by, to thrive.
That said, being stressed about everything 24/7 is utterly exhausting. I should interject here that I am a very fortunate person. I have amazing family and friends, a roof over my head, a job I love, good health, nothing 'out of the ordinary', but sometimes that makes the anxiety worse. Anxiety isn't a compass, it doesn't find the person who deserves the pity party the most, it often picks the high achievers, the people who have 'nothing to complain about' and that comes with great responsibility, guilt and most importantly shame. Being anxious is kind of like wetting yourself in the back of the classroom in year 4; you're hoping no one notices but you also probably need a supportive shoulder to cry on. Too much? Yep, knew it.
Stress is hard to deal with for most people but for the anxious among us it's absolute hell. A relatively minor issue can spiral in our heads to something that feels like life or death and the critical self talk can become so loud it' deafening. Your natural instinct is to run, as fast as you can, but you can't, you've got to keep it together, you've got to pretend everything is fine. This is particularly hard at work. If you have a demanding job, stress is expected, it's almost written in the contract but that doesn't make it easy to deal with, especially when everyone else in your team is nailing it you feel like a total joke in comparison.
There are so many factors that can contribute to stress and we're particularly bad as a generation in terms of work-life balance but anxiety can be managed and can even become an asset if channelled correctly.
Here are my 5 top tips for diffusing stress, anxious person or not:
You can't control every situation that happens to you but you can set yourself up right to minimise stress when it does. For me, I often sleep in, so mornings used to be chaotic and leave me feeling really anxious. The change? Now, before I leave work I spend a few minutes writing a to do list for the next day and checking my meetings so that nothing comes as a surprise if I rock in a little late and flustered. I have a box of cereal at my desk so that there's always something to nibble on and I'm not worrying about having to grab breakfast on my way in. Lastly I also lay out some clothes the night before and maybe even my yoga kit for the evening that way, if I sleep through my alarm, I can jump in the shower, chuck those on and run - no thought needed. These little things don't mean my day will go well, stress free, but they do aliminate any added stress first thing and for that it's totally worth the extra effort.
When I'm feeling stressed everything feels like it's in fast forward mode and my chest gets tight. Trying to 'do' in this state can cause mistakes and actually lead to more stress! It's much better to remove yourself for couple of minutes, nip to lavs and just sit on the toilet seat and close your eyes. Take a deep inhale that last 4 counts, hold it for 4 and exhale for 4 counts. Repeat this 3-5 times and I promise you will feel a little bit clearer. Even better, if you have the time, get up and go for a walk around the block, get some fresh (un-toilet) air. It's amazing how much of a difference it can make and you'll find yourself handling things more rationally from this calmer place.
If you want to take this further and make it a daily practice, I recommend the app Headspace. It's free and only takes 10 minutes each morning (or whatever time of day suits you)
3. SCREW YOU, INNER VOICE
The way you talk to yourself has a huge impact on your success and wellbeing. I could write a whole post on that alone, hey maybe I will, but for now the most important thing to consider when you're having a stressful/anxious moment is to wrestle that critical chatter to the ground before it does more damage. When you hear that 'you've messed this up', 'you're an idiot' 'they all know it's your fault' challenge it straight away with a 'I can fix this', 'oh well, it's not the end of the world', 'things always turn out ok, I've got this' ...etc. You'll feel much more in control and able to deal with the problem in front of you.
4. GO TO BED
Maybe not cool at your desk but hear me out. If you're feeling particulary stressed and overwhlemed it might be because you've neglected your self care recently and are on the verge of burnout. No good will come of 'ploughing through' and trying to get things sorted, trust me on this one! You need to stop, get an early night, binge watch Netflix, maybe even order a cheeky Dominoes (no judgement here babes.) whatever it is that allows you a few moments to unwind, switch off and reset. You might think you don't have the time to waste doing these things but the extra productively you'll gain from feeling replenished is worth 10x the work you put in frazzled, plus you'll finally finish the last episode of Fargo you've been putting off and that will feel so damn good.
5. GET HELP
Although I like to poke fun at Anxiety and destigmatise it a bit, it's important to remember it's still a mental health issue and not everyone can 'just snap out of it'. If stress is taking over your life and feels crippling, there's no shame whatsoever in asking for help. CBT and mindfulness are now prescribed on the NHS and if you're prone to panic attacks Beta blockers can help stop the physical systems you might be experiencing. Make an appointment with your GP and find out what's right for you.
Managing stress is still (and maybe always will be) a working progress for me. One of the things that helps me through it is to remember the times I've overcome something stressful and it's been a benefit to me, there's been light at the end of the tunnel. That, and a little cry on the phone to a good friend always does the trick - no one's perfect after all.