April is Stress Awareness Month and, as we start the month, I’ve been reflecting on the past year and considering what has happened in my life that has led to me feeling stressed. I know that continued stress can lead to physical problems, such as sleeping and headaches, as well as mental and emotional issues, such as feeling exhausted, anxious, irritable and overwhelmed with the potential of complete burnout at the end of that road.
Thankfully, I also noticed the things that helped relieve and overcome those stressors and will be sharing these in this post so you can feel the strain of stress disappear.
Feeling helpless and out of control
The things that impacted me most were the times when I felt helpless and out of control of my life, or when I felt a lack of autonomy – due to circumstances when I felt I was being over managed by somebody else. When it first became clear that my day to day life was going to be impacted by the pandemic, I felt out of control. I am used to being able to choose when I work, where I work, and what I want to do with my leisure time. All of a sudden it felt like I was not able to make many decisions for myself and, initially, I faced losing a lot of the work I had spent the last 7 years building up. I felt angry, frustrated and also helpless, as there was nothing I thought I could do to change the situation. At this point, it really started to impact my emotional wellbeing as I felt trapped and very upset.
Luckily I have lots of tools and strategies in place which enabled me to take a step back, consider the situation and my feelings. I started looking for things in my life I felt grateful for and also areas where I could put some control in place. In his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey talks about being proactive and this is what I did. I thought about everything that concerned me and was worrying me that I couldn’t do anything about. I wrote down these worries. This enabled me to put them to one side. Then I focused on areas that I could do something about. For example, I could no longer go to the gym but I could still walk in my local area. As I started to find ways to address areas that I did have some control over, I started to feel a sense of hope and optimism for the future.
The value of a listening ear
At this point I did think about others and what they might have thought of me. I wondered whether it is possible to notice when someone else is feeling helpless, out of control and in need of some support. We are all different and respond in different ways to unwanted change in our lives, yet many of us will show our anger and frustration and feelings of helplessness in some way. Noticing small changes in behaviour in people we work with and care about can make a big difference. Just offering a listening ear over a virtual coffee can be enough to move someone’s thinking from helpless to some optimism.
Letting go of having to control everything
We tend to be on a continuum of control. The experience I described above was about feelings of helplessness and having no control over circumstances. There have been other times when I’ve wanted to control everything around me and other times again when people have been telling me exactly what to do, how to do it and when to deliver it. I love things to be done well and often want to be in control of exactly how it is done. For example, I’ve recently been unwell which means my partner has been doing all the cooking. He is an excellent cook yet I often found myself telling him how to cook certain dishes. One day he asked me if I trusted him or would like to do it myself, which hurt at the time. On reflection I saw how incongruent it was that I was being that way with him when I hate being controlled myself! In the workplace it may often feel easier to do something ourselves – especially when someone is new to the team and still learning, yet it’s still important to deliver a good piece of work. Knowing that I hate to be micromanaged and love being given the freedom to choose how I go about delivering a task, I’ve learned to delegate by giving a clear brief and then offering support and guidance as things progress. When I’ve received that same courtesy, I feel far more motivated and trusted and also respect the person who has demonstrated their trust in me.
Never suffer from stress again…
There are times and places in our lives where we need to let go of trying to control everything and others where we benefit from finding strategies to be more in control. We will move up and down the continuum of control depending on situations and how we are feeling about ourselves. As I noted at the start, a little stress can be motivational but too much stress becomes debilitating causing both physical and mental health problems. Becoming aware of where we are on the continuum and finding ways to manage our emotions around this goes a long way to managing our stress levels.
I really hope that the things I’ve shared here will give you some ideas on how to support yourself with stress but I also know that I gained a lot from having support to put the tools I’ve learnt into practise. If you’re reading this and recognise that you’d like some support, we can help. Our 12-week programme gives you the tools you need to never suffer from stress again. If you would like to find out more, you can contact us here.