Most of us have been here. Life piles up, whether it's the pressure of working a busy job, raising kids, managing friendships, or just trying to find time to take care of ourselves. Sometimes stress just gets too much, and we find ourselves burnt out and not sure what to do.
So what can we do when we find life is just too stressful?
1) Take time to prioritize what really matters most. It's not hard to overcommit, and before we know it we find ourselves not spending time on what's most important to us.
Try creating a list of all of your daily activities and rank them from first to last in order of importance to you. Once you do this it will become more clear which activities need to be placed first, and which ones need to take place only after your most important activities have been completed.
2) Learn to say "NO." Many of us struggle with being kindly assertive and saying "no" when we don't have time.
Try practicing with a trusted friend or family member if you struggle with this. A respectful way to say "no" is to use "I" language and clearly state what you want to communicate. For example "Thanks for asking me. I'm going to have to say no right now as I don't have time."
Don't fall into the trap of making excuses! This is all too easy to do when we feel bad for saying "no." When we don't say "no" because we feel bad or guilty, or try to explain our "no" away, we take on the responsibility for the other person's emotions, which once again leaves us in a stressful position. There is a lot of freedom when we realize that how everyone else feels isn't something we can control.
3) Find out what you enjoy and make time for this. When life gets busy we can find ourselves pushing self-care to the back of our schedule. Sometimes we have to do this, but it's important to note that when we don't make time for ourselves, we tend to become more stressed. When our stress levels are high we're not as effective at working productively, as we're operating less out of our prefrontal cortex (responsible for decision making, and higher levels of thinking) and more out of our brain stem (responsible for our fight, flight, or freeze response). This is why we often make mistakes or forget what we're doing when we're really stressed.
Try taking even 15 minutes each day to do something relaxing like listening to music, journaling, going on a walk, or even just being in the moment and noticing what you enjoy (like the smell of a candle or the taste of your food).
4) Spend time with those who will support you in your mission to reduce stress. Friends who don't respect our boundaries, or who encourage us to take too much on often have good intentions, but don't always help us. When we have supportive people around us who encourage us to take time for ourselves and to prioritize what matters most, it helps give us permission to de-stress without feeling bad for doing so.
Healthy social connections can actually help reduce our stress through releasing dopamine into our brain. This neurotransmitter is responsible for helping us to feel good, become motivated, move, remember things, and focus.
5) Learn to Breathe! Have you ever paid attention to your breathing? When we become stressed our sympathetic nervous system kicks into action which usually means that our muscles tense up and our breathing becomes more shallow. In order to activate our resting system (parasympathetic nervous system) we need to do relaxing activities. Breathing is one of the most simple to learn and do on the spot.
Try taking 5 minutes to just notice your breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest, the air going through your mouth and nose. Then try lengthening each breath after a few minutes, breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose.
If you know how to use diaphragmatic breathing, add this into your breathing exercise. If not, try placing a hand on your chest and stomach and notice which of your hands move. You want the hand on your stomach to do most of the moving. If it is, you've got it! If not, keep practicing. Some people find that this takes a bit of practice to get (Hint: Lying down on the ground can help you to more easily notice the rise and fall of your stomach).
What do you use to de-stress?