Do You Know Yourself Under Stress?

I believe fully in the power of self-awareness.

Observing your habits and behaviours is the first step to understanding them and changing them.

And stress is no different.

Firstly, the lovely folks over at the Mental Health Foundation have made this simple little test to gauge your stress levels.

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Then, try this exercise. You can do this on your own with a piece of paper but our awareness seems to be one of the first things to go when we’re stressed. So I recommend doing it with a friend, family member or colleague. Knowing ourselves is one thing but it can be really helpful to share this with people who are close to us and can help us spot the signs things are getting too much for us and suggest practices we know that work.

Step One: What makes you stressed?

We’re actually incredibly attuned to the things that make us stressed. Drawing our attention to those things helps us put coping mechanisms in place before it all gets overwhelming.

Step Two: How do you know you’re stressed?

We all have tell-tale signs we’re getting stressed but we so often ignore them. Listing them helps us become more aware of them — put a list by your laptop!

For me, it’s tension in my right shoulder, nightmares, and withdrawing from the world. Very distinct to my hangry symptoms which my friends and family all know so well!

Step Three: What are my unhelpful coping strategies?

We all have reactions to stress that we know aren’t helpful. Some of these — like withdrawing from friends and family — can be signals that we are stressed and haven’t noticed. Others are just downright counterproductive. Think binge-eating, binge-drinking, smoking more, going to be later…. You want to be doing less of these when you’re stressed…

Step Four: What helps me cope with stress?

…and more of these. For some reason, we are less likely to do the things that we know help when we’re in the middle of a crisis. Reminding yourself that you feel much better when you go for a run/see your friends/go to yoga/read a book. I’ve even suggested people record voice memos to themselves when they feel really good after doing something that makes them feel better — your own voice telling you to go do it can be a powerful tool.

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Tomorrow, I’ll share some common ways to manage stress but I believe we all know what we should be doing. We just get so caught up in the stress and the “I’m too busy to do the one thing that would make me feel better”-ness of it all that we don’t do what we know works and instead turn to the things that make us feel worse. Learning to recognise the signs of overwhelm and taking early action is a great way to combat stress.