In the modern world we live in, we all deal with mental stress in some form or another. Whether it stems from your email inbox, your sick child, your mortgage repayments, or juggling all of the above, feelings of stress and overwhelm affect us all.
As we move through life, the sources of our stress change, evolve and vary in intensity but never disappear completely
This is why the key to a life with less stress is not so much avoiding it in entirety, but learning to manage it, grow with it, and put it in its place.
Above anything else, realise this; it’s not so much the ever increasing to-do list or bills to pay that create stress, but our thoughts and feelings around these things.
We have very little control over what life throws at us but what we can learn to control is how we react. Here are a few of our favourite ways to quieten stress in the mind.
1. See a therapist or talk it out
But, really though.
On the most basic level, stress is a matter of perception that is different for everyone. For some, fears such as flying, elevators and needles can create feelings of angst and distress, initiating a physiological stress response inside of us.
Others can handle such situations without feeling anything at all. It’s a combination of our upbringing, life experience and compiling mental trauma that’s never really been addressed.
Every single one of us has trauma (even if it doesn’t fit the traditional idea of what trauma ‘should’ look like). A therapist can help us work through our perceptions of, and response to, such stressors, rewiring our subconscious to let go of the fear that can get triggered day to day.
Alternatively, someone a trusted friend can provide great support. They’d probably love the chance to be there for you. It can be as simple as a “hey, I’ve got something I’m struggling with and need to talk about, do you have time to catch up to talk it through?”
Yes, vulnerability can be uncomfortable. But if you’d give half an hour of quality listening and advice to one of your best friends why wouldn’t they do the same?
Talking through the things that are buzzing around in our brain helps to get them out of your head and see them through another perspective. A problem shared is a problem halved.
When overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless number of thoughts and stressors in your mind, getting them out of your head and onto paper can be an incredibly therapeutic exercise.
Here’s a quick activity to get you started:
- Create the space and set aside a quarter or half an hour to journal. With an intention of cleansing your mind, write down everything that feels stressful for you right now.
- See it all written down on paper. Often writing can bring up thoughts we hadn’t realised existed, and can bring a new perspective to the stressors themselves. When bubbling around in your head they have the space to grow, and fester into more than they really are on paper.
- Work through the list, ask yourself, is this really a problem? Is there anything I can do about it? (Sometimes there really is nothing you can do and in this case, the practice becomes trusting that it will be ok in the end, and surrender to the process. It’s not worth your mental energy and worry.)
- Of the things that are left, write down both what the worst possible outcome is and what the most likely outcome is. Often our mind jumps to the worst, even if it isn’t the most likely.
3. Mantra meditation
Meditation. The word itself can feel a bit ‘woo woo’ or threatening, especially if you’ve never done it before.
Find comfort in the fact that there’s actually a whole range of ways to meditate, and most of them have nothing to do with sitting cross legged or ommmmmm-ing.
One of our favourite meditation practises is mantra meditation. This is essentially using a word or phrase to occupy your mind and cleanse it of all the frantic thoughts flying around. This type of mindfulness is there whenever you need it and it stops your mind going here there and everywhere.
Some of our favourite mantras are:
- I am peaceful
- I am calm
- I am safe
- All is well
Science has actually proven that this type of meditation is highly effective. This is because repeating these over and over in your mind sends a signal to your subconscious brain that you are safe and calm, and pulls the breaks on any ineffective stress response patterns that activate the sympathetic. ‘fight or flight’ nervous system.
Like meditation, mindfulness itself can seem a bit airy fairy. But there’s a million different ways to be more mindful.
The idea of mindfulness is quite simple; it’s about being a little more aware and ‘mindful’ of your thoughts, feelings, reactions to these thoughts, and the present moment (i.e. what you’re doing and where you are right now).
To quieten your mind, start by practicing noticing the times where you feel frustrated, scared, triggered or worried, and literally catch yourself in this moment. Catching yourself in these moments is something to be super proud of - that’s what we call ‘mindful awareness’. Awesome!
The next step is, when you notice these feelings arising, to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are ok. The truth is you are safe, nothing is ever quite as sinister as it can seem inside our heads.
As children, we have our parents to comfort us when we become upset and anxious, and to tell us that everything will be okay. As adults we still need this, we just get to play this role ourselves.
Over time, the practice of mindfulness can actually change our brains and rewire our stress response. Someone who practices mindfulness regularly will react less intensely and recover faster from stressful situations.
5. Give yourself a break
Think about it, how often in your day do you just sit with you and your thoughts. No working, reading, conversing with others, TV or social media; n o t h i n g.
Probably not all that often right?
Perhaps you feel like there’s always something that needs doing, or something productive you could be doing instead.
Maybe you’ve become so used to being stimulated in some way at all times, picking up your phone and starting to scroll has become almost ‘instinctive’ whenever you find yourself in a spot of ‘free time'.
This might be somewhat shocking, but the truth is: you don’t have to be doing something all the time.
In fact, doing nothing is actually a really powerful form of self care and stress management. It gives the mind a moment to breathe and a chance to close the 83 tabs that may have been open inside of it.
It sounds really simple, but slowing down can be a lot harder than you think if ‘always busy’ is your norm. Here are a few tips:
- Adjust your notification settings or turn them off completely.
- If you have an iphone, make use of the screen time setting. Perhaps blocking out time in the morning and evening where you will not use your phone.
- Quit multitasking - do you really need the TV on in the background while you cook dinner and watch today’s insta stories? Do you really need to be answering emails while you eat your lunch?
- Make ‘doing nothing’ part of your morning or night time routine. Take 10 minutes to make a cup of tea and just sit in stillness with your thoughts.
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