5 Steps to Help Tame Mental Stress

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This modern-day, full-on lifestyle we now lead brings with it everyday stress that didn’t exist a century ago. We seem to be asked to do more as a parent, as an employee, and even as a friend, for example, we may feel we have to be on social media to keep in contact and not miss social events. 

We are also bombarded with more and more media. There seems to be a screen everywhere we turn; a screen that is telling us not only about the problems in our neighbourhood but also the problems in the whole of the world.

Mental stress typically happens when we feel we do not have the mental capacity to manage all we have to do and all we feel. 

How do we know when we are mentally stressed?

If we are mentally stressed, we may:

  • have a poor memory
  • feel overwhelmed
  • have difficulty
  • concentrating
  • feel constantly worried, anxious, or scared
  • be irritable or angry
  • have racing thoughts
  • feel sad or depressed
  • have a lack of motivation

What are the possible causes of the stress?

We may get to the point where we feel so bombarded and stressed that we haven’t even stopped to consider what is causing the stress and if we can do anything about it.

According to the UK National Health Service, some possible causes of stress are:

  • our individual genes, upbringing, and experiences
  • difficulties in our personal lives and relationships
  • big or unexpected life changes, like moving house, having a baby, or starting to care for someone
  • money difficulties, like debt or struggling to afford daily essentials
  • health issues, either for you or someone close to you
    pregnancy and children
  • problems with housing, like the conditions, maintenance, or tenancy
  • a difficult or troubled work environment
  • feeling lonely and unsupported

What can we do to alleviate everyday mental stress?

Let’s look at some ways we can manage the stress of all the things we feel we need to do.

1.   Challenge your thoughts

Firstly, we can change our view about stress. It is impossible to have no stress, in fact a certain degree of stress helps us to challenge ourselves and grow. 

Dr. Kerry Ressler, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, suggests that “rather than striving for no stress, strive for a healthier response to stress”.

Secondly, the way we think affects the way we feel, and it does not help if we use negative “forever” language. For example, instead of saying, “What’s wrong with me that I’m ALWAYS stressed?”, say instead, “It is normal to feel stressed with all I am juggling at this MOMENT IN TIME!”

This language puts the cause where the cause belongs – an external factor and not a personal fault. It also tells the brain that it won’t last forever. 

Our brain will believe what we continually tell it to believe, so let’s tell it that this stress is momentary, and that we will find a way out soon rather than never.

Watch this video from Every Mind Matters to learn how to challenge unhelpful thoughts.

Video: Reframing unhelpful thoughts


2.   Decide which stressors can be controlled 

How often do we get stressed about things that are out of our control? For example, we can’t personally stop Russia invading the Ukraine, but we can decide to pull back from watching the news when we are already suffering from mental overload.

A friend shared the following post from @mindfulenough__ and I thought it was worth sharing here as a good starting point of what to consider is in or out of our control.

3. Write it all down

At the end of each day, grab a dedicated notebook, rather than a piece of paper that can get lost. In it, write down all the things you feel, before writing down all the things you think you must do. Feelings are stronger than thoughts and sometimes we need to simply acknowledge our feelings and park them for a while so we can do some thinking.

Remember to only write down the things that you can do/control. For example, I would write down,

“Send my tax details to my accountant” (I can control what I put my energy into) rather than 

“Get my tax refund” (I can’t control that there will be a refund), or 

“Organise a family day out” out rather than 

“Get praise from the family for organising a great day out”.

Don’t write down tasks that are already in a routine, for example, picking up the kids from swimming every Thursday afternoon. This is likely to already be on the calendar and, if necessary, a reminder alarm set. Reminder alarms are priceless in times of high stress.

4. Get organised

Using strategies to help manage your workload can also reduce stress. If life is more predictable then it becomes less stressful. Here is one way to get more organised:

(i)   Make a daily to-do list 

If the task can’t be incorporated into a routine put it on a to-do list in the notebook mentioned above. 

I find that doing this at the end of each day helps me not to worry about the next day instead of sleeping.

(ii)   Use the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritise

This matrix, first used by President Eisenhower, helps us to prioritise what to put at the top of our to-do list, what to plan for later, what can be delegated, and what we can simply delete from the list because it really isn’t that important or urgent, especially when already under stress. 

Let’s use my yearly tax return as an example. I can hire an accountant to do the return because it’s less important for me to do that part (I have a choice), but I can’t escape sending my income and expenditure details to the accountant. This is an important task that can only be done by me. If this task is due in 6 months, then it is not/less urgent and therefore may simply require me to SCHEDULE it into the calendar. If the tax information is due in the next couple of days, then it is urgent and needs adding to my daily to-DO list as a priority.

(iii)   Split up big tasks

If a task seems overwhelming and too difficult to start, try breaking it down into easier chunks. Keep chunking it down until you hear yourself say, ”I can start that!”, then give yourself credit for completing each part.

(iv)   Set a day and time

Using the Eisenhower Matrix as an aid, set a day and time to complete the task.  As mentioned before, predictability combats stress. I find that if I don’t schedule something, it keeps getting pushed to the bottom of my to-do list. 

5. Monotask, not multitask

Multitasking is difficult at the best of times, so it is unlikely that we will be successful during periods of high stress. 

I once use to brag at how good I was at multitasking until I asked myself the question, “How can I be effective with what I am doing if I am not 100% focussed on what I am doing?”

Give your mind some compassion by focussing on the one task you have decided to do. The greatest distraction these days is our phone, so if necessary, turn off all phone notifications, or better still, leave your phone in another room.

In summary, help tame mental stress by:

  1. Challenging your thoughts
  2. Deciding which stressors can be controlled
  3. Writing it all down
  4. Getting organised
  5. Monotasking, not multitasking