Yesterday towards the end of my working day I felt so stressed that I ended up crying at the office due to feeling incredibly tired, tasks were not fully finished, and I was just generally feeling like my day was one big lump of chaos. I haven’t slept well all week either, which contributed a lot to the stress. However, last night I managed several blissful hours of semi-uninterrupted sleep, which I think is because last night I didn’t have to worry about the next day – today is Saturday and nothing is expected of me.
Do you know that tight and constricting feeling in your throat when you’re holding back from crying for an extended period of time? I had that through-out the first part of my commute. As I sat on the train later, I thought to myself that I cannot go on like this, or I will burn out (been there). I needed to put together some kind of plan, or at least actively start thinking of activities and tips from myself, to myself, that I KNOW will help me manage this.
I started listing thoughts on paper (well, in a notebook on my mobile), and realised it would be beneficial for others too potentially if I make a blog post out of it. Thinking about these ideas, planning this blog post, was a really nice distraction from the stressful, overwhelmed feelings, and I started to calm down by the time I arrived home. (Note to self: a tablet would be handy for on-the-go writing purposes!)
Many of the things I suggest below are to do with keeping up general healthy routines that all work towards the prevention of stress, due to contributing to general well-being. Some of them I have experienced myself, and some I still work towards. 😊
Monitor how you're feeling and start recognising the signs of stress
Think back to when you were feeling super stressed-out in the past. What did it feel like? What ‘symptoms’ can you remember? Are there any patterns of behaviour that you can remember?
If you’re like me, you start feeling like you need to hurry all the time, you don’t have enough time to complete your tasks, you’re easily irritated and/or feel like you’re almost about to cry and not sure of the exact reason. If your stress is about work you think and worry about work constantly in your free time. There is a feeling of pressure that you cannot seem to get rid of. I also start to feel super self-conscious and doubting myself, probably because I am prone to making more mistakes when overly stressed.
If you keep these things in mind, it’s easier to recognise when you’re starting to feel stressed in a non-healthy way in the future. You can then start thinking about what to do about it a bit earlier, and hopefully start feeling better a bit earlier too!
Write about your thoughts and experiences
I have been writing a journal in the past and found it very helpful for many reasons – one main positive I got out of it was that I was able to actively reflect about what in my day had gone well, even if otherwise I was not in a great place at the time. Capturing positive moments and observations on a daily basis helps to think that, even though things are sh*t, you’re still able to recognise some goodness in the world and in your life.
It sounds like a small thing but is immensely helpful when, at the end of a difficult week or month, you look back at all the little bits of light you managed to find in the darkness. It helped push me forward, and still does.
Blogging deserves a mention here too. As you might or might not know, I started my blog very recently. At the time of writing this post, it’s been less than a month, but in this short time, blogging has given me so much joy! I have felt excited, useful, creative, and like the negative stuff I went through in the past was not for nothing. I have made connections with people.
That all might sound a bit dramatic, but that’s exactly how it feels at the moment. I have a platform where I can share to the world what I am thinking, what I went through and what I’ve learned, how I got better, and generally just unleash my writing that would otherwise sit somewhere in my private notebooks, never to be found by others.
Book time off to relax
I cannot stress this enough. We all need time to just be. I’ve learned the hard way that it is extremely important to be able to take holidays when you need it. The company I work for has also increasingly been advocating for this, as when you have healthy employees who take their holidays and a break from work, their output once back to work will also be healthy in return.
I go through cycles of feeling productive, engaged, energetic and generally get a lot of stuff done at work – until I start burning out and I’m in danger of dropping the ball. I’m in a demanding role and I enjoy it, however, I tire easily and I tend to hog too many things to do at once, which creates stressful situations eventually when things pile up towards the deadline.
Nowadays, after many learnings, when I notice that I am struggling like this more than 3 days in a row, I will need to start thinking of taking time off to recharge. When I book a holiday, I can refer to it in my mind, thinking it’s only going to be the next 2 weeks, and then I won’t have to think about tasks or deadlines for a little while.
It’s not possible to take many long holidays obviously, but what has worked for me is to take a couple of longer ones during the year for a full recharge, and throughout the year, whenever I notice I’m starting to get stressed in a bad way, I book a long weekend somewhere soon to sort it out.
Talk to someone
Whenever I struggle with something, I tend to withdraw and hide it due to being too self-conscious. I’m not used to asking for help or ‘admitting’ that I struggle. In the past few years, I’ve made some meaningful connections, both at work and in my personal life.
I have found that I can talk to these people about anything and learned that even personal struggles can be made easier by talking about it with someone. Of course, therapy is a whole other level of talking-related support, and if you feel like you would benefit from that, go for it. It has also helped me immensely when going through hard times.
When you have a problem at work, and you’re having trouble figuring it out yourself, don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or your boss for some advice. The sooner you do that, the sooner you get it resolved, and you learn something in the process for next time. As an additional plus, you get to connect with someone, even a little bit, which can be a really good thing. 😊
Organise your day to avoid stress
My current role at work is so busy and varied that I cannot start my working day without having a proper plan and/or a to-do list. Starting to organise my week, and days within the week, has contributed to an increased feeling of being in control. In order to not spiral, I need to be consistently in control either at work or in my personal life, ideally both.
I try to apply regular planning to my personal life as well, but at the moment I am really struggling with setting up routines. I am trying hard though, and so far this month has been a bit better. I think the improvement is partly due to starting this blog! You can read about one struggle here related to water, and one about cooking, here.
Get fresh air and daylight every day
It’s Saturday, and I am feeling motivated about the day ahead. Today, I look forward to making a blogging schedule, plan out next week’s workdays, and finish a work task that I was too stressed out about and tired to finish yesterday. I even feel motivated to clean my flat! I think this is partly because, when I woke up, the sun was shining directly on my face. I love when that happens – it gives me an optimistic feeling of the day ahead and gives me energy to get out of bed. ☀️
All of these things are something to do indoors, and there is nothing, apart from travelling in the evening to meet with my boyfriend, that would mean fresh air together with daylight. I suffer from the seasonal blues, and dark winters make me feel lethargic, lazy, negative and moody, which contributes to stress.
I have a light therapy lamp at the office that I turn on towards the afternoon, but nothing beats actual daylight. I need to remember to 1) actually take my lunch break and 2) go out, take a walk, suck in that daylight before it disappears for the day.
Drink enough water
Not drinking enough water is something that I’m guilty of since I was a child. I just don’t feel like I need it. I don’t feel thirsty. Do you know that feeling when you eat something salty, and a glass of water just sounds SO good and you can’t wait to have big gulps of fresh, cold water down your throat? That’s what I imagine other people feel constantly out of nowhere, and that’s why they are comfortable with just randomly drinking a glass of water regularly during the day… because that feeling reminds them.
I’m probably incorrect, and they have succeeded with some water-drinking routines that I am yet to master. I don’t feel thirsty even if I go the whole day without drinking anything. If I don’t feel it, I don’t think about it. However, there are other things I start feeling that are related to being dehydrated. Tiredness and headaches are at the top. I only realise to have a glass of water when I get a headache and happen to wonder if it might be due to not drinking enough.
That contributes to stress because, obviously, I cannot be fully concentrating on work while feeling tired, sluggish and my head hurts.
Keep your home organised
Another routine that I’ve had difficulty setting up in my personal life is keeping my flat organised and at least in a basic, clean state. It is very disruptive to come home after work, late in the evening, hungry and with barely any energy for cooking – and find that there are no clean dishes to cook with. Having to do a huge pile of dishes in the evening pushes cooking time later, which pushes dinner time later, which pushes personal relaxing time (such as writing this blog or playing some games, watching TV shows…) later, which in turn pushes my bedtime later.
One of the most important things to keep stress at bay is to get enough sleep, and I’ve noticed that if my home is not organised when I come home from work, I rarely sleep well or enough, as that’s another thing to worry about that keeps me awake at night.
Try to get as much sleep as you need
Speaking of sleeping, I’ve had huge issues with that in the past due to having severe insomnia as part of side effects from anti-psychotic meds. I stopped taking them and full-on insomnia gradually faded, but I haven’t been able to sleep as well as I used to ever since. It takes me several hours to fall asleep even on a good night, and I wake up several times during the night. So it’s very important that I set up a well-working bedtime routine! It’s something I need to improve as it’s not consistent at all at the moment.
When I come home from work, I have a couple of hours for all I want to do: cook, eat dinner, relax, play with my cats. I feel like I don’t have enough time unless I compromise somewhere, but I also feel like I shouldn’t have to compromise from having some relax time after a hard day at work. 😔 I need to think harder on this and find solutions because lack of sleep causes me a lot of issues that increase stress. I have a feeling that when I eventually manage to set up those other routines properly, my self-care time will also increase.
A general side note
I have to say that, looking at the list above, I’m not surprised how quickly life spins out of control and becomes chaotic and sluggish during mental illness. When I was suffering full-on from those, nothing on that list was possible to achieve or maintain properly. It was just too hard.
So, be it stress, anxiety, depression… the most important thing for me at the moment is to be constantly aware of how I’m feeling so that seeking help, if I end up needing it, doesn’t get too difficult or take too long.
Do you have any recommendations that you would add to the list above based on your experience with managing stress? I’d really love to hear about it! 😊