10 Keys to Success: How to cope with Stress and Overwhelm

Tam Johnston


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Current society can place demands and expectations that can leave people experiencing a state frequently described as ‘stress’ or perhaps more accurately, feeling out of control, which leads to behavioural and physical ‘signs’ and ‘symptoms’ of being under pressure.

This state of feeling under pressure, stressed or overwhelmed is a common issue experienced by many at some point in their lives; that is, unless they have discovered that it can be controlled, perceived differently and prevented.

Want to feel differently? Then let’s begin the discovery….

1.      Understand and believe that you are in control

The first and most important step to freeing yourself up and becoming more relaxed and healthy is to understand that you are in control of stress. Yes, just to reiterate…. YOU are IN CONTROL. Believe and accept this idea and you will be ready to step into action towards conquering it, notice different choices that you have and to feel far more calm, relaxed and well….. in control!

So refuse to accept stress, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent and manage it, both within your circumstances and by how you choose to respond to it. By not allowing it to control you, you control it. It is from this place of power that the rest becomes possible.

 2.       Know what causes you to feel overwhelmed

burnt-outThis may be apparent, but if it’s not, spend some time considering the cause(s), as well as gathering other options and perspectives from your friends and family. Look for causes within your external circumstances such as work, home pressures, how much you choose to take on, relationships, caring for others, time management, ability to prioritise and so on.  If it is work related, a stress assessment can help you to troubleshoot causes and manage any necessary changes.

As importantly, in fact I’d be as bold as to say MORE importantly, it is time to look at internal causes, which will help now and in future prevention. The way you think about what you experience, what you perceive and how you respond to situations are all internal causes that people respond to differently. Have you noticed how others seem to take everything in their stride or thrive on a busy lifestyle? They will have a different way of perceiving and dealing with pressures in their life. You can too, so start considering ‘what’ you perceive as stressful. The moment we tell ourselves that we are stressed, that is how our mind and body respond. How could you think about it differently? Try it out, and notice how you feel differently as a result.

 3.       Maintain a healthy lifestyle

healthAlthough it sounds like common sense health is one of the first things that is neglected when under pressure. By eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and ensuring you get adequate sleep and rest, your body and it’s immune system is healthier and better able to cope with any pressures that you encounter.  Additionally, exercise releases natural endorphins within the body which enhance the state of mind, as well as giving you space to focus on something other than any pressures you may be facing.

Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine as coping mechanisms. Long term, these faulty coping mechanisms will just add to the problem. Alcohol is a depressant in itself, so although it may feel like a good way to temporarily self medicate, it will worsen your mood long-term, as well as producing hangover effects; both of which reduce your clarity of thinking. Caffeine & nicotine are stimulants and the body reacts to them with the body’s chemical stress response, which in turn increases the stress symptoms and can contribute to causing anxiety symptoms.

 4.       Use your time to its optimum

If you are under pressure it can be harder to prioritise with a clear mind.  Yet pausing to collect your thoughts and prioritise your day will help you feel far more in control and purposeful in your actions. This takes self discipline, because common habits of checking email, texts and so forth often take preference, but is rewarded by an increased sense of calm and focus.

To do lists

Having a long ‘to-do’ list can be a huge source of pressure, so use the following prioritisation strategy for your work to have maximum effect:

Categorise each task/job by difficulty (e.g. easy, medium, hard) and then by potential impact (e.g. large, medium or small). Select the jobs that are both easy and will have a large impact and prioritise these first.

iStock_000015900242XSmallIf some unpleasant jobs come up as the priority, do them first.

Avoiding them will only add to your pressures and reduce your mood; knowing that they are still looming and will have to be done at the last minute. By doing them first, the pressure is off, and you can reward yourself by knowing the impact they have had.

In most cases, you’ll achieve 80 percent of your goals by only doing 20 percent of the work, which is a huge stress reducer.

Additionally, track how long your tasks and jobs take. In most cases, the actual amount of time it takes to do something is more than you initially estimated. By clearly understanding how long an activity “really” takes, you can better control your schedule and commitments.

Anticipate problems

Try to anticipate when issues could arise and deal with them head on, before they spiral out of control. The easiest and quickest way to avoid big issues is by addressing them when they are small.

5.       Manage Expectations

Get to know your personal limits and boundaries alongside what constitutes a safe and healthy work-life balance to you. Unreasonable expectations of what you’re capable of accomplishing are a huge source of pressure regardless of whether those expectations come from yourself, from your boss, family and friends or clients. Couple this with today’s business environments and there can be pressure to work (or at least be available) 24 hour a day.

Review your role, regardless of whether it is your work role or role as mother, carer, partner etc. Consider what is expected of you (and equally – by whom) in comparison with you what you are actually taking on. What can be dropped? Where can you seek help from?

Expectations of yourself

What pressures are you applying to yourself? How much of the cause of the stress is self-perpetuated?

Spend a moment considering what are realistic expectations of yourself. Where are you drawing these expectations from? Whom are you comparing yourself to? Is that realistic?

thumbs+upConsider your expectations compared to what you would expect of others and what others actually expect of you. Are there any differences?

If the pressures and stressors come from your own unrealistic or exceptionally high expectations of yourself, it is time to consider the consequences of these expectations in the long run. How will you be in ten, five, two years time? Consider what would happen to yourself and your loved ones if you continue life with these same expectations of yourself. Re-assess how you wish to live your life and how you can protect your health, in order to remain well and live it fully and happily. Change your expectations accordingly – right now.

Others expectations of you

What is realistic for the amount of time and skills that you possess? Does this enable you to have ‘down-time’ and balance in your life? Are expectations and pressures fairly distributed? If others expectations are too high, take back control and tell them what is realistic. Look for other options, they will be there. Trying to cope unsuccessfully and not informing others is the equivalent of setting yourself up to fail.  Remember that you are in control of what you do and how you respond.

There are times of course that others expectations of you are too low. Again, take control of this to prevent low mood and feeling undervalued. You are more than capable and worth far more, aren’t you?

Your expectations of others

Communicate your expectations of others clearly and ensure they understand and are capable of reaching them. Expecting people to fulfil your unspoken expectations is bound to lead to unwanted pressures. How do you or they, know what is required and whether it will be met. Dealing with unmet expectations is a huge source of stress.

Also, review whether your expectations of others could be too low. Are you not sharing the load as you assume they will not be able to meet your standards of complete the task successfully? What does that say about your standards? Holding on to too much control is just as detrimental as not believing you have any. Both are immense causes of stress, overwhelm and illness. It’s simple; you cannot do it all and maintain your health. What are other options?

 Start putting these to the test and notice what differences they make to you life. Even just knowing what causes your stress will make a huge difference if you then start putting things in place to address it. This series continues with the  other five keys to successfully managing stress.

Should you require professional help, Fresh Insight Coaching specialises in NLP Coaching and Hypnotherapy for people who are not coping in their lives. Tam is an expert stress coach. Find more information about how we can help rid yourself of your pressures and lead a calm, happy life  here.

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