There is little doubt that mental and emotional health is a dominant 21st century issue. In times of change, it does take time to adjust the mind, body and soul.
For some, it can take a week, for others a month or a year or longer.
What’s important is awareness of how you are doing and how you are feeling. It’s important to understand that feelings of fear, anger, frustration and confusion are a natural part of the change process and don’t mean that you’re going crazy.
But when you are experiencing stress in your life, what do you do about it?
There are several effective tools and techniques for coping with and managing stress. You may already do other things that work well for you and that’s great. Continue to use what works and regard the following as possible additions.
1. Share Your Thoughts: Talk it out; don’t stuff the stuff in.
Find people you trust and respect. Talk to them about your problems. This frequently relieves stress and you may gain new perspectives.
Talk to others about their problems, too. Sometimes hearing what’s happening to others puts your issues in perspective. Men’s sheds and groups can be a help.
Seek professional assistance from your GP, a therapist or a counsellor. Some companies will let previous employees access their Employee Assistance Program for some months after they have left fulltime employment.
2. Think: Solution-finding and problem-solving is an antidote to stress
Eliminate distorted or irrational thinking. Take note of thoughts such as: “Other people don’t care about me” or “I’m over the hill”. If you catch yourself with these thoughts, ask yourself, “is this thought (or thinking) useful at this time?”. If the answer is no, think of something more useful, something that makes you smile.
Observe recurring sources of stress to determine how you can break the cycle. Many of us fill our lives with additional sources of stress, creating expectations either of others or ourselves that are unrealistic. In many cases, by deciding which tasks or responsibilities are more important, we can gain more control.
Analyse the situations and people that stress you, and avoid them. The effort you put into this analysis goes a long way towards reducing stress. You can’t always avoid people and situations but analyse the biggest stress creators and think about ways to minimise them. There may be ways you can collaborate with others to reduce your stress and theirs.
3. Sweat: Exercise for immediate results.
Get regular exercise. This releases pent-up anxiety and strengthens the body, enabling you to better withstand stress. Whatever you’re doing now, do more.
Plan enjoyable physical activities. These increase positive stress and decrease negative stress. Walk more. Both planned walks and impromptu walks are beneficial, for example, parking in the back of the parking lot and walking further to the store.
4. Organise: Plan and manage your day
As it says on one of my many notebooks: WRITE SH– DOWN! When stressed, it is common to lose track of the details, such as appointments and other commitments. Get a planner system that works for you and use it.
Adopt a less stressful schedule. It is often possible to travel, do your banking and shopping, and pursue leisure and other activities during the less frenetic, off-peak hours.
Get enough sleep. A rested mind and body can better handle stress.
Follow a well-balanced, nutritious diet. This strengthens the body, enabling you to better handle stress. A poor or unbalanced diet stresses the body.
5. Take control: Make positive choices
Choose to stop striving for perfection. People who have unrealistic expectations for their own performance subject themselves to tremendous pressure. Focus less on achieving perfect results and more on the enjoyment of whatever you choose to pursue.
Choose to act happy and laugh a lot. Exhibiting cheerful behaviour and laughter, even when you don’t feel cheerful, often fools the rest of the body’s systems into reducing stress reactions.
Choose to soothe and take a breath. Progressive relaxation, massage, meditation, yoga and deep breathing are just a few of the techniques available that relax the mind and body.
Choose positive self-talk. The voices in our own heads that judge and criticise what we do create negative self-talk. Catch yourself and replace those comments with affirmations.
6. Take action: Devise a stress management action plan
Having an action plan to use when you feel overwhelmed is a powerful way to combat fear, frustration, confusion and stress. This maps what you are going to do before getting into situations where you know you won’t be able to think clearly.
Record actions or events that you know are stressors for you and devise a coping strategy to adhere to once you’re in the midst of things.
Steve Mendl is the author of Beyond the Money: A Practical Guide for Successful Men Leaving Full-time Work.