I spend a lot of my working life helping people who have suffered from burnout or supporting people on the brink to claw their way back. The good news is that there are loads of ways you can do this. I've recently spent a lot of time researching the best, evidence based, techniques available to us and have compiled them in this post to help you, whether you are on the brink or can see it on the horizon.
1. Breathing - Free, easy and endlessly portable our breath is one of the biggest weapons in our armoury against stress. Simply changing the way we breathe has a discernible impact on our nervous system, calming our fight and flight response to help us feel composed and in control once more. Anytime you feel the stress rising simply breathe deeply and slowly through your nose for a couple of minutes. I also recommend taking it a step further and using the Box Breathing technique. 4 seconds inhale, 4 seconds hold, 4 seconds exhale, 4 seconds hold. Rep for 10 cycles and you'll be in a very different place from where you started.
2. Meditate - This is a technique that has thankfully been lifted out of the world of incense and crystals and into the mainstream. Mindfulness meditation in particular now enjoys cult status and with good reason, it has a strong evidence base for helping with a range of mental health issues and is a very quick and simple technique to pick up. If you've never tried it simply download the Headspace app and do their free 10 day program.
3. Connect - Human beings are social creatures yet when the heat is on we have a strange tendancy to pull back and isolate ourselves in a vain attempt to reduce our inputs. Recognise when this is happening and take steps to protect social time by scheduling it in like you would a meeting. Spending time with other humans that you like is a wonderful stress reliever.
4. Exercise - Getting moving is one of the most powerful pain suppressants we have available to us and this applies for emotional as well as physical pain. Exercise triggers endorphins - think endogonous morphine. Even though it is the last thing you feel like doing when you are tired and stressed you will rapidly feel the benefit. It doesn't have to be fancy just get out for a walk, do an online yoga video or lift some weights. If you can then fit this into a regular routine you score extra points as that pain suppressant, stress releiving effect will start to compound.
5. Be grateful - It is impossible to feel stressed and grateful at the same time. Gratitude lives at the opposite end of the spectrum to all the negative emotions so by practicing it we pull ourself out of the mire and back to the light. Get started by writing down '3 good things' every morning. These could be big such as opportunities you had as a child or little such as birdsong outside. All that matters is that you are genuine. If we have a roof over our head and food on the table we are in the top few percent in the world. We have a lot to be thankful for so connect with it.
6. Give - If you can't help yourself, help someone else. Giving does magical things to our mind and helps us reduce stress and feel more positive. It doesn't have to be anything grand, just offer to buy someone a coffee, let someone in front of you in a queue or have a friendly chat with the cashier at the supermarket. Every little helps.
7. Sleep - 7-9 hours of decent sleep a night is your guide. If you are less than this then you are making yourself more susceptible to stress. This quickly becomes a vicous circle. Simply prioritise sleep, create routines associated with bed and wake times, relax of an evening, cut out screens and use apps like Pzizz to induce deep sleep. I've written about this in depth on the site in the past so check that out if this is a challenge for you.
8. Talk - Whether it be with a trusted friend or a trained counsellor there is real value in talking through any challenges you are experiencing. Talking therapies aren't just there for those with serious mental health issues. We all need help from time to time so don't be afriad to reach out and get it.
None of these interventions are particularly hard or scary yet they are all proven to reduce stress and help us feel better about things. So next time you feel the pressure rising don't succumb to it, do something about it. Dig into this toolbox and take action. Ultimately stress is a choice, and not a very good one.