Stress is an inevitable reality; it can neither be completely eliminated, nor is it beneficial for it to be totally weeded out. The problem is, though, so many of us often feel perpetually overwhelmed with stress. In some cases, it’s endured for so long that it we don’t realise the adverse effects it has on our mental and emotional health.
Taking sabbaticals or vacations as quick-fixes aren’t always options, and even if they were, they remain largely unsustainable in the long term as effective solutions to stress. It’s not necessarily as easy as leaving work earlier or getting more sleep. While it may help, it may or may not address the issue of stress itself. To that end, here are three simple steps you can take to help yourself when you keep feeling overwhelmed with stress.
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Chances are, when you’ve been feeling stressed for so long, it tends to feel like a generalised affliction than a specific one. In other words, you’ve gotten so used to it that you no longer think about its exact origin. Instead, you accept and put up with it because you feel like you don’t have any other choice. At some point, though, you realise that enough is enough; it’s starting to eat into your well-being, your performance at work, and your relationships with your loved ones.
This is precisely why it’s critical to take some time to self-reflect and identify what the main cause of your stress is. More often than not, there’ll be more than one source of stress weighing you down, but not all of these sources are equal. Some have a much more detrimental effect on you than others.
Ask yourself, is the source of your stress external, such as a heavy workload or a high-pressure working environment? Having toxic colleagues and bosses, for example, can be really stressful, since we spend so much of our lives at work.
Or is it something internal; do you bring your own stress upon yourself? Low self-efficacy, for example, can become a huge source of anxiety and workplace stress when you’re constantly doubting your ability to perform well. More commonly, it could be that you’re having difficulty mentally separating work from life, and bringing your work stress home with you and vice-versa.
Realising what exactly it is that’s making you feel overwhelmingly stressed all the time is critical to helping yourself get better. Whatever course of action you choose to take, being systematic and targeted about finding and implementing solutions is much more helpful than taking more generalised approaches.
Once you’ve realised this, it can be easy to slip into self-pity, regret, or bitterness. Ruminating on your stresses and worries will only make you feel worse without changing anything in reality. Instead, adopt a growth mindset and think objectively and rationally about how you’re going to tackle the problem.
For instance, if the problem is your inability to leave work stress at work, look at how you can apply better mental boundaries between work and life.
Most people associate being highly productive with being “always-on” and always having something to work on. According to consultant and bestselling author David Allen, though, real productivity allows you to remain stress-free; it’s about not keeping anything on your mind.
To this end, it’s crucial to establish proper workflows and personal work systems that allow you to keep track of all of your ongoing projects. At one glance, you should be able to see everything you’re working on concurrently, and what your next few steps have to be. Doing this will help you keep productivity-related stress out of your mind; since you have a comprehensive and easily accessible system in place, you know that you’re staying on top of everything and are thus less stressed about having so much to do.
Sometimes, the solutions are much simpler than we make them out to be. Being in a hyperconnected world often makes us forget the importance of unplugging. Indeed, we tend to underestimate the importance of unplugging in allowing ourselves to recharge and achieve perk performance at work and in life. It’s what given rise to the “digital detox” and “digital sabbath” movements, particularly in Silicon Valley.
In the local context, the numbers speak for themselves. A recent survey by research firm Asia Insight found that even though 72% of Singaporeans wish they could spend more time with their loved ones, when they did take breaks from work, they felt guilty for not doing something more productive. Worse, 48% of Singaporeans were stressed out just by the thought of “doing nothing.”
The crux of the issue, it seems, is that we’ve equated relaxation with being unproductive. The reality, though, is that functioning on a full tank is much more effective than functioning on half a tank and taking mini-breaks just to keep yourself from going “flat”.