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7 ways to stop making life so stressful

7 ways to stop making life so stressful

Think of a stressful event and chances are moving house, divorce or death spring to mind.

Yet according to TV psychologist Honey Langcaster-James, constant small stressors that build up every day can have a big effect on our emotional and mental health if left unchecked.

“Individually, each of these little niggles may not seem like much,” she says. “But our busy lives mean we are now bombarded with a huge number of them every day which can overwhelm our system.”

According to recent research from Compeed, Britons spend 36 minutes – up to two years of their lives – letting things get on their nerves.

Of 1,001 people quizzed by the blister brand, 84% admitted that something little riles them at some point each day, while 81% spend up to two hours every day letting minor things bother them.

Bad manners topped the list of Britain’s biggest bugbears, followed by anti-social behaviour on public transport, litter louts, and glory grabbers – people who steal promotion-winning ideas in the office.

Technology – especially phone snubbing, also known as ‘phubbing’, irritated 78% of respondents.

“People can end up suffering from what I call the ‘Buckeroo’ effect where they gradually get overwhelmed by lots of little stressors so that eventually it only takes one small thing to set them off,” adds Honey.

Below the social and behavioural psychologist shares 7 tips for calmer living.

7 ways to stop making life so stressful

BEING A PERFECTIONIST

It’s natural for us to want to do our best but sometimes this leads to perfectionist tendencies, where only a perfect outcome is judged to be good enough. There’s a well-known saying ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’ and it’s so true.
TIP: Sometimes it’s helpful to aim for ‘good enough’ because, in most situations, it generally is.

DROWNING IN OPINION

We live in a very noisy and sometimes overstimulating world. Everyone has opinions, and we’re constantly bombarded with advice on social media, or from well-meaning friends. The problem is that we can forget to just check in with ourselves and trust our own instincts.
We get de-sensitised to the signals from our own minds and bodies.

TIP: Try and listen to what your body and mind are telling you first and foremost.

OVERTHINKING THE LITTLE THINGS

When people bump into us in life, either literally or figuratively, we tend to assume they’ve done it in order to deliberately annoy us, or because they’ve been rude or malicious in some way. The truth is, most of the time people are just too busy thinking about their own problems and lives.
TIP: We accidentally get in each others’ way sometimes, so try not to assume the worst in others.

MULTI-TASKING

Because everyone feels under such time pressure, there can be a tendency to want to multi-task, but then we end up spinning way too many plates and don’t actually cope with any one thing very effectively.
TIP: It’s best to deal with one thing at a time, give it your full attention, and tick it off before then moving on.

BEING TOO BUSY

Life is so busy now and on a daily basis, we’re confronted with many little irritations. Lots of little things pile up on top of one another until eventually, we just kick off in response to the slightest thing. Sometimes we become aware of little health-related niggles or stresses and strains but ignore them because we’re too busy. A blister, for example, is very painful and can stop you in your tracks but if you pop a plaster on it you stop it developing into a much bigger issue.
TIP: We need to remember to deal with things as we go along and not let them build up to unbearable levels.

WASTING ENERGY ON THE WRONG PEOPLE

With so many people in our lives to deal with and competing demands upon us, we can end up channelling our effort and energy into the wrong places and sometimes on the wrong people. Trying to please a toxic boss, for example, can make you ill, wasting your time on friends who don’t really have your back can leave you drained while some people are ‘energy vampires’ who just leave you feeling depleted.
TIP: Don’t be afraid to occasionally ‘say no’. Invest your time and energy into relationships that are profitable for you, too.

BEING HARD ON OURSELVES

From a young age, we’re taught to be the best we can be and achieve more and more, but this can lead us to drive ourselves too hard. What we forget is that it is just as important to learn to forgive ourselves and that we all find things tough going sometimes. None of us needs an inner critic, general society will point out our flaws more than readily enough for anyone.
TIP: Learn the art of being compassionate towards yourself, and be your own best friend. Take care of yourself learn to let everything else go because most likely, the rest doesn’t matter anyway.

Need to reduce your stress levels? You might like to read the following:

5 ways to press pause (even if you think you’re too busy) 

6 simple ways to worry less

Review: The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

6 ways to make your first ski holiday less stressful 

Wellness

REVIEW: The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

The Stress Solution

When I bought Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life last year, I never envisaged I’d be interviewing him six months later but that’s exactly what happened when I wrote an article for The Sun back in January on ways to embrace doing nothing.

The idea for the piece was sparked by my inability to switch off, which was reconfirmed just a tad as I devoured the chapter on how to relax. Soaking up every single word, it became glaringly obvious that I was still spinning far too many plates and placing enormous pressure on myself alongside trying to manage a nasty chronic illness, which has left doctors bewildered for more than three years (I have suspected MCAS).

Unsurprisingly, if you’re a ‘doer’ by nature it’s very easy to take on too much and feel as though you’re being pulled in all directions – certainly, being kept up at night with anxiety is something I’m familiar although I think the weird chemical reactions going on in my body may have something to do with this too.

So when I caught up with Dr Chatterjee, star of BBC One Series Doctor in the House, I was over the moon to discover that he’d just published a new tome devoted entirely to stress.

The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chatterjee

The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships and Purposefollows the same format as The 4 Pillar Plan and is divided into four sections: purpose, relationships, body and mind.

Dr Chatterjee advises readers to pick one or two of the easier self-help interventions from each segment, before building up. “It’s not about perfection in one particular pillar – you are aiming for balance across all four,” he writes.

As Dr C points out, stress can have devastating long-term consequences for health with too much of it contributing to the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s and playing a part in insomnia, burn-out and depression.

“We are living in the middle of a health epidemic,” he says. “In fact, the World Health Organisation calls stress ‘the health epidemic of the twenty-first century’”.

I was sent the book as part of the day job but quickly realised its content would help many of my readers. This is how I got on…

REVIEW: THE STRESS SOLUTION

Dr Chatterjee writes in an easy-to-understand, engaging style – no complex medical jargon here – and, refreshingly, his books are peppered with personal and patient anecdotes which makes the contents entirely relatable. Unsurprisingly, I flew through this book. Every page is brimming with words of wisdom.

The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Credit: Susan Bell

THE POWER TO GENERATE STRESS

Dr Chatterjee introduces us to his ‘Cupboard of No Return’. It’s essentially a kitchen wall mounted cupboard crammed with the ‘shrapnel’ of everyday life, from a golf ball and stacks of unopened envelopes to a broken screwdriver and a child’s glove. “The chaos in the cupboard is the cumulative result of dozens of isolated stressful moments in the daily life of me and my young family – from when my daughter lost her glove, to when a picture fell down and I was too busy to put the hammer back in the shed,” he reveals.

Dr Chatterjee describes the cupboard as a problem not only because it’s the result of stress but also because it has the power to generate moments of anxiety and frustration for instance, if his family want to play a board game and they can’t find the pieces or he’s rushing to get out the house and his daughter only has one glove. He later explains that the cupboard has become a headache because he’s left it so long it’s now overwhelming. “The only way I’m going to deal with it is by not viewing it as one huge job to tackle but realising I can break it down into a series of tiny actions…The stress in your life is no different to this.”

THE POWER OF YOUR EMOTIONAL BRAIN

Dr C explains that when we’re stressed our logical brain steps aside and the emotional brain takes centre stage, which is the correct response when we’re in dangerous territory. The problem is the more frequently you feel stressed, the more powerful your emotional brain will become, while your rational brain will be deskilled.

“If your emotional brain has grown too powerful, you’ll start to sense danger even when there’s no danger present. The smell of a summer barbecue is misinterpreted as a house fire. A rushed email from your boss is interpreted as a prelude to sacking. An innocent glance from a friend seems sarcastic and hostile, full of hidden meaning.”

HOW TO REFRAME YOUR LIFE

Dr Chatterjee urges us to examine how we choose to interpret a stressful event and, instead of being negative or operating from a ‘victim mentality’ to reframe our outlook to a positive one, which is important if we’re in the middle of a micro stress dose swarm and our emotional brain is dominant.

“Without a proper, practised strategy, you’re likely to spiral quickly into a whirlpool of irrational negativity. If you don’t actively try to reframe the experience, you’ll often find that your stress levels increase during the day as your emotional brain continues ruminating on what’s happened to you and keeps finding ‘evidence’ that your life is a mess.”

Ruminating, he adds, is when we tend to dwell on situations that we find distressing or upsetting, or when we replay a problem over and over again in our mind. “You will be training your emotional brain to become more powerful, which in turn makes it more likely that you will spend time ruminating in the future, and so more likely that you will become anxious.”

Dr Chatterjee has three tips for effective reframing which are:

  • Writing down the experience to adopt a more rational and distant viewpoint
  • Focussing on the cause so, if someone cuts you up while driving, think about why they might have done it instead of the effect on you. For instance, their mother might be unwell or they may have had a row with their partner
  • Replaying the event as though you’re an observer or, say, a sports commentator. This forces you to take a broader, less me-focused view and helps prevent you from catastrophising.

VERDICT: The Stress Solution
Up until my health fell apart I’d always been a glass half full kind of character but now, especially when I’m mid-flare – which has been a weekly three-day occurrence of late – I sometimes struggle to think positively and I’d be lying if I said I never worry about how the future will unfold, despite trying to be mindful. However, since reading this book I’ve started to look differently at my health and break things down into smaller, manageable chunks, focussing on what I can control instead of what I can’t.

We’re only human. We all have stress. And sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish when it’s building up to unhealthy levels. We keep going and going and then something breaks. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, need to put steps in place to manage stress, or are simply wondering how to find balance in life, The Stress Solution is your bible. My only wish is that it had been written five years ago as I believe my go-go-go lifestyle was, ultimately, the undoing of my physical body!

The Stress Solution (Penguin Life, £16.99) is out now. Dr Rangan Chatterjee is host of the iTunes #1 podcast ‘Feel Better Live More’. 

If you enjoyed this post you might like the following:

Review: The CBT Journal (how to avoid feeling stuck)

Always busy? 5 important signs you need to slow down

The Surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 

Can mindfulness save your relationship? 

 

Wellness