Feeling overwhelmed: 9 tips for dealing with stress
Dealing with stress and overwhelm can affect your life in more ways than, well… feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Stress can make it hard for you to sleep at night, make it difficult to perform your best at work, disrupt your hormones, cause a long list of other side effects and affect those around you.
There are many things you can do to reduce stress and overwhelm. Here is what you need to know:
Signs and symptoms of stress
There are many possible signs and symptoms that can indicate you are under too much stress. Some of these include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Difficulty sleeping at night
- Racing thoughts
- Worrying constantly
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Waking up with a racing heart
- Excess sweating
- Poor memory and concentration
- Changes in appetite (either having a strong desire to eat or a loss of appetite)
- Increased impulsivity and poor decision making
- Feeling drained, unmotivated and unfocused
- Skin problem flare-ups like acne and psoriasis
- An impaired immune system
- Lower sex drive
- Digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that cause stomach pain, diarrhoea, bloating and constipation
9 ways to cope with stress
What can you do to deal with stress? If you are looking for an easy fix – a magic button to push that will get rid of your stress, you’ll be disappointed. Dealing with stress usually requires that you take a holistic approach and incorporate a combination of different strategies.
Here are 9 tips for dealing with stress:
1. Identify the causes
If you are going to reduce your stress, you need to identify all of the things that trigger it. This could be anything from an email from your boss or sitting in traffic to an untidy home. Writing down your stress triggers will help you identify the causes. You can also write down how you would ideally like to respond to the stress the next time you identify this trigger. This is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy.
When you are stressed, move your body. Why? Because that is what you are supposed to do when in the fight-or-flight mode. When you are in a dangerous situation, you secrete adrenaline and cortisol in response to give you the energy you need to fight… or flee.
While a lot of the things that trigger stress in our modern-day lives (think traffic, work emails and social media) don’t require you to run or fight for your life, they still trigger the fight-or-flight response.
Exercising regularly can help you cope with stress. A combination of aerobic and resistance training (strength training in the US), as well as stretching or yoga, is optimal for stress management.
3. Talk to a friend
Keeping the things that are making you stressed bottled up will only make things worse. You do not have to go through it alone. Talk to a family member or friend about what is making you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Doing so can make it feel like a big weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
4. Cognitive behavioural therapy
Try cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It is a long-term approach, but an effective one for dealing with stress. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of treatment that helps people to identify and change behaviours and thought patterns.
It is very useful for people who deal with a lot of stress, and those who have anxiety, addictions and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
5. Try to get a good night’s sleep
A good night’s sleep and improving your sleep quality might be all you need to feel less stressed and overwhelmed the next day. Sleep deprivation will lead to a rise in cortisol levels and feelings of stress the next day. After a few nights of getting the 7–9 hours of sleep you need, you might feel like a new person (and a much calmer one).
6. Prioritise your workload
Feeling like you have too much on your plate and trying to remember everything you need to do today, tomorrow and even weeks down the line, can add to your stress. Simply by making a list of your tasks, you can already reduce your feelings of overwhelm.
Expert tip: limit your to-do list to three or five tasks. Focus on the most important tasks that are essential in your work.
7. Reduce caffeine consumption
If you are showing more of the signs and symptoms of being stressed than usual, but you’re not sure why, it could be too much caffeine. You might think the problem originates in your brain, but it could be due to what’s in your coffee mug or energy drink.
Try to cut down your caffeine intake to see if you feel less stressed or overwhelmed. Aim to have no more than three cups a day, and only have caffeine early in the day, so your body has time to get rid of the extra caffeine before it has to start preparing for bed.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, you might need to cut out caffeine completely.
Expert tip: Before you say goodbye to your java forever, try taking 200 mg of L-theanine with your cup of coffee. L-theanine can counteract the rise in blood pressure you get from coffee and feelings of jitteriness. If you’re a fan of green tea, you can rejoice. Green tea does contain caffeine, but it also contains L-theanine, which means that it will not make you feel as jittery as coffee.
8. Try adaptogens
Adaptogen might be a funny word, but the benefits on your stress-reduction are nothing to laugh at. Adaptogens are herbal medicines that can help your body adapt to stress in different ways. Popular adaptogens are Ashwagandha, Holy Basil (also known as Tulsi), Cordyceps, American Ginseng, Asian Ginseng and Rhodiola.
You might need to try a few adaptogens to find what works well for you, but it can be an effective way to promote overall relaxation.
9. Practise mindfulness and meditate (in your own way)
Being mindful in the moment is one of the best ways not to feel overwhelmed. Why? Because you are not thinking about what you need to do an hour from now, a day from now or even a week or month from now. Another way to describe mindfulness is ‘focused awareness.’
Incorporating a meditation and mindfulness practice in your life will help you reduce stress. You can try guided meditations or meditating with a mantra. If sitting still is not for you, embrace movement meditation, like walking or cycling in nature, hitting golf balls at the driving range, and even cooking – the key is to focus on your breathing while you do so.
It’s okay to ask for help when dealing with stress
Ask for help when you need it. If you have 20 things on your plate and not enough time to do it all, raise a flag. Your life can be so much better if you allow others to help you.
If the signs and symptoms of your stress are severe, seek professional advice. Your doctor will be able to give you further help and guidance.
Stress does not have to control your life. With the right strategies, you can get the peace you deserve.