Modern life comes with a lot of stresses that our brains weren’t evolutionarily designed to manage. In our hunter-gatherer days, our brain was set up to respond to threats to our survival by firing up the fight, flight or freeze response. These threats included risk of starvation, exposure to the elements, or being hunted. Today, this same stress response can be triggered by things that do not directly or immediately pose a risk to our survival. For example, work or study deadlines, interviews of presentations, or the relationships we have with others.
When we are stressed, we can feel overwhelmed, under pressure and stretched for time. A common way of responding to this is to do more and more to try and get on top of things. Have you noticed skipping lunch or working longer hours when your job becomes more stressful? Or going to sleep later when you have more things to do, even if you feel exhausted?
Stress is a motivating emotion and so when we feel stressed, we often feel compelled to act on it and do more to try and resolve it. Stress triggers often require action. For example, an upcoming bill will need paying, or an imminent project deadline will need to be met. However, we feel stressed when we feel an imbalance between life’s demands and the resources available to us to manage them. We can only do so much. Stepping off the metaphorical treadmill and stopping can create space for us to recognise and prioritise these demands.
Slowing down or stopping may feel counterintuitive if your to-do list feels endless and you’re spinning multiple plates. But when we are stressed, our ability to problem-solve can become reduced. Taking time out can provide the opportunity to slow down your stress response, reduce some of the symptoms of stress, help you approach the situation differently, and plan and use your time more effectively.
Here are three things you might like to try:
1. Focus on Your Breathing.
Take a few minutes to take some deep breaths. By taking time out to pay attention to your breath, you give your mind something else to focus on and give it respite from your racing thoughts. Deep breathing also sends a signal to your brain to calm down which can help slow down the body’s stress response. This can support you to feel calmer and more able to think clearly.
2. Take Breaks.
Ringfence your lunchbreak and make sure you take it. Whether you’re working, studying or caring for others, it’s easy to think ‘there’s too much to do’ and so power through. We’re human beings, not machines. We need rest and we need food. It’s important to take breaks and make sure you are eating well to keep your energy up. Taking lunch at the same time every day can support with a sense of routine and means it’s one less thing you need plan into each day.
3. Write things down.
We can feel overwhelmed and chaotic when we have a lot on our mind and a lot to do. Journaling can be one way to help us to process our emotions and experiences. Making a list can also help get things out of our head and onto paper. Once it’s on paper, we can have more objectivity which can help us identify what to prioritise and take action accordingly.
Give these tips a go and see how you get on!