IT might sound dramatic, but stress really can be a killer. It’s not the stress itself, of course, but the impact it can have on your body. At the extreme end of the scale, stress has been linked with everything from heart disease to suicidal impulses, so we really do need to take it seriously.

And we need to take it seriously all the time, not just during key times such as International Stress Awareness Week, happening right now (November 2–6 2020).

Perhaps not surprisingly, this year’s campaign carries the headline: Managing Stress and Mental Health Issues in the Age of Covid-19.

According to the International Stress Management Association’s website — isma.org.uk — the pandemic has raised stress to new levels.

Quoting stats for Great Britain, from the Office Of National Statistics, ISMA states: “Almost one in five adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 (9.7%) before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020). Feeling stressed or anxious was the most common way adults experiencing some form of depression felt their well-being was being affected, with 84.9% stating this.”

I’ve never been one to shy away from talking about my own past struggles with stress, depression or anxiety, so this feels like the perfect time for a reminder article. (In case you were wondering, this is it!)

Good stress ‘v’ bad stress

Before someone starts talking about the benefits of ‘good stress’ (because, let’s face it, there’s always at least one clever dick in the room!), I’m not talking about the kind of positive pressure that helps us to hit deadlines, see projects through to completion or even hit those personal bests in the gym.

Nope.

The kind of stress we’re talking about here is the creeping, looming, tarry, shadowy beast that stalks us, that digs its foreboding fingers into our shoulders and twists until our body tenses up and we feel as though we’re carrying all the woes of the world.

The kind of stress I’m talking about is not one to turn into an accountability buddy, but one we need to shake off before we feel crushed under its weight.

The kind of stress I’m talking about is not one to turn into an accountability buddy, but one we need to shake off before we feel crushed under its weight.

I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. I’ve been up close and personal with it. It is just about as far removed from pleasant as you can get.

It’s the kind that pushes us into fight or flight mode, releases stress hormones, creates mood swings, contributes to that big, band of belly fat (yep — Google ‘Cortisol’ and research it yourself if you don’t believe me), increases our heart rate and pumps up our blood pressure.

What can we do to spot the signs and avoid the stress monster?

First, let’s swing back to ISMA and look at their definition of stress: “Stress is the body’s way of responding to excessive, or too many pressures and when this becomes overwhelming stress occurs, as the body experiences the fight or flight or stress response. This means that stress is not good for you and is an unhealthy state of body or mind or both.”

Got it?

Of course, we all have differing levels of resilience, so let’s just stop the comparison game before it starts. You absolutely could be going through horrible stress, even if your situation doesn’t seem half as horrid as everything Bob down the road has been going through.

Guess what else? Bob might be thinking exactly the same about you — Bob might be thinking his problems are nothing compared to yours.

We all have different triggers, different levels of sensitivity to different situations. All kinds of factors going on here, not least our locus of control, our mindset, our life experiences so far, etc, etc, but that’s another article for another day.

What are the signs, then? Not surprisingly, there are many, and we might display them in many combinations.

ISMA has some amazing free resources to help, including this chart explaining some of the symptoms. Remember, though, you don’t need to tick all those boxes to be experiencing stress!

Looking at that list, if I think back to the bad old days, there aren’t many I couldn’t check. These days, with the coping mechanisms and tools I carry, the list is much smaller, but I can still fall prey to some of these signs if my hormones are raging, I’ve missed out on sleep, I’m juggling too many balls, dealing with an unusually challenging situation or, frankly, the wind is blowing in the wrong direction!

The usual telltales for me? Depression, lack of concentration, insomnia, extreme sensitivity, paranoia and mood swings. And if it’s a short, sharp, bolt of stress from the blue? Well, let’s just say my stomach lets me know pretty swiftly!

What are all these tools I keep talking about?

It’s true, my coping mechanisms and resilience levels are now far, far better than they used to be. Some of that is due to the medicine path teachings I carry (that’s the sort of stuff we cover on The Big One — oral tradition stuff you won’t find me writing down anywhere), and some is a mix of NLP, coaching techniques and good old common sense.

Without going into the obvious points, such as eating good food, drinking enough water, and considering Vitamin D supplements, here are some of the stress-beating actions that work for me:

1) Exercise

I know, it might sound obvious, and everyone harps on about it, but I’m not necessarily talking about a daily walk, or regular trips to the gym, if that doesn’t float your boat.

Find a routine that works for you and find some pieces of home exercise equipment you could get to grips with.

For instance, I highly, highly recommend getting yourself a slam ball and keeping it within reach — raise that sucker high above your head and slam it down between your feet until you feel some relief. Interestingly, the movement this creates is remarkably similar to an old energy release technique I learned on the medicine path… no wonder it works!

I also keep a few dumbbells, of various weights, scattered around the house; if I feel stress, or panic, building, I pick ’em up and start doing reps until I feel better. You don’t need a giant multi-gym, or even a track suit, if you don’t want to go that far. Keep it small and simple!

2) Gratitude

I do my appreciators exercise every morning — five different things I appreciate each day. Say ’em out loud, journal ’em, whatever works for you. Just do it. Every day. Before you even get out of bed.

Do this regularly and you will literally be re-shaping your mindset, positively creating new neural pathways to help you become more optimistic, thus helping you to combat stress and see the goodness in life.

Struggle to come up with five? Go for 10 instead!

3) Set your mood

Every night, just before I go to sleep, I set my mood for the day ahead. I use a little mantra to say how grateful I am for the hours of sleep my body is about to receive, acknowledging that it’ll be the perfect amount of time for my mind, body and spirit to reset, so I’ll wake up feeling refreshed, joyful and ready for an awesome day.

This works on the basis that the last thought before you go to sleep will be the first one your brain acknowledges when you wake up. That aside, you’re creating more good habits to support that attitude of gratitude.

4) Time block

If I didn’t use time blocking, I’d be constantly firefighting — and stressed!

Every morning, I set out time for exercise, meditation/mindfulness/connection, plus time for my social media and online networking, then I start with my coaching clients from mid-morning. After that, it’s time to spend with my family, and there’s an extra bit of time set aside for reading/learning/personal development each evening too. Tuesdays are kept clear for writing, admin and Awesome Sauce. Where possible, I keep the last week of every month clear to reset, come back to centre, do whatever is needed to keep myself feeling positive, topped up, aligned, energised and happy.

Time blocking allows me to properly manage my days. Most of you will know I’m absolutely anti-scheduling when it comes to social media (it’s about genuinely networking, not broadcasting your messages to the masses), so building in time for this allows it to be fulfilling and enjoyable, leading to all kinds of business opportunities, as well as new clients and building brand awareness. In this way, I can do the majority of my online networking in the morning, and check back in during those natural breaks between tasks. Easy, stress-free business building.

5) Play time

This is so important, and so often neglected. I don’t care if it’s getting creative with paints or crafting activities, throwing ball for the dog, playing Monopoly, Scrabble or cards. Any hobby activity you genuinely enjoy that allows your inner ‘star child’ to flourish — that feeling of joy and contentment bubbling up inside. Make time for it. Don’t try to be a grown up 24/7. Let your big kid out every now and again!

6) Meditation

Yep — I do it daily. I even run a meditation session, via Zoom, once a month, for anyone who’d like to join in (drop me a line if you’d like details). I don’t chant, sit cross legged or play with Thai bells. It’s about being absolutely in the moment. Sometimes I zone out by playing with my Rav Vast or hang drum. Sometimes I just follow my breathing. Sometimes I journey. The format doesn’t matter so much as doing it daily. It’s not about getting to ‘nothing’ or a state of bliss — it’s about learning to turn off that monkey chatter and control our thoughts.

7) Turn off the news and stop scrolling Facebook!

This is a biggie. Please stop falling into the drama trap society sets for us. Headlines are always going to be geared towards shock, horror, negative punches in the feels, and Facebook’s feed is always going to be full of drama addicts looking for the next ruck.

If you need to know something, there are far cleaner sources than the dedicated news outlets (yes, I include newspapers as well), and it’s entirely possible to enjoy social media, and reap the business benefits, without arguing about Brexit or feeling guilted out by some ‘feel sorry for me’ meme, or passive aggressive quote, posted by Great Aunt Ethel or that old schoolfriend you don’t socialise with for good reason. The ‘unfollow’ and ‘snooze’ buttons can be wonderful tools to clean the crap from your newsfeed without needing to unfriend anyone.

Remember… not your circus, not your monkeys AND it is perfectly possible to just scroll past someone who is wrong on the internet!

What else?

There are, of course, all kinds of other considerations to help you combat stress — particularly if you’re working from home.

You might want to create a dedicated workspace — you could even create some positive anchors in that space; some flowers, maybe some smudge or good old Nag Champa incense, a picture on the wall that gives you that feelgood vibe. For some, it helps to be able to walk away from that space at the end of each day — literally treat it like an office. Personally, I love being able to work wherever I happen to be, and I’m pretty good at creating positive mental anchors wherever I am, but that doesn’t work for everyone.

Sticking to dedicated work hours can be great for some people, too. Me? I prefer flexibility, but we each need to find what works for us.

Switching lightbulbs to daylight ones. Moving away from a traditional alarm clock to a sunrise one. Setting hours for mobile phone use. Not taking your phone to bed. Sitting at the table for dinner. For those of you running your own businesses, outsourcing the jobs you hate, or those that just aren’t your skillset.

There’s no end to the healthy lifestyle routines you can create to benefit your mind, body and spirit.

There really is no hard right or wrong in this… it’s all about knowing yourself well enough to spot the signs of stress and combat them or, better still, create the kind of life where stress rarely impacts you.

It might feel tough in the current climate, but I reckon it *is* possible.

I hope that helps — do let me know what you implement and how you get on.

Until next time,

#UnleashYourAwesome,

Taz

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Taz Thornton is the author of Awesome Sauce — a free, weekly positive life and business round-up, with good news stories, positivity tips and visibility hacks for your brand. In a few minutes each week, you get a dose of optimism and some awesome advice to get seen and stay happy.

Taz is a best-selling author, inspirational business speaker and multiple TEDx speaker, consultant on confidence, personal brand and visibility, and an award-winning coach (UK’s Best Female Coach 2018 — Best Business Woman Awards). She is also the creator of the #UnleashYourAwesome and #BrandMastery personal and business development programmes, as well as #UNLEASHED — an affordable confidence, content and cashflow building programme for coaches, healers and therapists, and #LIFEFORCE — an affordable online spiritual empowerment and coaching programme for people wanting to bring more optimism into their lives.

Taz has been featured on BBC, ITV, in HuffPost, Diva, The Daily Mail and countless other newspapers, magazines and podcasts. Taz is also a regular columnist for the America Out Loud talkshow network. In 2019, she was named as one of the most inspirational businesswomen in the UK and, in 2020, she was named as one of the world’s top 50 women in marketing to follow.

Find her on FacebookLinkedInTwitterInstaKo-Fi and TazThornton.com.