Door 43 wellbeing blog: How to keep stress at bay during lockdown

Door 43 wellbeing blog: How to keep stress at bay during lockdown

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In these blogs our Door 43 team provide wise words and support to help young people manage emotional health and wellbeing during this difficult time. Be sure to look out for these blogs on the Sheffield Futures website and our TwitterFacebook and Instagram channels. 

This week Connor talks about stress and anxiety and reflects on his own experiences to offer coping strategies during this time in lockdown. 

Hi everyone its Connor here and I am one of the social prescribers working as part of Door43. This week I have been reflecting on the current situation with lockdown and the past couple of years for myself, and it has got me thinking about managing stress, so I wanted to share with you all some of my own experience, from the bad times and the good, with the hope it might help you understand your own personal experience with stress better, which maybe particularly useful during this challenging time!

So what is stress?

It’s not easy to pin down exactly what stress means, but we all know how it feels, so I would say it is the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressure being put on you. Stress does not discriminate; although we may experience it differently, we all experience it, like blood pressure it goes up and down, we all have stress.

So, if it’s normal, when does it become a problem? As sometimes stress can be a good thing, for example it can motivate us to take new challenges, face fears and react to threatening situations. I would say it becomes a problem when you can’t get rid of it, if you get it for no reason and when it becomes the centre of your life and you start making decisions based on your stress levels, for example cancelling plans as you want to “see how you feel on the day”, something I noticed in myself. I would also not allow myself to relax in the evening or on a Sunday, bracing myself for the stress of the next day!

So, if we can agree it is a normal experience, which can be different for everyone and sometimes get the better of us, how do we get a handle on it? Well next I will explore some things I have found helpful to know about my own stress which may be useful to think about for yourself, to hopefully equip you with some knowledge to tackle it when it comes in a healthier way.

Learn to starve stress:

There are lots of things that keep stress going, a bit like fuel on a fire, so the sooner you can start to pinpoint what these are for you, the sooner you can start to figure out what you can and can’t change and then gradually reduce these and starve stress of the fuel it needs to keep going.

As I said this ‘stress fuel’ can be different for everyone, and some might be more obvious than others, for myself:

External things such as assignments being due, family troubles or financial worries were things I knew made me feel stress, some of which I couldn’t change straight away but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t change how I was responding to them such as trying not to over-worry about the things I can’t change right now.

When I am really stressed, relying on caffeine to keep me going and alcohol to help me unwind was something I noticed, which are both known to make us more prone to low mood and anxiety and for myself were easier changes to start with.

Being self-critical and avoiding facing my problems are big fuels for my stress and changing the way I think and react to situations has been a massive challenge which I am still facing today. Anyone experiencing this should remember these are really common challenges we all face and simply getting better at noticing it is the first stage to tackling it. Think of it like going the gym, you wouldn’t go once and get the result you want, changing the way we think and behave takes time, patience and practice!

Some of this ‘stress fuel’ might be trickier to spot, like for me it took me a long time to realise that I needed to make some bigger changes such as my relationship with my job, as while others could see it plain as day, it had become so important in my life I rarely allowed myself to stop thinking about it, which got in the way of the things that were crucial to my wellbeing such as my relationships, health and interests.

What I would say to this is, sometimes we need to take a break from things to step back and really see what is important, and sometimes this means being brave and really listening to what the people close to us think, and trusting in what they say.

Know your early warning signs:

Another key part of learning to manage my own stress was getting familiar with my early warning signs, what I mean by this is your own personal signs that your stress meter is starting to rise to a zone where something needs to be done!

These can usually be broken down into our thoughts, physical symptoms, emotions and behaviours. Some of my main early warning signs of stress building up are:

  • My thoughts can become overly self-critical, worrying and ruminating on things, doubting myself and the decisions I have made.
  • Physically I notice my heart rate increase and my breathing gets shallower, I also sometimes feel hot and begin to sweat, I also struggle to sleep and feel tired a lot of the time.
  • Emotionally I tend to feel low, frustrated and irritable.
  • And in the way I act I tend to start to withdraw, avoiding not just stressful situations but also a lot of the things that might actually help like spending time with others and doing something active or different, instead sometimes relying on quick fixes like junk food and alcohol (Which like most things isn’t good to rely on or go to consistently!)

So as I have become more familiar with these signs, I am getting better at noticing them early and then starting to starve the stress of any fuel keeping it going, and put into place some tools to help me relax which I shall talk about in a moment!

A really good way to think about stress is something called the ‘Stress Bucket’. Imagine that you have a bucket that all your stress goes into. It may always have some stress in it and that’s normal, if you are feeling resilient your bucket may have room for plenty of stress before you start to struggle but if you are feeling quite vulnerable, your stress bucket may be very small and fill up very quickly.

 

 

As you start to notice your early warning signs, it probably means your bucket is filling up more and more, which is when we need to open a tap and release the stress. Sometimes we do things that seem helpful at first but actually add the stress back to the bucket, this is the stress fuel we talked about earlier, so we need to make a personal list of positive coping tools to manage stress and start emptying the bucket!

Create your own list of stress busting tools:

So this is something that has been incredibly helpful for me and even though I have some go to tools, the great thing is I am always discovering new ways to relax and de-stress, some working better than others, but the more, the better!

  • For me going for a run outside a few times a week if I can manage is vital, I find it gives me time to think, burn off any anxious energy and is a well-documented activity to reduce anxiety and stress levels. Also being outside in nature with some fresh air really helps me relax and get a break from being inside all the time or sat in front of a screen.
  • Doing regular mindfulness exercises helps me notice how I am feeling and learn to react differently. I like to use apps for this such as Headspace usually before bed or first thing in the morning, but there are loads of ways you can give this a go if you look online.
  • Keeping a thought diary and using some exercises to challenge my negative thoughts has been such a vital tool in getting a hold of my stress, this is something that can take practice and sometimes it can be good to have someone to talk to about this.
  • Having some ‘me time’. Whether this is taking a long shower with some music, or getting lost in a video game for hours, these are the things I enjoy that give me a break from everything else. I recommend protecting some time each week for activities like this.
  • Spending time with others – Although I might not feel like it when stressed, I actually feel a lot better when I catch up with friends, even if that has to be online at the moment, often I also get chance to vent a little, relax and they help me see my difficulties in a different way.

So there you have it. I could write for days about stress and what helps, but I hope some of my own personal experience has helped you think about managing your own challenges!

Remember. We all experience this but everyone is different, so you need to work on your own plan to tackle it which can take some time, but the great thing about that is there is so much information out there you can choose from to try, and if you are stuck you can always talk to those close to you or people such as the Door43 staff for advice!

So I finish this blog with a quote from an amazing author, born in Sheffield who has wrote some fantastic books on his own experience dealing with stress, and living with depression and anxiety:

“Just when you feel you have no time to relax, know that this is the moment you most need to make time to relax.”

– Matt Haig

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