Stress is something we’ve all experienced at some point, but the triggers can be different for everyone. The pressures of exams, deadlines and Christmas on the horizon can build up at this busy time of year and feel a little overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to develop your own ‘stress management toolkit’ to enable you to take charge whenever life gets a little bit too hectic.
Tip 1: Bring it Back to the Breath
Taking a few deep breaths might sound too good to be true, but happily, it isn’t. The next time you’re feeling stressed out, try giving one of the following breathing techniques a try. There are many options out there, but I’ve found two particularly useful:
- Box breathing- you picture a square box in your mind, then move your breath around the box as you inhale for 4 seconds, hold, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold. I like to repeat this cycle 3-5 times.
- 4-7-8 breathing is a little bit easier to try. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. If neither of those are for you, then give this simple method a go – deepen your inhale, hold for a moment, and lengthen your exhale. Repeat, and feel your stress melt away.
Tip 2: The Magic of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally' (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). There are lots of great mindfulness and meditation apps to choose from such as Calm and Headspace, which are great for beginners, and all offer a free trial for at least a week. If apps aren’t your thing, then why not try adding some ‘mindful moments’ into your day? Sit down, savour and enjoy your morning coffee instead of gulping it in a rush. Put your phone out of sight and out of mind the next time you’re out for a walk or with a friend. Simply paying attention to your actions and surroundings to really be present in the moment IS mindfulness. See, you’re an expert already!
Tip 3: Work It Out – With a Friend!
The benefits of getting active don’t stop at your physical health – movement has an equally powerful and positive effect on your mental health too. Even the shortest burst of movement can completely change your perspective on a challenging situation. Why not try going for a walk or run, or to the gym or a yoga class to break up a busy day? Better yet, why not make it social, and bring a friend or family member? A problem shared is a problem halved, and often chatting (or venting!) about a stressful time can take a weight off your shoulders you didn’t even realise you were carrying.
Tip 4: Spot Your Self-Talk
Self-talk is, quite simply, how you talk to yourself. It’s that inner voice of your thoughts, that part of you that can be your best friend or worst enemy. When we’re experiencing a stressful time, our self-talk often runs headfirst into the negative end of the spectrum – thoughts such as ‘I can’t!’ and ‘What if I fail?’ It’s so important in these stressed out moments to remember that we can control our self-talk. We are always hardest on ourselves when stressed. Starting today, try this self-talk rule - if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, then don’t say it to yourself.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003) ‘Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present and future’,
Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice’, 10(2), pp. 144-156.
Article by Ciara Kelly (UCD Student- Masters of Public Health)