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With compounding levels of uncertainty and stress, self-mastery of stress management is now at the forefront of conversation, and how we cope today places us in either a survival or thriving mode. Adopting new stress tools shouldn’t be complicated, expensive or another task for the ‘to-do list’- instead read on as we share some everyday adjustments that will take the edge off this new normal that we are all facing.

Living in uncertain times and how to cope with them

Like goldfish in a fish tank, we are confined to our limited spaces, staring out into the world longingly, without any certainty of when normality will resume. Change can be a hair-raising experience, especially when unwillingly imposed, and right now we are being forced to adapt in order to stay afloat. It’s a slippery road ahead, but reinvention and self-mastery of new habits can streamline the process and avoid that ‘fish out of water’ feeling. With limited freedom, how do we stop swimming in circles and find a new rhythm in which to thrive? With so much at stake, and so little certainty, here are 8 everyday ways to integrate into your life now, to help take the edge off stress and anxiety. 

Stress begins as a thought, and that thought arises out of a perception of the environment, which means our stress experiences are totally subjective.  Think of thoughts as passing trains on a railway line – a continual and endless stream. Our thoughts never stop. It is our choice as to whether we jump on that train and are caught up in that ‘thought story’, or whether we stay planted on the train platform and choose to not jump on that thought stream. During abnormal times like this, our thoughts are more prone to being fear-based, and if we are not mindful, we can be spending our days on endless runaway trains of negativity and turmoil. While we have no control over our usual rights of movement, work and socialising, we still have full autonomy over our own mind. With the full spectrum of emotions fluctuating to extreme highs and lows, which some have coined as the ‘corona-coaster’, how do we navigate this uncertain journey? 

Acknowledge the ugly

Distorting reality does help us cope better in the moment, but essentially, we are suppressing the facts on what we are dealing with and how we are feeling. Acknowledging how life has changed and how tough things are, can be liberating as a first step to dealing with the change. After all, how can we tackle a challenge if we cannot first accept it? Allow self-kindness to play a key role in this process.

Routine, routine, routine!

Our brains are pattern predicting machines and thrive in an environment that provides clarity and certainty – the only problem is that we have none of that right now! When we are not given certainty, we feel threatened, stressed, and uneasy. 

By creating a routine, we are able to provide a more structured environment by perceiving a sense of ‘certainty’ on a day to day basis. We are tricking our minds into thinking there is certainty and structure even if there isn’t! Considerations like working hours, sleep times, mealtimes, exercise times, and social connecting, can be loosely structured into the day to provide some mental organisation and consistency throughout the week. A bit of planning and discipline can go a long way to dialling down the stress levels.

Label emotions

Negative and repetitive thoughts can cloud our brains and reduce our ability to behave and feel like our ‘old self’. The simple act of stating aloud or writing down two or more descriptive words around our emotions can immediately calm down the central nervous system and reduce stress. For example, ‘I am feeling frustrated, anxious and resentful’. This is a great way to develop self-awareness and is an excellent opportunity for children to practice identifying different emotions. 

Catch negative thinking

Be mindful of where most of your thinking is going and be wary of identifying and stopping a ‘thought train’ heading for a destination of anxiety. Up to 80% of all our thoughts are repeated thoughts, and we all know those familiar washing machine thoughts turning over and over and over – what benefit ever comes out of it anyway? Catching a negative thought at the beginning is brilliant because you have a choice to either entertain it or let it go and choose another thought. And this point leads beautifully into the next tip…

Be present

With the term ‘be present’ having become so overused these days, why exactly are we told to ‘be present’? Although we can physically be in one place, our minds can be in a totally different place, lost in a story, that serves little productivity to the current moment and more times than not is anxiety inducing. Being mindful means we are less prone to negativity and worry, and more focussed on the activity we are doing right now. Meditation is a wonderful way to be present, but, if you cannot find the time to do this, then simply practice being mindful while doing day to day activities, for example, folding washing or mowing the lawn. Use this time to notice sensations around you, instead of losing your mind to mindless thinking that inevitably leads to anxiety.

Limit unvalidated information 

Carefully sift science from fiction and avoid enduring energy depletion and worry over someone else’s opinion that is not necessarily helpful, useful, or truthful. Social media content consumption is having a bigger impact on our stress levels than we realise, and discernment should be taken seriously to avoid falling prey to stress-inducing fiction.  

Connect authentically

As humans, we need at least two meaningful connections a day to feel emotionally satisfied, and when it comes to connection it’s all about quality, not quantity. A one on one meaningful conversation with a friend via zoom may prove to be far more impactful than a chaotic group chat video. Connecting authentically produces all sorts of feel-good neurotransmitters and reduces stress levels. The best kind of connections are ones with people that we love and trust. 

Embrace simplicity while it lasts

Having abandoned our busy and frenetic lives is an overwhelming adjustment, but it has also opened up more quality time for other things, things we never had time to do. Getting back to basics allows time to do things properly, instead of splitting ourselves thin across a million commitments. This may be by finally getting 8 hours sleep, having the energy to enjoy homework time with a child, dusting off an old favourite cookbook, planting herbs, or spring cleaning a cupboard. 

Sarah Braithwaite

About Sarah Braithwaite

Hi, my name is Sarah Braithwaite. I am a Neuroscience-based Life and Business Coach, and an Integrative Health Coach. My area of expertise is around understanding the integral link between the gut and brain and how this influences our performance and creativity at work, and our overall health. I run workshops and presentations on cutting edge topics such as neuroscience, stress, mental and physical health, nutrition, and emotional management. My professional journey's catalyst was overcoming my own challenges with a rare autoimmune disease. I am an avid foodie and often in my kitchen cooking gluten and sugar-free foods, with a glass of red wine in hand. I am at my happiest when I am running workshops and teaching people about their most valuable asset, their health.

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