Slow down and notice what slowing down is like. These are my first two suggestions for helping us understand and cope with stress. They are not enough on their own, and can actually increase our stress levels if that is all we do.
Slowing down helps us notice what is not right. This might be a much more difficult process than we had expected. It is tempting to immediately blame ourselves for having got to this point and for not having slowed down sooner. Rather than jumping into blame, I invite you to sort out the various things that have been causing you stress and to consider them carefully.
Children are brilliant at sorting things. If you have ever watched children playing with Lego, you will know what I mean. They each have their different ways of sorting. Some do it by colour, some by size and some by the purpose of the particular pieces. They often seem to get as much satisfaction from the sorting process as they do from assembling the various pieces.
If you were to sort your stressors, how would you do so? Would you have categories such as 'self', 'family', 'work' and 'community'? What types of things cause you stress under each category? As you look at these, consider the level of support you currently have under each category. Do other people know that you have the number of stressors that you do? Is there anyone who is able and, more importantly, willing, to support you in coping with these? How good are you at asking for and taking support?
Consider how you can generate more support if you need more. Sometimes, simple changes can make an enormous difference. For instance, as you sort your stressors you might discover that most of them are to do with one category. You may not feel stressed at work but may do so in your home. The opposite may be the case.
You may have lots of support from your family but not enough from your work colleagues. Simply allowing someone who cares about you to know what is going on for you can be a huge support. Consider who you can ask. Consider what support would be helpful for you right now.
Most importantly, consider how you can take support with gratitude, rather than with embarrassment and self-blame.
Consider how having too many stressors is now part of life. Consider how asking for and taking support is a strength to be admired and cultivated.
Dr Claire Hayes is a consultant psychologist and clinical director with mental health charity Aware. Register online now at fitmagazine.ie for the 11th Annual Aware Christmas Run which takes place on Saturday, December 10 in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Tomorrow: See Part 4 in the Irish Independent, plus an expert guide on assertiveness, and how to say no