Anxiety, stress, and depression, amongst other psychological effects, are common side effects of what many perceive to be an intensifying and complex world. Many of us have to deal with obstacles of our own, of our loved ones, or of the outside world.
A ton of ‘millennials’ are struggling as they transition into the ‘real world’ after finishing their college programs, often with huge bills racked up from taking out student loans.
Some young folks are also becoming parents, sometimes on their own, and are experiencing difficulties in trying to support a new family after barely learning how to support themselves.
Many professionals experience work stress that comes in different forms, including feeling overworked, underpaid or, in the worst case, experiencing workplace harassment and discrimination.
People of color and from the LGBT community might be experiencing heightened sensitivity and prejudices in a continuously tense socio-political climate… and the severity of daily struggles only increases as you leave the ‘Western’ world and enter ‘developing’ countries.
The list of potential stressors, trials and tribulations goes on…
Even if someone might not have many personal struggles, for many, just turning on the news these days can cause a lot of personal grief, stress, and fear.
In any case, many of us are faced with stress in some way, shape or form, and in the years that I’ve studied Psychology (for both university and as a hobby), I learned about a handful of effective tools and methods that are essential for coping with stress. I’ve also come to understand how beneficial it can be for everyone to build some emotional intelligence to better enable themselves to keep calm in times of crisis.
Similarly to other life skills, like networking and navigating relationships, a lot of young adults don’t learn these skills in school and can end up grappling with the growing pains and hardships later in life as a result of being ill equipped. So, in attempts to help others ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, I’ve compiled some of the most helpful tips and resources for how to cope when the going gets tough:
As simple as it may sound, it’s important to remember to breathe properly. One of the symptoms and causes of an anxiety attack is hyperventilating – and it can quickly become a chronic habit if it’s not fixed. A helpful way to ensure that you take a deep, healthy breath is to practice ‘belly breathing’.
2. Don’t let yourself burn out in anger (or drown in sorrow)
While it’s healthy to practice empathy for the pain of others, or to allow yourself to experience your genuine emotions when personally upset, it’s only good to do in moderation. Try to give yourself a five minute ‘catharsis’ limit to get your frustrations out of your system, then separate yourself from the stressful situation, detaching from the unpleasant feelings linked to them.
Dwelling for too long will only increase your stress and could potentially negatively impact your relationships with others around you if it’s an on-going problem.
3. Practice ‘positive psychology’ – Mindfulness, Gratefulness, and Positive Affirmations
Stay focused on you in the present moment, when you are ready, and center yourself. Peacefully work out in your mind what situations make you stressed and why. Be aware of your response to the source of pressure. Try understanding the importance of what you are worrying about and find positive ways to calm yourself when you are feeling apprehensive. Take time to reflect, genuinely, on the positive things going on in your life after processing the negative.
Think of the amazing life experiences you had – whether it’s reminiscing about travel or pleasant moments from childhood/adolescence. Consider how meaningful your relationships are; be grateful for your loved ones or even the kind strangers that may cross your path. Reflect on simple pleasures – you can even make plans to go out and enjoy them!
Use positive language and thoughts, acting as your own source of inspiration. Some studies show that using affirmations can boost your mood over time if consistently repeated. Some examples of empowering affirmations to repeat may include:
– I accept life’s ups and downs
– Obstacles do not define me, but how I approach and overcome them does
– I grant myself calmness, positivity and gratitude
Applications like Momentum and social media outlets like Pinterest and Tumblr are also loaded with all kinds of inspirational quotes that can also help implement a positive narrative into your everyday life. Think of it as a subtle form of encouragement.
4. Express yourself – Confide in a loved one, Journal or Create Art
Sometimes simply talking it out with someone you trust really helps. This can be to someone you have a close, intimate relationship with. Alternatively, if you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend about personal struggles and stress, there are a ton of regionally available therapists and support groups available and ready to help. In severe situations, hotline numbers/live chats (i.e. the national suicide hotline or Samaritans) is another alternative, which is available 24/7.
If talking about it is too difficult, try writing about it or channelling your emotions through some type of artistic outlet. Sometimes singing your heart out, dancing or drawing/painting can produce the same type of emotional release as verbally expressing hardships.
5. Stay focused and organized
Sometimes when we are bombarded with a constant stream of information or other distractions, it is easy to lose sight of your own priorities and goals. It’s important to never lose sight your purpose, commitments, and interests. Some tools enable the average person to keep these things efficiently organized so that our minds are a bit less cluttered. Some great tools include Google Keep and Momentum.
Make sure to always be true to your own priorities, avoiding distractions, procrastination or “spreading yourself too thin” to your best ability.
6. Get educated on Mental Health… and help others
Unfortunately, to this present day, mental illness carries a high stigma. However, Axis I disorders such as depression and anxiety are incredibly common (found in one of four people). If you haven’t already taken up an intro to Psychology class in university, it might be a good idea to read up on some topics online, using reputable sources like the American Psychological Association. If you’re really committed, you can skim the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to understand a plethora of mental illnesses.
In getting educated about mental health and stress management, it’s helpful to get familiar with resources for proactively getting help. If counseling is too costly or uncomfortable, like with anything, there is an app for that.
If a friend or family member is suffering from mental illness or other difficulties, resources like Active Minds can help as well – they provide educational materials and helpful hints of how to support a struggling companion.
Sometimes the world gets so intense, it can naturally make you want to retract into a child-like state, if not throwing a fit of rage. But, as the expression goes, ‘life is tough, but so are you’.