MindWell team member Gillian finds that sometimes trying to manage stress and boost wellbeing can be stressful in itself. Let’s keeps things simple!

The head and shoulders of a person a mid skin tone, with short blue hair and a blue top. There is a thought bubble above them with different actvites: 2 people chatting, a person walking, a person smiling and a cup of tea or coffee.

It’s Stress Awareness Month in April, a good time to check in with ourselves and see how we’re feeling. It can be really easy to add more activities or tasks to our day, and not notice we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed until – Ta da! – we’re frazzled, exhausted, snapping at everyone or even sobbing into our cup of tea. Or is that just me?

We need some stress in our lives to function because it helps motivate or challenge us. But if there are too many tasks, too little time or we believe we can’t do what we ‘should’ be able to, then stress levels can creep up and our motivation can slip down (see the Stress curve diagram).

The good news is that we can manage our stress levels and there are tools that can help. I like the Stress bucket approach to stress management, where we imagine a bucket that all our daily stresses pour into. If there’s too much, the bucket overflows and we do not feel good. If we have taps or holes in our bucket, then some of the stress can pour out, meaning it won’t overflow, even if more is added. What are these magic holes? Here are some ideas:

  • Physical activity, like going for a run or cycle ride, swimming, dancing or whatever you feel clears your head.
  • Mindful meditation, with a group or alone at home with an online track.
  • Talking to people you trust.
  • Spending time in your garden or enjoying the park.
  • Playing with and stroking your pets.
  • Creating something – music, cakes, art, crafts or anything you can enjoy and lose yourself in.

We all know what we enjoy to do and which activities can move stressful energy or help us feel calmer. So why not draw yourself a stress bucket or play the Stresspot game on the MindMate website. You can work out what is adding stress to your life and what you can do to help yourself.

I’ve used the stress bucket approach a few times to help me be more aware of the stressors in my life and to find activities to help me cope. But I sometimes find myself overcomplicating my attempts to ‘make holes in my bucket’. I do too much to help me manage stress – and that can be stressful!

Imagine you decided to explore the MindWell wellbeing pages and look for ideas, resources and activities to help you look after your physical and mental health. Instead of picking one or two ideas, you decide to try all of them, all at the same time.

In the past I tried to do too many activities – from exercise classes to creative courses, volunteering to tai chi, mindful meditation to drinking more water and less caffeine. I wanted to manage my stress and improve my wellbeing, but it was too hard to do all of the activities at once.

I was tired from working full-time, being busy every evening and caring for my family. It was too much and I soon felt more stressed than before I started.

I thought ‘why do I overcomplicate things?’ It’s a good question. I gave myself more tasks than necessary, even though I prefer to have a simpler approach to life. I pondered for a while on why and decided:

  • I absorbed information from lots of different people and sources
  • I liked to find out more by reading and researching
  • I wanted to ‘get it right’ or try to be ‘perfect’
  • I had ideas bigger than the time available.

The problem was, I absorbed more information than I could use and I end up confused and feeling stressed about ‘getting it right’.

If this rings any bells with you, in your home life, at work, or with family and friends, then why not think about making life simpler?

If you’re starting a new activity to help manage stress in your life, ask yourself:

  • Why am I doing this? What am I aiming for?
  • How can I explore my options?
  • How can I decide what to do?
  • And, most importantly, how can I keep it simple?

So now, if I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I can look at what feels overcomplicated right now. And ask myself if there are actions or activities I can make simpler.

If, like me, you love reading articles with hints about self-care, wellbeing and more, but sometimes find they add more pressure to ‘live the best life’ and ‘be the best version of you’, then remember: even articles about simplifying things can feel like pressure to make life perfect. So read what you like here, take a bit of something that interests you, discard the rest. Keep it simple!

If you want to find out more about managing stress:

Explore MindWell pages Stress and feeling pressure and Find helpful coping strategies for stress.

Look at the Stress Control classes with Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service.