In today’s world, stress and poor mental health can be considered one of the biggest challenges facing all of us. However, even with that knowledge it’s something that we don’t take seriously enough – how many times have you heard someone talk about how stressed they are but then brush it off as unimportant?
As April is Stress Awareness Month, which is dedicated to raising awareness of and opening up conversations about how stress affects us, I wanted to share some of my top tips for combatting it.
Focus on what you can control.
In life, we have three circles of influence.
- The inner circle. This is you. You’re in total control of everything going on: your emotions and your behaviour.
- The outer circle. Friends and family. You’re not in full control here (they may reject your views), but you do have reasonable influence over what’s going on.
- The great beyond. Everyone, and everything, else. You have ZERO control here.
Focus on what you can control in your own life, and don’t worry about the rest. That’s advice I’ve given to myself over the years (although earlier on in my career that wasn’t always the case, I must admit!) – there’s no point spending sleepless nights over things that you aren’t able to influence. Think instead about how you react to stressful situations: how you behave and what decisions you make based on what information you have.
I don’t think I can ever say this enough – everything comes down to your mindset. When things around you are uncertain (and therefore outside of your influence – see the above point), it’s the one thing that you can control. For example, if you wake up thinking you’re going to have a bad day, then that’s exactly what you’ll get. You’ve set that expectation for yourself, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: you will end up looking for evidence everywhere of the day being terrible!
Something to try is imagine there’s a switch in your mind. Make the decision to have a good day, and then flip that switch to make it so. It may sound easy for me to say ‘just flip the switch’, but honestly, it so often it comes down to simply making a decision about how you want your day to go, and then creating the right mindset to make it a reality.
When I talk about resilience, I don’t necessarily mean the ability to weather all storms and keep struggling through. However, it’s super important to develop your resilience by learning the best way to deal with stressful situations.
The key thing to remember is: don’t let your emotions take over – again, that probably sounds easier said than done! – but it’s my number one tip when you’re dealing with any difficult situation. When your decisions are based on emotion, rather than facts, you can easily be steered in the wrong direction. Try and take a step back and evaluate situations based on what’s actually going on, rather than how it’s making you feel.
When I talk about continuity bias, I’m usually warning people about the dangers of assuming that because things are going great now, that they’ll stay that way forever. It’s one of the biggest mistakes I see people make in the Real Estate sector – not realising that property goes in cycles and that boom times won’t stay that way.
But if you’re in the midst of a stressful situation, it can sometimes feel like things are never going to get better. That’s the other side of continuity bias coming into play – but it’s important to remember that it’s just your brain is playing tricks on you. Even though things aren’t great now, it doesn’t mean that they will stay that way forever.
Move your body
Your health is your wealth, and physical and mental health go hand in hand together. When you’re not looking after one, the other will inevitably begin to suffer.
Regular listeners to the podcast will know how important my physical health is to me, and it’s one of the first ways I can tell when things are getting out of balance – when I don’t have the time for some kind of exercise first thing in my day, whether that’s a run, a swim or a proper workout. Missing one day could be forgiven, but when it starts to happen on a regular basis then it’s a real wakeup call that something needs to change.
Now, I don’t mean that you have to immediately start training for a marathon – that’s just going to add to your stress! But it’s important to do something. Get a routine in place and then add a little more to what you’re doing each day. It’s the power of marginal gains – small, incremental changes leading to a big and noticeable difference further down the line. You need to be patient, as you won’t see the results immediately, but give it time.
Don’t let FOMO add to your stress bucket! Trying to keep up with other people, or comparing your life to theirs, is only going to make you miserable. Try not to get sucked in when other people appear to be winning (especially when you’re not).
You can’t afford to get dragged in. Some time ago a friend of mine was doing really well in stocks and shares, telling me how much money he was making. Like a flash, I was in the market, trying to replicate his gains. I didn’t do as well as him, and it made me really unhappy.
Don’t react to other peoples’ wins: for all you know, you’re being sold an Instagram-perfect version of events rather than what’s actually going on. Scratch the surface and you may find that underneath, things aren’t as great as they seem.
Spotting the signs
Back in 2008, in the fallout of the Lehman Brothers collapse, I was desperately trying to save my business. It was like spinning 50 plates at once and I felt like at any minute everything could come crashing down. I spent one birthday around that time sat at my computer sending urgent emails trying to push a deal through, whilst my family celebrated without me outside. It’s no wonder I was stressed – my priorities were totally out of whack.
But when you’re in the middle of it, how do you gauge how stressed you actually are? When everything around you is frantic, it’s easy to miss the warning signs. Or actually, maybe you do know there’s something wrong but rather than deal with it, you focus on something else instead.
If that’s the case, ask yourself whether you’re neglecting something else that’s more important in the long run: your health, your children, your marriage. Whatever it might be, something is going to be damaged as a result of your mixing up your priorities and letting stress take over.
Being able to manage your stress levels is one of the keys to your success: being able to recognise when it’s affecting you, being able to talk about it, and being able to mitigate the effects. Remember, you’re never alone – use your network and open up some conversations!