Two great tips for managing stress

By Sally Evans

During these unusual and difficult times, it's important to recognise that we may feel ‘stressed’ but sometimes, stress is not all bad. Stress can be a really useful indicator for us and can serve as a signal of what matters to us and sometimes even help us grow and develop.

But how can we distinguish ‘good stress’ (discomfort that helps us and prevent us being harmed) from ‘bad stress’ (stress about stress that is just unhelpful and prevents us living a full life?)

Here are a few thoughts on noticing the type of stress you have and what you can do about it:

1. Do you ‘have to’?

Stress can sometimes occur because we are required to do something we don’t want to or don’t feel skilled or able to do.

Sometimes, we may feel burdened by a responsibility and feel ‘we have to’. The ‘have to’ thoughts can create stress.

I have heard in the past: ‘I have to visit my father / mother’; ‘I have to do the shopping and the cooking’ and lately I have heard comments such as ‘and now I HAVE TO home-school the kids….. stay in the house…..cook all day’.

It’s all too easy to use ‘have to’ language, that suggests we don’t have any control in our lives. Lacking control can really breed resentment and can lead to real stress. But we do have a choice about how we live our lives.

If you find yourself using this language, even inside your own heads, it can be useful to step back for a moment and consider whether there is a ‘want to’ hiding behind the ‘have to’!

It could be related to your own personal values. What I mean by this, is maybe the reason you feel you have to take time out of your workday right now to help with your child's schooling is because you ‘want to’ make sure they’re getting the best education possible.

Or, perhaps you have to work extra hours at the moment because you want to provide for your family at this difficult time or help out a sick colleague?

Once you understand there are values-based reasons why you are doing some things, you can see that they are part of your choices. You have a sound reasons why you are choosing and want to do it – this thinking can really alleviate the associated stress.

Importantly, this is not about faking it!

If you cannot find a true ‘want to’ behind the ‘have to’, it might be a sign that you need to make some changes in your life. That change might include communicating your need for support and help from other family members; saying no more often or making the active choice to let go of what you cannot control.

Another tip:

2. Are you using the word ‘stress’ when you actually mean something else?

I do feel that we tend to throw around the term stress very loosely these days, using it as a blanket explanation for whenever we’re feeling challenged or nervous about something. To investigate whether we are actually stressed or experiencing another emotion that we are not noticing, try getting into a bit more detail.

Instead of giving ourselves the vague diagnosis of ‘stress’, it can help to try and be more specific about the actual emotion we are feeling. What are you actually feeling right now?

Here are some examples:

  • I'm noticing that I'm disappointed about...’
  • - ‘I'm realising that I am frightened of...’.
  • - ‘I’m wondering if I’m nervous because …..’

This gives us the opportunity to spot the actual emotions that are causing our stress, like apprehension, guilt, or fear of failure. Then we can move forward from a place of understanding and choosing to change rather than remaining stuck in the discomfort.

It is nigh on impossible to go through life without experiencing stress at some point. But hopefully, we can use the tips to respond to our stress in ways that can reduce our discomfort and identify the root causes of our feelings.


Sally is the Founder of LifeBuddy.

She is an Organisational Development consultant and is a Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology.