5 Tips on How to Manage Stress and Anxiety; How to Take Care of your Mental Health during Tough Times

September is “Suicide Prevention Month”. I remember one cousin who took her own life a decade ago. I see people on the verge of stress only a hairline away or already probably thinking of hurting themselves. Life is precious. You are precious.

I started and decided to embark on a personal journey. I was stressed and decided to write this topic to all of you who are also stressed right now.

Just like me, some of you might be in the stage of starting something new. You might be wondering if you still fit in your current work/careers, academic courses, relationships, etc. Probably you are also stressed about the annoying adjustment to this COVID 19 pandemic. All this thinking and frustration together with actual hardships are giving you mental stress. What should you do?

I am not a psychometrician,  a psychologist, nor a psychiatrist. What I’ll share in this blog are some of my observations and experiences I learned from my 45 years of existence. Some are really practical. I believe you already knew them but somehow forgot and took them for granted.

As a Filipino, we were trained to be timid, giving, hospitable, and to first look out for the needs of others before ourselves. It is outright selfishness to look out for yourself first. This creates a sense of guilt if you are trying to lead and not be satisfied as a team player or a good follower. It taught us to be just ordinary. Smart-shaming is the norm. You are afraid to excel and to lead because it is uncool.

It is also rude to speak out your mind to elders when not asked, much worse is to argue and discuss issues against their beliefs. We were told that there are good things and bad things and God punishes bad deeds. And it is important to always do good deeds even if it will cost a level of misery on your part. We were trained to follow. Sacrifice is good as long it is for the betterment of everybody.

This in a way, made us miserable. We became submissive, people pleasers, and afraid to reach our potential. Some rebelled, took risks, failed, got up and became stronger to the estrangement of their loved ones and communities. Some just submitted to the norm and live wondering what could have been if they only decided to try extraordinary things. People became unhappy in both situations. It is a lose-lose situation.

You might be agreeing with me or you might be negating all I’ve stated. But as I have said, all these came from my personal observation and experience.

The problem from all I’ve stated earlier is it seems that our happiness and contentment are based on the acts of others or our acts towards other people. We want affirmation and recognition from people who want us to just be ordinary. We want to please people to the exclusion of our own happiness.

Are you seeing the problem now?

Now let’s talk about change. Yeah, yeah, change is inevitable, it is the only thing in the world that remains constant, blah, blah, blah. And you are right! You know this already.

I’ll give you different scenarios. Just imagine yourself in the given scenarios.

1. You just graduated high school or college. Those are the best years of your life. Then, the following school year, you went back to your school/university because you terribly missed your school. You see two or three past classmates that are still there but they are rushing to their classes, the teachers saw you and said “hi” but then off they go to their classes, or you went to the cafeteria or the photocopier operator and they were also happy to see you, but then that’s it. How do you feel? Do you feel like everything and everyone moved on with their lives? Do you feel like a stranger in your once happy place?

Similar situation. You resigned from work for whatever reason. Your work is your happy place. You feel like your coworkers are your family. You’ve been together through ups and downs. You went back after a month to catch up. They are happy to see you. But then after a few minutes, they get back to work. Do you feel disappointed?

You went on a vacation with your group of friends or family. It was so much fun. You took many pictures and experienced new things with them. It brought you closer together. After a year, you went back to the same place with a different group. It is the same place. But doesn’t it feel different now?

2. You just started school. You are excited. You are already dreaming of your graduation day. You feel that finishing your course would really help you achieve something in your life. Then, here comes a terror teacher. All of your classmates are really terrified and afraid. You talked about it, whined, vented, and got really angry. However, at the end of the semester/year, they passed and you didn’t. What happened? They changed and adapted to the system. While you are venting, they are already studying double time. You didn’t know that. They changed along the way. You didn’t. Are you going to get angry at them?

3. You are a parent. In search of a higher salary or livelihood, you decided to work abroad. You left your family and your kids. In order to save, you only took a month’s vacation every two years. After ten years, you decide that you have enough savings and you’ll go back home to start a business. But by the time you decide to be with your family, your kids are all grown-up and they already have their own lives. You now ask yourself:  Is it worth it? Was there an alternative? You’re left just cherishing and reminiscing about the time they were small and still all over you.

This is “change.” Change is neither good or bad. Change comes even if you do nothing. You need to learn to deal with it.

Most of the time the acts, opinions, and standards of other people that we self-imposed on ourselves and our resistance to change or actual changes are the cause of our stress and anxiety that leads to our misery.

Ok, so how do we deal with misery and change? How do we become contented, happy, and have control of our life? Here are some few tips.

1. Learn to be selfish. Love yourself.
Yes, be selfish. Look after yourself. Invest in yourself. Do something you like. Travel. Paint. Learn a musical instrument. Blog (like me!). Vlog. Get coffee, milktea, or your favorite drink or food. Buy something (of course within your capability) that you’ve always wanted to buy. (For me, it’s a Voltes V die-cast toy – someday!) Don’t mind what other people will say. Just do something you really like to do. It is okay if it is just a material thing. Reward yourself.

Why? If your goal is to help or make people happy, you cannot give what you do not have. You cannot help others if you yourself are broken. Love yourself. You deserve it.

2. Accept Change; Start Change; Change from within.
From the 3 scenarios I raised earlier, it seemed that the world moved on except the person. The person is a passive victim of change. That person longs for the good old days which he/she also knows that will not come back.

Accept change! The world moved on, so be it. Be thankful for the past and the experience. Cherish it but do not live in the past.

Start Change! Think of it this way: People around you change – either they get better or get worse. Even if you do nothing, they will also think you’ve changed. Did you get better or worse? There is no pause, no status quo.

Change from within. You are frustrated because you felt that they all changed. But on the other hand, they thought you’ve changed too. So, the best thing to do now is take control of your change. Embrace it! Plan for it.

During high school or college reunions, there is always this one person who remembers every little detail of the past as if it just happened yesterday. Truly, it is his happy place. Enjoy their stories, reminisce, smile, and laugh with them. After that, move on, get back to reality until the next get-together.

3. Find your anchor, your safe place, find your people.
Find your anchor, your safe place, and your people. It is not important if they are family members or friends, if they number to 100 or just 2, nor if you see them everyday or just twice a year. These are the people who are genuinely happy for you, who love you unconditionally, who are willing to listen to all your rant or nonsense, and who are willing to tell you hurtful truths without feeling self-righteous. They may be your siblings, parents, spouse, classmates, colleagues, or old friends.

They are the people who have decided that you’ll be part of their life. They may be bored to be with, they may not be that awesome, but they are there for you. There are only a few of them. But they are there. You’ll know them in times when you are really down. However, don’t expect too much from them, don’t be too demanding, do not abuse them.  Be thankful for their time, for listening without judging, for being your emotional support group.

If they also feel down, give back, listen to time, give them time, reciprocate.

4. Empower yourself.
Two things I learned from Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book are tips on how to somehow get control of your life as follows:
i. Know your circle of influence and circle of concern
ii. Learn how to prioritize

You can control how you’ll spend your day/week/month (influence) but at the same time you cannot control the attitude of other people (concern).
If you focus on things you cannot control, you’ll be frustrated and unhappy. However, if you focus on things you have control, you’ll be productive, you’ll see results, you’ll feel good with your accomplishments, no matter how small. And who knows, in due time, because of your cumulative achievements/success, that person whom you didn’t like the attitude becomes your employee or your same-level colleague, you now have the power to influence that person. From an outside circle of concern, that person is now under your circle of influence. Expand your circle of influence. Work on things you have control with.

Learn how to prioritize. In the 7 habits book, it says that you start with the things that are important and not urgent so they don’t become urgent and important. If you have too many urgent and important things to do, demanding your time and attention – all at the same time, Isn’t that stressful?

For me I keep a daily to do list on my phone (calendar). I mixed my to-do list with small tasks that I know I can easily accomplish. It feels good if you accomplish all your to do list. It is empowering. However, there are times that you really cannot finish it all. By including the small tasks, in a way, you still feel accomplished at the end of the day. You have a personal sense of accomplishment. If you want to watch a movie on your phone, put it in your to-do list for that day and check it out if you are done watching. I usually make my to-do list the night before the following day.

5. Take control of your life
Stop blaming others for what happened to your life. By blaming others, you absolve yourself, as if you did not make a mistake. You convinced yourself that it’s not you and that it’s them who are responsible. You are the victim of their doings. What is wrong with this mindset? You didn’t learn anything from your past.

Do you believe that we learn from our mistakes? If you do not own your mistakes, do you think you’ll learn from them? If experience is the best teacher, what did we learn from our experience? Nothing if we blame others. Stop blaming others but also do not blame yourself. It will not solve anything. Learn from it. 

Always try your best to manage extreme emotions. Not emotions but only the”extreme” ones. Do not decide when you are experiencing extreme emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness, etc. – let the emotion pass first until your cooler head prevails. Wait until you can think and decide clearly. Some examples are you are too happy and decide to ask to marry someone even if it is not true love or buy things you cannot afford; you are too sad that you decided to hurt yourself, or you are too angry you end up doing bad to others. Let the emotion cool down first.

Enjoy the journey. Feel the hardships. Always challenge yourself. If it is not difficult, it means you already know it, if it’s difficult, it means you’re going to learn something new from it. Invest in yourself. This may be in the form of venturing a new project, hobby or business, deciding to go to a gym or train for a marathon, studying a new degree or skills, or starting a new relationship. Look for something you really like to do and do it. Find an advocacy and support it.

Enjoy the present. As I’ve said earlier, things change. You cannot bring back exactly your past. But that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy the present and look forward to your future. If you have school, office, or family reunions, enjoy it, enjoy their present company. If you’re having a hard time studying, break it up into small topics and study everyday. Give yourself a reward every time you learn something new. Cherish the process. If you realized that you missed the time your kids grew up, don’t fret, enjoy their company today. Perhaps now, you can drink together and have barbecues, go on a vacation or road trip together, get to know their partners or spouses, and look forward to your possible grandchildren. There is no “too late”, Everything happens in its perfect time.

It’s ok to love yourself and be awesome. Celebrate life, celebrate the journey, celebrate family and friends, and celebrate change. You deserve to be happy.