As promised in the previous article, in part II you will find out more about what we can do on our own if we experience negative emotions such as fear, stress, burnout and depression. These advice are what I believe can really work; they’re easy to understand and to implement – if you are determined. After understanding in part I what these emotions feel like, time has come to change something around us, on our thoughts and actions in order for our emotions to change as well – for the better.
I know change is not easy, nor pleasant or comfortable. But one step at a time in the right direction can really do a lot on the way to positively changing our fear, stress, burnout and depression. This is actually the next step: to understand the little things we need to tweak around to make our negative emotions fade away and disappear.
Step 3: Tuning our fear, stress, burnout or depression
The first part of the article gave a few tips on how these emotions feel like and how to understand them a little better, even when they are quite well hidden. Now that we know all this, let’s see what can we do to overcome fear, stress, burnout and depression.
Act upon the ENVIRONMENT/SITUATION
When we want to change our negative emotions into more cheerful ones, the first thing we have to do is to change the environment that (most probably) causes the negative feeling. Before changing anything about ourselves, let’s check the environment. Changing little things upon the surroundings can actually help us a great deal.
Let’s take a few examples to understand what I mean by changing the environment/situation.
Let’s assume you are extremely afraid of a new responsibility you have at work. You have all the support from your boss and colleagues, but you are still afraid and the fear doesn’t let you think clearly. Changing the environment or the situation might mean to break the responsibility into skills and knowledge required and then analyse what skills/knowledge you are absolutely great at, and which ones you still need to develop (most probably the underdeveloped skills or the missing pieces of knowledge are causing the fear). Ask for support/coaching/training for the skills you still need to improve or do some reading to improve your knowledge, while doing the tasks that require only the skills/knowledge you are good at. This will improve your confidence and will diminish your fear gradually. You will be taking on more and more of that responsibility as you gain confidence and fear will disappear as well.
The key is to avoid the situations that will feed your fear and search for an environment that will help you diminish it – while still doing what you want or have to do. It might not always be possible to do so – but only thinking about “what if something could be changed” might actually get you in a place where your fear is not so big and scary.
Stress is the most at hand emotion that can be fought against by changing the environment. Letting ourselves be stressed is only dependent on a situation that we usually can control, even if it’s not easy – like a very demanding job that makes us very stressful. We could quit but that will only increase our stress of being unemployed and without money.
In this particular situation what we could do is find a time and/or a place that is “stress-free” and “retire” there every time we feel stressed. No matter how many hours we work – it’s important to have one place (the terrace, the bathroom, the cafeteria etc.) where we can go and feel stress-free. Never go to that place to have a disagreement – only go there when we want to relax. And equally important, create for yourself a routine time when you just relax – can be 30 min during breakfast, when you do nothing but sit there with your thoughts that are not related to the cause of your stress. It’s vital to have this “stress-free” times so that the brain can relax and switch off from the stressful burden. By doing so routinely, you’ll also notice more and better ideas will come – ideas that will most probably improve your work productivity and contribute to reducing the stress you are feeling.
Burnout is characterized by chronic fatigue, insomnia, lack of concentration, loss of appetite, and even illness. These are the effects of your body reacting to a very stressful situation that went on over a long period of time. You need to take a break and renew. At this stage, little changes to the environment can work and help you improve your emotions, but the most efficient way to recover is:
- First, take a total break of at least 14 days. No emails, no phones, no connection to whatever was the cause of the burnout; if needed, isolate yourself for a few days just to give your mind time to clearly think about everything
- Second, use this time to relax, to do things you love doing, think of a passion from childhood/youth that you would like doing (painting, playing the piano, gardening – anything that helps you get into a positive mood)
- Third, and very important, once you get back to work or back into what caused the burnout, start changing the environment and act decisively upon the surroundings. Take regular time-offs, prioritize work, delegate more, hire help – but do not continue the same way, whatever you were doing before. You’ll end up into feeling burned out again and it can get even worse, leading to anxiety and depression
The first thing to do about depression is to talk it out. If you already did, but to friends who feel the same emotions and will only tell back about themselves, it won’t help – you need to find the ones that would truly listen to you and can be supportive. Talking it out is a first step in changing the situation – you’re not keeping it inside anymore, you are letting it out. Besides a feeling of relief, the benefits of finding support is that you might actually find solutions to your problems by only putting your thoughts into words. Also, your friends will be able to give you advice if you’d like to receive any.
An extremely important thing you absolutely must do if you feel depressed is to exercise. But more about this on the “Act upon EMOTIONS” part later on the article.
And one last thing that would do wonders in the case of all these negative emotions such as fear, stress, burnout and depression is to have your own daily routine, a clear personal agenda. An ideal one would have at least the following activities, repeated daily:
- Wake up early morning
- Exercise for 30 min while either listening to the music you love or to an audio-book; it can be just walking or biking to the office instead of using a car or public transportation
- Eat breakfast
- Set clear times that you are going to spend at work (9-5), with very little exceptions
- Have lunch and dinners, every day!
- Do anything else that makes you happy for at least 30 min: read a book, meet with friends, go shopping, walk your dog, sit on the park while eating your favorite ice cream, jogging, dancing, painting, going to acting classes, drive and so much more! It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it makes you happy and thrilled, the brain would love it!
Act upon your THOUGHTS
All the emotions (good or bad) are originated in our brain. Fear, stress, burnout and depression – they are all based on how we perceive the world around us, the contexts surrounding us at all times. As we grow up, we tend to form some life theories in our mind, to learn and follow some norms, to have opinions about the things we interact with.
But some of these theories and norms put so much pressure on ourselves that they often cause negative emotions such as fear, stress, burnout and depression. A reasonable thing to do though would be to check if these theories or norms are actually true, possible, or valid for us anymore.
Let’s take the example of a child that has formed in his mind the theory that he needs to be the best in his class. He fears scoring low on tests, he is upset when he doesn’t get the biggest grade and slowly he becomes stressed; he can even become depressive when he’s not the best in his class and when he thinks his parents are disappointed in him. He might be brilliant in maths, but doesn’t do so well in arts – overall, he can’t keep up with being the best in everything. But he doesn’t see things this way as his theory is strong – he is expected to be the best in class.
Same with some theories or norms we might have – that are maybe too high to keep up with. They only generate frustration, fear and other negative emotions. We really must question all these theories we have. Read all about them, talk to other people – find out if these theories we have are actually worth pursuing or weather is healthier to lower them, change them or put a different perspective on them.
In the end, they might not even matter (anymore).
Do you know how you’ll find out what is really important to you in terms of life purposes, theories, norms, values and everything that is at your core? You’ll find all this only during a really bad life crisis. The death of someone very dear, you suffering of a serious sickness, divorce – in those moments, when your life looks like it’s falling apart – then is when you will truly see what’s important for you and how you really are.
To test your norms – try imagining a really sad situation where you are involved. Is that theory that got you depressed actually that important? Try changing your thinking perspective by looking from a different angle. Just do a mind exercise and see where you’re getting.
Another thing that can help you clarify and work on your thoughts is to start writing a journal. Studies say keeping a journal helps you reduce depression with 20% as you can better organize and analyse your thinking. It is recommended to hand write in your journal – besides reducing the negative emotions it will also help you relax more.
Act upon EMOTIONS
The fastest way to deal with the negative emotions of fear, stress, burnout and depression is to actually act directly upon them. There are a few things you can do to help release them, calm them down so that you can give your brain time to think clearly and put things in a different light, a more optimistic perspective.
I was mentioning before about doing 30 minutes of exercises daily. These 30 minutes are recommended to be defragmented exercising. This means that you should alternate moderate with intense exercise for 30 min. For example, run for 3 minutes at a moderate pace, then 5 minutes as fast as you can, then again 3 minutes at moderate pace and so on. These kind of alternate effort is the best to relax the mind and the body and calm all negative emotions. Doing this daily will help balance your relaxing time with your stressful endeavors, helping you not only deal with bad feelings but also giving the equilibrium your life needs.
Other ways to act upon fear, stress, burnout and depression are breathing exercises, meditation and any repetitive action that have a relaxing effect on you – like the things mentioned before, the ones you really love doing and help your mind take a break.
You can have daily breathing exercises, for just 2 minutes every few hours. For 2 minutes, sit in a quiet place, relaxed, and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in, hold it in a little, and then release slowly. Repeat. And repeat again till 2 minutes have passed. Then continue with whatever you were doing. You will feel more relaxed as the brain had a break and was properly oxygenated. Do this as often as you feel stressed or experience fear or any negative emotion for that matter. Train your mind to be responsive to this, by doing this a few times a day, every day.
Meditate, at least from time to time. Take a long walk or sit alone in your bedroom – breathe, relax and just let your mind flow. You’ll experience at first thoughts related to your day to day activity, but as you let your mind flow, slowly you’ll get to deeper thoughts – to the ones that matter.
I know it’s been a long reading but I really hope it’s been useful. Read it again if you need to, but if you experience any of these feelings do start to act upon the things I’ve shared here. I can assure you at least some will have a great effect on you. And feel free to drop a comment or a question – I’d be happy to connect. Meanwhile, stay strong and don’t give up! Good luck!