Ask Martha: How Can I Learn To Handle Stress & Not Be So Moody?

As part of our new mental health advice series, a reader seeks help for her stress from CBT therapist Martha Ryan.

Dear Martha,
I feel super-stressed all of the time – about work, friends and family obligations, and I fly off the handle a lot. I know my job is stressful, but my colleagues definitely don’t feel it the same way I do. Have you got any tips on how I can better deal with my stress levels and not be so moody all the time?

Martha Ryan, CBT therapistDear Laura,

Great question! I’m so glad you asked me this. I’m going to challenge you on one aspect of this straight away: how do you know that your colleagues don’t feel the same way as you? What evidence are you using that suggests that this is true? I ask because I’m wondering, what does it mean about you if your colleagues APPEAR to cope or manage their stress better?

Be mindful of your thoughts about this. It might be helpful to observe why you’re comparing yourself to others, as this causes its own sense of stress. For instance, you may notice thoughts like “I can’t do this, everyone else is managing better than me, I’m not good enough.”

Also, I’m interested to see if you’re minimising the impact a stressful environment is having on you? We have one life. It’s almost impossible to have a very stressful work environment and not bring it home to other areas of your life. It’s bound to have an impact one way or another, and takes a lot of skills not to let it ruin other aspects of our lives.

When people say ‘I can’t’ it’s really them saying ‘I’m powerless’. I want you to feel empowered and in the driving seat of your own life.

Think about it; if you’re feeling exhausted, jaded and completely maxed out from a hard week of work, then you go home and make dinner, put away clothes, spend time with family etc… It can really drain the last ounce of energy out of you and leave you feeling irritable and depleted. The skill is to recognise it, reduce it and move forward. So here are my top tips for managing stress:

  1. Create a timeline from when the stress increased and if possible identify a trigger. Perhaps a particular project in work, perhaps it’s a pattern whenever you have guests over or events to organise, or maybe when you’re in the company of certain individuals.
  2. Use this knowledge to develop a buffer plan. So this essentially means when you’re faced with situations that you find problematic, allow yourself additional time to be with this as best you can, and limit other obligations or chores around those times or events that are stressful.
  3. Breathe! Laura, you’re doing better than you give yourself credit for. Take the demands you place upon yourself down a couple of notches, and you’ll instantly notice the difference. These are the expectations that you place on yourself through ‘should’-type thoughts. For example ‘I should be able to manage better, I shouldn’t feel this way.’ Watch out in case you’re being unrealistic with how much you can take on!
  4. Prioritise and let go of everything else that’s not your priority, and set the intention of honouring them at a later date.
  5. Self care, self love, lots of small breaks and a night to indulge or pamper yourself wouldn’t go amiss! keep to the basics too, a good night sleep, fresh air, water and going for walks. Even going to bed an hour earlier can help. Try to eat healthy options as people make poor choices when stressed and rushed, and this can just feed the stress cycle with sugar highs and sugar lows.
  6. You need to look at why you’re so stressed out and moody. Are you taking on too much? Do you need to delegate? Do you need to assert yourself in work and be real about your work load?
  7. Last but not least, I have a question for you to reflect on: are you ready to let go of this cycle?

These are my tips based on what you shared and you can create a lot more for yourself that’ll fit perfectly with your situation and personality. And that is great. But now it’s time to ask yourself the power question above. Now, there is no room for ‘I can’t.’ When people say ‘I can’t’ it’s really them saying ‘I’m powerless’. I want you to feel empowered and in the driving seat of your own life. So I want you to say instead ‘I choose to stay stressed out or I choose not to stay stressed out.’

There’s beauty in deciding this one way or another, and declaring it to yourself. So the next time you feel stressed out, all you need to do is breathe, look at what it is that’s causing the stress in that moment, and make the decision to stay with it or to move forward. By moving forward you’re choosing the helpful and healthy option.

Martha Ryan is an accredited CBT Therapist, Mindfulness Teacher and Life Coach; Do you have a mental health and wellness question you’d love Martha to answer on the website? We’d love to hear from you: email your requests and queries to where they’ll be handled in the strictest of confidence.