When did you last feel stressed? For most of us, it will have been incredibly recent – in the past 48 hours. But the good news is you don’t have to keep feeling this way...

You might be all too familiar with symptoms of stress, such as feeling foggy in your mind, tense muscles, difficulty going to sleep, waking up feeling tired, being preoccupied with worries about the future, nausea, digestion issues – the list goes on.

Stress can feel like a tricky cycle to break free from, as often the symptoms then add to our stress, and we feel worse. But the good news is there’s a simple way we can manage the impact of stress, and it’s all about planning.

A study by American psychologist Robert Epstein found that above all other techniques, planning is the most effective tool in living a happier and stress-free life – it helps us gain perspective, prioritise, and turn a daunting to-do list into manageable chunks.

man sitting on wall writing in note pad

As a calm and confidence coach, completing this simple planning tool or ‘safety plan’ is one of the first stages I take my clients through. It’s one of the most practical tools you can use, helping you to feel more in control of your life, motivating you to achieve your goals, and helping to maintain balance and calm.

Encouraging people to write down their goals, and considering potential barriers that could come up, offers a sense of security and confidence that when stressful things happen, you will be prepared for it, using this plan as an anchor back to a place of calm and stability. Here’s what to do:

1. What will help?

Ask yourself this question, and write down what might help you stick to this goal. For example: reading, taking a bath, yoga, talking to a friend.

When we are feeling stuck or overwhelmed, our brain isn’t as resourceful as usual. This can mean we struggle to find a way to get back on track, and can quickly lose sight of our goal. The simple way to get around this? Be prepared. Think in advance about what will help to motivate you.

2. Identify your goal

Think about what you want to work on, then flip it on its head and think about the positive behaviour you want to achieve. For example: I want to feel less stressed. Therefore my goal is to feel calm and relaxed.

Spending a few minutes physically writing down your goal forces you to clarify exactly what it is, and encourages it to become a reality, meaning you will take it more seriously. In most areas of our lives we have goals – physical health goals, career goals, life goals – which can help to anchor and motivate us. So applying that same simple technique to our mental wellbeing can have a similar effect.

3. If and then plan

Having all this written down can take the pressure off you having to think of coping strategies in the moment

Systematically work through those vulnerable times in your day, or potential barriers that might come up, and identify what positive behaviour you can use to ensure these situations don’t throw you off track. For example: if an argument happens at work, then I will go to my desk and listen to music for five minutes. If I start to overthink a situation, then I will distract myself by going for a walk.

Note: if you’re prone to catastrophising, this might not be the best method for you, unless you can really focus on the ‘then’ part. We’re all unique, and the most effective techniques might vary for individuals.

The course of life never did run smooth, but remember the more we prepare ourselves, the less impact these situations will have on our mood. Having all this written down can take the pressure off you having to think of coping strategies in the moment when your mind is most vulnerable.

If you’re interested in exploring this further, Nathalie offers a free ‘find your inner calm’ coaching consultation call. For more information visit valueyourmind.com