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Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s crucial in helping us become more efficient, productive, and effective. But what happens when stress threatens to overwhelm your life?

You don’t have to move mountains to administer a dose of self-love and self-care, especially in these trying times. There are plenty of ways to manage your mood and direct your focus onto what’s most important — yourself.

We tap three wellness experts on their best ways to effectively cope with stress before you hit breaking point.

Show yourself some TLC

The first step to practicing self-care? Be kinder to yourself.

“Stop feeling guilty for taking care of yourself!” says clinical psychologist Joanne Chua of Mind What Matters Psychological Consultancy, who adds that you can’t pour from an empty cup. “Schedule time in your calendar to nourish your body and mind. It should look like a balanced overview of your life, rather than an overwhelming list of to-dos every time you open your calendar.”

And give the T.I.E method a go.

“Adjust the way you perceive failures and challenges, based on the science of Positive Psychology. Train yourself to view setbacks as Temporary (rather than permanent fixtures), Isolated to that particular incident (not pervasive), and that they can be overcome with Effort,” she elaborates.

Keep up with healthy habits

Undoubtedly, our physical wellness impacts our mental well-being in a big way, and that includes regular physical activities, proper nutrition and health care. But for the busy urbanite, it’s easy to relegate things like exercise or healthy eating to the back burner. (Check out our guide on maintaining a disciplined fitness and exercise routine at home.)

Certified personal trainer as well as co-owner and gym manager of Spartans Boxing Club (Serangoon Gardens) Mitch Hyde, says, “The power of strong, positive habits will have a long-lasting effect, not just in self-care, but on your entire lifestyle. It usually takes 21 days to form new habits, and the side effects can add years to your life. Great habits to adopt include high levels of water intake, breathing exercises, getting outside regularly, and stretching.”

For psychotherapist Stephen Lew, who’s also a coach and founder of The School of Positive Psychology, one daily habit to include is to focus on your breathing.

“It’s one of the most basic mindful exercises. Everyone can consciously focus their attention on their breathing. Start breathing in and out slowly, through your nose and out from your mouth, letting your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body. One cycle should last approximately six seconds.”

“Let go of your thoughts, all the things you have on your plate, and the stress that you may have unconsciously collected in your neck and shoulder areas. Notice how your breathing expands and contracts your chest and stomach, and how it enters and leaves your body.”

Positive thinking

“Think on the bright side!” is what a friend (or that inspirational Instagram post) is likely to throw at you when you’re this close to mentally checking out. And it’s true that positive emotions like joy help improve the immune system, as well as helps an individual become more creative, sociable, trusting, compassionate and resilient, according to Stephen.

But stress, frustration and negativity are part and parcel of being human. And it’s pretty much next to impossible to remain cheerful all the time.

“Negative thoughts are normal and okay,” Mitch notes. “But instead of getting down on yourself, a positive mindset could be, ‘Okay, this happened. How can I grow from this?’, or ‘What is the next best-case scenario in my situation?'”

Our brain has an inherent negativity bias; we overlearn from painful events and don’t learn enough from positive ones.

Joanne Chua, clinical psychologist

Joanne shares the same sentiment. “Savour the positive, no matter how small; our brain has an inherent negativity bias, and we overlearn from painful events and don’t learn enough from positive ones. So, bring more mindfulness to your daily activities, especially the ones that feel good! Start journaling all the pleasant events that happen throughout the day.”

She adds,” It could be as simple as slowly savouring a warm cup of tea, being grateful for a seat on the crowded MRT, or relishing a shared smile with your spouse or little ones before you head out (or to your home office) to work. Neuroscience research demonstrates that consistently doing this for 21 days in a row can tip your brain into a positive bias!”

Always jotting down appointments and tasks? Start intentionally planning for joy instead.

When a person plans for joy, they also nurture an interest and curiosity to try new things, and are more likely to put aside time for personal wellbeing.

Stephen Lew, founder of The School of Positive Psychology

“When a person plans for joy, they make the commitment to engage their positive emotions and/or create meaningful connections with others. A joy activity could be anything from strolling in the park, sharing a joke or trying out new food stores with a loved one, sharing a gratitude note, spending time amidst nature, or caring for a pet or a plant,” Stephen explains.

“In short, when a person plans for joy, they also nurture an interest and curiosity to try new things, and are more likely to put aside time for personal wellbeing.”

The power of kindness

It never hurts to spread a little kindness, and engaging in acts of cooperation and altruism, can increase your own sense of well-being, too.

“Start a ‘kindness day’ – choose one day per week to perform five acts of kindness. They should be behaviours that can benefit other people or make others happy; it could be donating blood, helping a friend with a chore, visiting an elderly relative or a friend who needs encouragement, or writing a thank you note to a former employer or teacher. This impacts our satisfaction with life, happiness and wellbeing,” shares Stephen.