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New Year, Same Stress Article Cover
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Are you feeling the weight of the new year already? Are you desperately trying to manage stress for personal growth?

Each new year, I start the year enthusiastically, invigorated to get a fresh start to better myself. As life happens, I often struggle to maintain that enthusiasm. I often give up on my goals and dreams for the year due to circumstances beyond my control. Can you relate?

Did you know that the second Friday in January is traditionally known as Quitters Day? It is a day when people are most likely to lose their enthusiasm for improvement, where they fall back into their old patterns or succumb to challenges that cause them to give up on their resolutions for the new year. Most people (and I) fall into this trap, as we end up feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to follow through with our intentions.

Unfortunately, stress does not magically disappear at the start of the new year. We may still face ongoing problems from previous years.

The good news is that it is not impossible to manage stress for personal growth. We may just require some introspection, patience, continuous mindfulness and compassion towards ourselves.

So, how can we manage stress? Here are some valuable tips that I found work for me.

Be present

You may be familiar with the following quote by Alice Morse Earle: “The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”

We are often so focused on the past, what we could have done differently, and what we feel we could have done better. Alternatively, we are stuck in the future, worrying about what might happen, running through every “What if” scenario, and constantly feeling pressured about things that have not happened and might never happen.

It is difficult to take the time to focus on the present day, to live in the moment, or to stop and smell the roses. However, if you do, you might find more enjoyment in your day. It is as simple as focusing on what you can do in this moment. When you feel overwhelmed by a long to-do list, breaking it down into smaller tasks and giving your full attention to one thing at a time can help reduce your stress levels.

Life happens

Life is unpredictable. You will experience highs and lows, good and bad. Life will still happen no matter how meticulously you have planned out your year. It is not easy to navigate stress when faced with unexpected loss, unemployment, illness, or any other unforeseen event.

The famous English saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” comes to mind. The idiom implies that you need to be strong and carry on during difficult times. No! Some hurdles and obstacles require more than a “toughing it out” and “performance at all costs” mindset.

Sometimes, we need to lean on a friend or our support systems to help us through tough times. In times like these, I try to take it easy on myself and remind myself that this, too, shall pass. Maybe not immediately or even in the next month, but there is always a rainbow after the rain. There is always hope for a better tomorrow. There is always a way to manage stress for personal growth.

Replenish your cup.

“You cannot pour from an empty cup.” is a phrase traced back to ancient Chinese philosophy. In the last few years, the term “burnout” has become increasingly common as a result of overwhelming stress leading to severe exhaustion. Burnout takes a long time to bounce back from.

It is crucial to take action before your cup runs empty by continuously filling your cup with things that bring you joy. This allows you to create a nurturing space to rejuvenate when needed. Knowing and keeping to your limits and asking for help when you require it will help you maintain an optimal level of energy and motivation to achieve the goals you set for yourself.

Pause and reflect

When you feel overwhelmed by everything going on around you, take a step back. Focus on the bigger picture and determine if you are still on track with what you want out of life. When facing challenges, take the time to reflect on your life and determine if what you are doing remains meaningful and gives you a sense of purpose and fulfilment. If it doesn’t, it is time to reflect and shift your behaviour to align more closely with your interest.

Changing one seemingly small aspect of your life may significantly impact your stress levels. Or you might experience renewed confidence in your decisions and a new sense of purpose, passion and dedication to pursue your goals.

Celebrate the small victories

You might feel that the only worthy moment to celebrate a victory is at the finish line, only when you have completed a project, graduated, or reached your goal. The truth is that you should celebrate every accomplishment and all the smaller milestones on your journey.

Similar to climbing Mount Everest, you will ascend through various camps and basecamps in life, where you need to rest, acclimatise and prepare for the next part of your journey. Reaching the summit requires many small steps, specific skills, physical endurance, and mental resilience. As you progress towards the highest point of the mountain, each camp represents a particular achievement towards the end goal. 

Navigating the demands of a stressful day, passing an assessment, completing a study session and writing an excellent essay are all small triumphs that you should consciously acknowledge and enjoy. Take pride in every small step you take and every stage you reach on your journey of personal growth.

Patience is a virtue.

Being patient is not easy, especially with the pace we have set for ourselves in a culture where it is fashionable to be busy or seem busy. We want instant results; we don’t want to read a book if we can google the answer; we don’t want to watch a video in multiple parts, and we don’t like to wait another year for the first episode of a new season of our favourite television series. It becomes a chore to manage stress and we sideline personal growth. 

Setting and working towards goals, such as completing your qualification, generates a similar sense of anticipation as waiting for the release of Taylor Swift’s next album. However, the rush to achieve a goal may detract from meaningful moments during the journey, such as missing out on networking or team-building opportunities. Setting unrealistic goals and pushing yourself too hard can lead to increased stress levels and feeling negative, which may overshadow the entire experience. As Nissan professes in its famous advertising campaign:

Remember…..Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride.

Focus your energy on your circle of control.

As much as we often want to, we do not have control over everything. Worrying about things we have no control over is all too easy. You can get lost in a spiral, worrying about everything that might go wrong. Releasing that pressure from yourself is crucial.

Take a second to imagine yourself within a circle; surrounding you is everything you have under your control – your actions, responses, preparations and communication. Outside your circle of control lies everything beyond your control, such as others’ opinions, the external world, the economy, other people’s choices, and unforeseen circumstances.

Focus your energy on what you can control. It is like preparing for an exam; you can control what you learn, when, and how you prepare, ensuring that you leave early to get to the exam centre on exam day, etc. However, on the day of the exam, there may be unscheduled power outages, technical glitches or an accident on the road that affects you and is a situation beyond your control. Unfortunately, there is nothing that you can do to prevent these situations from happening. You can only control how you respond to them.

A final thought.

I know that I am doing the best I can, and that alone is phenomenal. Start believing in this, too. We are all on our journeys through life, but we can all agree that stress is a universal language. As you face the new year with new challenges, take things one day at a time, as I do.

It won’t always be a walk in the park; it might even feel like a walk through Jurassic Park, but we’ve got this. 

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for advice from a registered medical health professional. If you have any concerns about your health, mental wellbeing or stress, please consult with your registered health practitioner or contact the 24-hour Higher Health Student Helpline on their toll-free number 080 036 3636 or send an sms to 43336.

Sources of Inspiration

Adhikari, S. (2023, June 26). Why Everest Base Camp Trek is Lifetime Journey? LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-everest-base-camp-trek-lifetime-journey-sudip-adhikari/

Amabile, T. M., & Kramer, S. J. (2011, May 1). The Power of Small Wins. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins

Ansah, K. (2022, June 10). What happens when life happens? Graphic Online. https://www.graphic.com.gh/lifestyle/what-happens-when-life-happens.html

Clark, G. (n.d.). When the Going Gets Tough… What we get right and mostly wrong about “mental toughness”. KB Inspire Magazine. Retrieved February 14, 2024, from https://www.kbiinspires.com/whenthegoinggetstough.

Haden, J. (2020, January 3). A Study of 800 Million Activities Predicts Most New Year’s Resolutions Will Be Abandoned on January 19: How to Create New Habits That Actually Stick. Inc.Africa. https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/a-study-of-800-million-activities-predicts-most-new-years-resolutions-will-be-abandoned-on-january-19-how-you-cancreate-new-habits-that-actually-stick.html

Perry, E. (2022, March 10). How to Be Present: Discover the Benefits of Here and Now. BetterUp. https://www.betterup.com/blog/how-to-be-present

Perper, R. (2020, July 10). How to be Patient with Yourself and Others in a Changing World. Therapy Changes. https://therapychanges.com/blog/2020/07/how-to-be-patient-with-yourself-and-others-in-a-changing-world/

Schaffer, A. K. (2023, June 1). Understanding the Circles of Influence, Concern, and Control. PositivePsychology.Com. https://positivepsychology.com/circles-of-influence/

Stephens, T. (2022, March 10). You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup. Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. https://www.moumethodist.org/layleadersblogdetail/you-cant-pour-water-from-an-empty-cup-17057009

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