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Why do I feel so stressed and anxious all the time?

There are many reasons we all experience stress and anxiety, from exams to relationships, family tension, money and more - life can be full of ups and downs. But while it’s to be expected occasionally, it’s not nice to feel this way all of the time. 

So if you don’t remember the last time you felt quite relaxed and calm, perhaps it is time to look a little deeper into what things are going on in your life that are causing you to feel like this. Because once you have discovered some of the triggers for your stress and anxiety, then you might very well be able to ease their strain on your life.

Can I manage my feelings better so they don’t get in the way of my life?

The short answer is, yes. You can learn ways to combat stress and anxiety better. Of course there is no way to completely get rid of them (life can be a bit unfair like that), but by understanding what triggers your feelings of stress and anxiety, and knowing how to deal with it when they arise, you can definitely feel more in control of how they affect your life.

Remember, there are two causes for stress and anxiety:

  • Internal factors - these are the things you can take ownership of and try to manage better so they don’t impact so heavily on your life and emotions, for example a difficult assignment, how you react to situations and your own physical and mental wellbeing.
  • External factors - these are the things you can’t control, like an angry customer at work, a family member getting sick, or a global pandemic!

And here’s the trick:

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” (Maya Angelou, American poet).

What it’s saying is that if you keep feeling left out of things with your friends, or that you don’t think your performance at school/work or tertiary study has been very good lately - work out what needs to change to make it better. Maybe your friends don’t know they have been acting that way and when you approach them about it, they apologise. And if your performance has been lacking, see what you can do to improve it, whether that be talking to a teacher, tutor or manager.

And if something happens that is completely out of your control - like a holiday getting cancelled or you have to move out of your flat - it doesn’t need to feel like the end of the world. Maybe your holiday getting cancelled means you can use that money for something else, or finding a new place to live could mean moving closer to work or in with a group of friends.

How to not let other people make you feel stressed and anxious

Despite loving our friends and family, sometimes they can be the cause of our stress and anxiety. Whether they are going through their own issues and acting out, or treating us in a way we don’t like, it is hard to not let their actions affect us - it hurts.

So there are two ways in which you can approach this situation.

Reach out to them to have a chat. But try to do this in a sensitive way, that isn’t directly accusing them of behaving rudely to you (as they may not even realise it). You could always start with asking them how they are and whether they have been going through a rough time. And then explain how you have been feeling by using ‘I statements’ rather than ‘you statements’ - because this can come across as though you’re attacking or blaming them.

‘When I didn’t hear back from you the other day, I felt really sad and wasn’t sure why you didn’t reply.’

The second option is more of a hands-off response, perhaps for those times you’re not actually close to someone, or you don’t want to make direct contact (like a work colleague or another student in your class). It can be tough, but you need to make a choice not to let it personally upset you. Another person’s emotions and actions are not your responsibility and more often than not, it is a reflection of what is going on in their own life.

5 ways to manage stress and anxiety

  1. Be aware of the things that cause you stress and anxiety and create a plan of how to cope with them when they arise.
  2. Look after yourself by being physically active daily (even if it is just a 30 minute walk in the fresh air), getting enough sleep and eating healthy (most of the time).
  3. Talk to someone you feel comfortable to confide in - a problem shared is a problem halved!
  4. Whether it’s music, meditation or a catchup with a friend, make time for the things that help you feel good.
  5. Have some ‘tools’ for dealing with anxiety when you feel it creeping up on you, like practicing mindfulness, deep breathing or writing in a journal.

Key websites

Anxiety NZ - A variety of self-help resources as well as personal stories of those who have experienced anxiety.

Beyond Blue - 10 helpful strategies for managing anxiety.

Health Navigator - Tips for dealing with stress.

Youthline - Some really great tips for handling conflict with family and friends.