I am not sure what I expected adulthood to be like as a child. I truly can not remember, and knowing me, I probably did not give it a first, let alone a second thought (I tend to live in the moment). But now that I’m here (33 years old = adult) I am struck by how complicated everything is, how nothing is clear cut and everything is ambiguous. It’s stressful!
However, stress is a reality of life. Stress is necessary (toxic stress not so much, but more about that later). Stress is a huge motivator, propelling us forward through life (out of the frying pan and into the fire?) It can’t be avoided, just lived with or worked around. I am writing this post to help me remember how to do this (sometimes I forget) and also to get clear in my own head the difference between stress (aka life) and toxic stress (the stuff we should be taking steps to protect ourselves from).
- Be aware of your triggers… Some situations, you just know are going to be stressful like job interviews of staff meetings or (insert stressful activity here). If you can see them coming you can prepare yourself. It is so helpful to have a response planned out in advance, for example if you know someone is going to be argumentative in a meeting you have have your response all scripted out, like ‘that’s an interesting point, I will be sure to consider it’ or ‘we seem to have gotten of topic, let’s regroup.’ Maybe your trigger is crowded shopping malls at Christmas time, so you try online shopping or shopping at odd hours when it’s quiet. Knowing yourself and what makes you feel stressed out gives you so much power in the situation. Avoid or prepare, your choice.
- Be aware of your warning signs… I know that when I start knocking back the Redbull things are not going so great for me. It is a very clear warning sign that I need to take a moment to stop and think,. To ask myself, what’s wrong? And what would be a better way of dealing with this? However many times I try it, Redbull has yet to solve my problems or decrease my workload. I use it as a crutch, because it tastes good and I have convinced myself that it will help give me the energy I need to get through the next 10 minutes. After all who is thinking ahead to how difficult it will be to fall asleep that night? Sometimes getting through the next 10mins is the top priority. Everyone has different warning signs, but I am sure if you take a moment to think about it, you should be able to come up with two or three without any real effort. Once you’re aware of them, you can use them as a good tool to step out of your stressful situation and just realise ‘I am experiencing stress’. With this simple awareness comes the power to act and potentially the power to change your experience for the better.
- Be reasonable… You do not have power over the universe. You can not control everything, especially not other people, so please be reasonable with what you expect from yourself. There are things in this world which are just too horrible to mention and I have zero percent ability to do anything about them, most likely, neither do you. The only thing to do in situations like this is let it go. I say to myself that whoever has the power in the situation can also have the stress. If I can’t affect it in any way I am not wasting headspace on it. Sometimes I avoid watching the news for exactly this reason. It is very helpful to have some sort of belief system in place for these situations so you can say to yourself, ‘Don’t worry, God will sort that out’ or ‘The universe is taking care of that’ or ‘karma will come through in the end’. Whatever it is you believe, it is very comforting to be able to hand over the impossible problems and reclaim your peace of mind.
- Choose to get help… This is especially important for toxic stress (the kind that brings on panic attacks and does lasting damage to your mental and physical well-being). Some things are just too big to deal with by ourselves and can’t be ignored like chronic illness, mental health issues, bullying, discrimination or abuse. Some things you can walk away from, like a bad work situation, but others like chronic illness, you can’t leave behind so you will need support to work around or ride out. Sometimes the help comes in the form of childcare or help with housework, other times it might be a chat over a cup of coffee, and sometimes it could be an intervention by professionals (union rep, mental health nurse, police etc). As the person in the situation you are the person who gets to choose what help might be helpful. But once you have made up your mind, please follow through, nine times out of ten, you will be glad you did.
- Distraction… This is my favourite. Think music, think audio books (I love listening to text books while driving, it’s a great way to get through some heavy material with less effort), think art, think whatever draws you in and takes up 100% of your attention. Stories do it for me everytime. I get swept away and there is simply no room for anything else. Right now my focus is on writing here and learning the guitar (great app ‘Yousician’ worth a try if you are thinking of learning guitar). With my head full of story I can take a break from reality and rest and recharge myself, then I can come back with a bit more energy and a bit less stress. It’s awesome.
- Embracing / Expressing… How good does it feel to listen to a sad song when you feel sad? Or an angry song when you feel angry? How about popping some bubble wrap? Or punching a pillow (a bit cliche I know, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try). Maybe your thing is art or exercise or poetry, whatever it is do it. Chances are you will feel better.
- Look after yourself… I know what to do when I have a headache, I take pain killers, similarly I have strategies I can use when I recognise that I am experiencing stress (see above). The key is to use them. How many times have you had a headache and done nothing about it? Just suffered because it was too hard to walk to the kitchen and get the medicine or maybe you forgot pain killers exist at all. The strategies don’t help if you don’t use them. The otherside of looking after yourself if the preventative stuff, eating well, exercising, getting good sleep etc. We all know what to do but doing it, that’s the hard part. In Gretchen Rubin’s blog the happiness project she reminds us that sometimes doing the things that make us happy (or in my case less stressed) do not make us feel happy in the moment (it’s like a long term happiness investment, no instant gratification here). But these are the things that once embedded into your life actually make the most difference to how you cope in stressful situations or during stressful times. Look after yourself and you will be more able to kick stress to the curb (hehe).
Great… now that you’re feeling better (or at least well on your way) how about you share some of your stress busting tips my way?