“So far, you made it through 100% of your worst days.”
– is one of my favorite quotes to remember whenever I felt like I couldn’t make it through the day. It’s a reminder that at the end of the day I’m still strong and resilient.
We all have experienced moments of high stress. Stress is inevitable, it’s our bodies natural response to stressful situations. “Prolonged high stress can cause high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, heart disease, and digestive problems. Headaches, depression, aggressive behavior, and low energy are other common symptoms.” (Veterans Affair, 2014).
While browsing through my book shelf the other day, I happened to find an old ‘Manage Stress’ workbook by the ‘National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention’ that I was given 7 years ago and boom- a light went off in my brain for a great blog post idea. I’ve been under a lot of work-related stress so I’m not only revisiting these techniques for myself, I’m also sharing them with you all and hopefully these techniques will help you too 🙂 .
My Stress Management Goal is..
My 2014 response to this writing prompt was: “To learn how to react better/more effectively to stressful situations. Be more in control“. And reading that response now in 2021, made me chuckle because the reason why I was so stressed out back then was because I tried to hold onto so much control. I was a control freak. And one huge lesson I’ve learned over the years is that you cannot control everything. Sometimes you gotta be like: “F
uck it, it’s outta my control and there’s nothing I can do about it” and just let it be what it is.
Today in 2021, my stress management goal is: “To change the things I can control, let go of what I can’t, and learn to not put myself back into the same stressful situations”, which also means stop playing victim to my own self-destruction. I find myself back in the same situations out of fear, comfort/familiarity, and “playing things safe”. Making hasty decisions and not thinking about the long-term effects of them is also a contributor. I can’t keep crying over spilt milk if I keep putting the cup on the edge of a lop-sided table.
When goal-setting, remember to follow the SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic) method. Before the beginning of each week: write down small goals that you want to accomplish, steps to achieve those goals, and set an average stress-level goal for yourself. Things don’t always go as planned but it’s good to be organized and have something to look forward to rather than just going with the flow all the time.
Identify & Track.
To begin managing your stress, you must first identify and track the sources of your stress. Example stressors: family conflict, environment, money worries, busy work schedule, world news, being in a global pandemic, an upcoming presentation, lack of confidence, traffic to/from work, chronic pain/health issues, poor diet, planning for a big event or trip, the holiday season, etc.
After you’ve identified what’s stressing you, track how often and how much these things are bothering you. Next, figure out if these things are under your control or not. If they are not under your control then it’s not important or worth the stress. If they are under your control, make a plan to deal with the stressors by practicing stress management techniques or limit your exposure to them.
I’m glad I’ve now developed the habit of eliminating anything and anyone from my life that causes me too much stress, especially jobs. Nothing or no one is worth letting my mental health suffer.
How do you respond to stress?
“When you know how your body responds to stressors, you can focus on finding the best stress management technique for each one.” (Veterans Affair, 2014)
Common stress symptoms are:
- Chest tightness
- Lack of motivation
- Muscle cramps or tension
- Digestive issues
- Heart palpitations or chest pains
- Change in sex drive (usually a decrease)
To begin understanding how you respond to stress, ask yourself: When I’m in stressful situations do I ‘fight or flight’ ? My previous response to stress was “to flight”/avoid, let my emotions build up, then explode in anger or burst into tears. I no longer react that way but I do still deal with depression and anxiety as a result of my stressors, which is why I try to attack the stress before it gets me to that state.
“As you get to know your feelings, you will develop a natural wisdom and insight into which feelings you need to let be, which require action, and which will cause more suffering if you act on them.” (Veterans Affairs, 2014).
In my past experiences, I always acted on my feelings because I tried to control and contain them for so long and never allowed myself enough compassion to feel these feelings and get to the root of where these feelings were actually coming from. When you gain insight to the root of the feeling, it enables you to take a different approach to the moment or situation. To manage stress effectively you have to achieve greater emotional intelligence too.
Find out what you love to do and DO IT.
“Research has shown that the things we do affect the way we feel. When you spend time in activities that you find relaxing, enjoyable, or just plain fun, you tend to feel less distressed and happier.” (Veterans Affairs, 2014).
If you work a 9 to 5 for five days a week like I do then you can understand how our jobs can easily consume us cause we’re literally there most of the time. And sorry but I don’t find work to be enjoyable. I’m also trying to get out of the habit of waiting till the weekends just to live my life but it’s hard when work is so exhausting. Two days to myself is just not enough.
Ask yourself: what are you truly passionate about? what or whom makes you feel your best?
It’s also important to be physically active. I know when we’re stressed, all we want to do is retreat and stay to ourselves which is absolutely okay, please get your rest and relaxation time in, but it’s not okay to sit in these feelings by yourself for too long. Going outside and getting some fresh air really does help. I honestly dread having to walk my dog most of the time (because I be lazy) but when I’m actually doing it, I begin to feel so good in the moment because my mind is no longer focused on my stressors.
Mindfulness & Other Techniques.
And finally, my favorite part about managing stress is relieving it. One way to relieve stress is to practice mindfulness on a regular daily basis. Which includes mindful intentional thinking, mindful meditation, and mindful eating habits.
I highly advise you to avoid stress-eating unhealthy junk foods. Having the uncontrollable munchies was something I was definitely guilty of. Nowadays when I do feel stressed, I go to eat my favorite fruits instead and fresh cold water to calm my nerves. And maybe a piece or two of chocolates, hehe 🤫. But I do not overeat anymore.
Have you ever been in a stressful situation and realized that you were extremely short of breath? That’s because you’re most likely unknowingly holding your breath. And when you’re not breathing properly in a stressful situation, that can cause an anxiety or panic attack to happen. This is where practicing deep breathing exercises come in handy.
“It’s one of the fastest ways to deal with stress in the moment. The more you practice, the better you will become at managing stressful situations.” (Veterans Affairs, 2014). Not only will it immediately lower your stress levels, it could possibly lower your blood pressure and slow down heart palpitations.
Other techniques that I like are: getting social support, building problem solving and emotional intelligence skills, developing a self-care routine (my personal fav), scheduling a massage to relieve muscle tension, keeping a stress ball nearby, taking time off work, sleeping, cleaning or organizing the house, poppin’ some bubble wrap (please do this at home so you don’t annoy others), chewing on a stick of (sugar-free) gum, chanting “OM” loudly for a few seconds, and burning a candle or lighting incense. Scents like eucalyptus, lavender, chamomile, jasmine, and patchouli are super calming and stress-reliving.
Do what works for you, always.
Download your own FREE copy of the ‘Manage Stress’ workbook. It has a lot more detailed information and exercises you can follow to manage stress. Also, check out my Self Care Ideas for Stress and Anxiety blog post.
Happy Sunday and Happy Daylight Saving time! To my seasonal depression folks- our time is coming 😃.
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