It’s a workday morning and your mind races with thoughts of chauffeuring the kids around, managing a new project at work, renovating the basement — or maybe all of the above. You try to keep your worrisome thoughts at bay — after all, it’s not even 8 a.m. yet — but before you know it, your heart is pounding and you feel a headache coming on. “Give me a break,” you think. “I haven’t gotten out of bed!”
How many times have you started a day like this? Instead of facing a new morning with the admirable tranquil air of a Buddhist monk, you run on caffeine boosts and adrenaline.
Like it or not, stress and anxiety pervade each of our lives. Whether it’s the occasional nagging thought that you’re not measuring up or chronic aches and pains, our worries manifest themselves in a myriad of ways.
According to the American Institute of Stress, there are 4 types of stress:
- Acute stress: the most common form of stress; it’s thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much wreaks havoc on our bodies and brains
- Chronic stress: the stresses we face day after day that wear away at us over time; ignore this kind of stress for too long and you’re in trouble
- Eustress: common stressors that can also be positive; think getting married, having a baby, starting a new job, graduating, etc.
- Distress: common stressors that we interpret as negative — struggling in work or school, ending a relationship, losing your job, getting injured, etc.
It’s likely you’ve experienced each of these at one point or another and perhaps are experiencing some right now. While we often can’t control the stressors that come our way, we do have a say in how we respond to them. One of the most important steps you can take toward combatting stress and anxiety is simply acknowledging it. It may sound easy, but we’re highly skilled in ignoring the heavy weights in our lives in favor of those things we consider more important: a good salary, a bigger home, our reputation, our sense of security, or a valued relationship. Have you ever noticed the more you ignore a problem, the more it seems to grow? Turning our back on our stresses doesn’t make them go away. It merely causes them to take on new forms until we become convinced we need to address them. Unfortunately, by this point they’ve already taken a toll.
When we turn toward our stress and anxiety instead of away from it, we give ourselves permission to do something about it. Instead of letting it control our thoughts and emotions, we recognize that we have the power (and the responsibility) to take action. When we change our relationship to the things that worry us, they often become a lot less scary.
It’s natural to get caught up in a cycle of self-deprecation when you start examining your stressors more closely — you’re stressed for goodness sake! But instead of harping on all the things that went wrong to cause you to feel a bit frazzled in the first place, cut yourself some slack. We like to think that our troubles are unique, that no one else has it quite as bad, or that we won’t be able to overcome the obstacles in our lives that so many others have managed to successfully navigate. The truth is, you’re not alone. Whatever you’re facing, however insurmountable it may seem, there are plenty of folks out there who can relate. Take comfort in knowing that what you’re feeling is what it means to be human. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust and share what’s on your mind.
Another useful tool for coping during turbulent times is to build pockets of predictability into your routine. Much of our stress, be it financial, familial, work related or other stems from feelings of powerlessness. It’s scary when we don’t know how things are going to turn out and when we perceive that there’s little we can do to affect the outcome. Look for ways to increase your degree of choice and sense of stability: Which route will you take home? What book will you read next? What time will you go to bed each night? When will you shut your phone off for the day? What color will you paint the living room? We have so many choices each day around how we live our lives, but often diminish them in the face of seemingly more consequential decisions. We’re not great at distinguishing the choices that make a difference from the ones that don’t. Learn to recognize your autonomy and don’t discount the small ways you can impact your life’s day-to-day flow.
Finally, be deliberate in taking care of yourself. When your stress meter is hovering in the danger zone, that’s your cue to dedicate extra time to doing more of what makes you feel good. Typically these are the first things to go when we’re feeling overwhelmed, but would you ditch the lifesaver if you were drowning? Not a chance! Muster up some energy to go for a hike, call a friend, get out your old art supplies or whip up a new recipe. If these feel too far out of reach, set aside time for quieter activities like meditating, listening to soothing sounds, reading or soaking in the tub. The goal isn’t to make your stresses go away; it’s to approach them with confidence and ease. Discover what gets you there and go do it.
For more tips and freebies, visit Emily’s blog at ilyrose.org.