Your How-To Guide for Coping With Stress
No matter what stage of life you’re in or what your personal situation looks like, it’s a safe bet that you experience stress from time to time — or even a little more often than that. Our lives can get hectic. There’s always another work emergency to juggle, more finals to study for and more kids’ activities to arrange on the schedule. But there aren’t more hours in the day to tend to everything on our to-do lists or the things going on in our personal lives. That can leave us stressed and searching for answers.
While stress may be a struggle for us all at times, dealing with it in healthy ways is the key to keep it from running your life. These useful tips can help you manage — and even decrease — your stress levels to maintain control and enjoy some relaxation.
Start Acknowledging Your Stress
While everyone experiences stress at times, many people never really stop to ask themselves why. We've all had those moments when we've turned to cocktails, TV show binges or fast food to smother our feelings. Stress is uncomfortable, and when we feel it for longer periods, it’s tempting to ignore that sensation or push it away so we can get some relief. But that doesn’t get to the root of the stress, which is what can ultimately help us resolve it.
How often do we really stop and ask ourselves what exactly has us so stressed out in the first place? Stress tends to be a messenger — a loud one at times, but a messenger nonetheless. It's there to tell us that there's a problem we need to deal with or that we've taken on too much and need to take some time out to decompress.
The next time you feel stress flaring, take a few moments to sit with it — and yourself — and ask what’s going on and how you’re feeling about it. Journaling tends to be a great way to get to the root of problems that are sometimes less-than-obvious. You may even discover that the real issue is completely different from what you thought it was. If you're having trouble focusing, you might also consider a guided meditation.
Respond Rather Than React
Once you know why you're stressed, you'll be better equipped to deal with the problem at the root of your anxiety. Taking a few moments out of your schedule to stare your problems right in the eye isn't always the most attractive proposition. But it could be less painful in the long run.
Anxiety is nothing if not a persistent emotion, and the more you try to ignore it, the louder it's going to knock on the door of your mind. That's when we start snapping at people and reacting to situations because we don't have the presence of mind to respond.
By identifying the problem behind your stress, you can start to consciously plan out how you're going to deal with it. At its root, stress is generally a fear of a problem you're not sure how to handle. Once you've identified the problem and have started figuring out the steps you need to take to handle it, your fear should naturally start to ease up a bit. And, you’ll feel reassured about having a course of action.
Understand Self-Care vs. Selfishness
Sometimes, you may find that the problem is simply that you're trying to do too much. Between working, helping kids with schoolwork, managing chronic health issues or dealing with other day-to-day tasks, it may seem like life is one constant to-do list. You may simply need to carve out some time just for yourself.
That might be easier said than done, however. Many people mistake self-care for selfishness, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you're constantly stressed out, the reality is that you're going to be a lot less pleasant to be around. You'll naturally become frazzled, reactive and unhappy.
According to online therapy community Talkspace, results of a 2017 study show that "those who actively choose to have alone time experience stress relief and relaxation when they spend their time alone." Sometimes the most caring thing you can do for everyone around you is to take some time to yourself. Arrange a time — adding it to your schedule to make it official — when your spouse can take care of the kids and you can have a few hours to read, watch a funny movie, exercise or do nothing at all. Just by giving yourself this small gift, you'll lower the odds of becoming subconsciously resentful at all the other things and people that require your time.
Stay Serene — When You Can
There’s an old prayer that asks for the serenity to "accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." Whether you're religious, spiritual or neither, it still serves as a great reminder that we can't control everything.
When you've identified the object of your stress and set out to make a plan to deal with it, it's important to separate the things you can control from those that you can't. Sometimes it’ll be easy to think of solid steps you can take to solve your problem. Other times, it may seem like there's virtually nothing you can do and that the situation is totally out of your control.
Remind yourself, however, that this is never quite going to be the case. The truth is that none of us can control all of the things that happen to us in our lives. But the one thing we can always control is how we choose to respond to the things that happen to us. Decide what you can control, put your plan into action and consciously work towards letting the rest go, knowing that you've done what you can.
When you're walking around in a cloud of stress, it can be easy to feel like your problems are all there is to life. But your problems are not the end of the whole world — they're not even the end of your world.
Rather than giving them your focus and power, refocus on the things you do have going for you that you’re grateful for. Maybe it's your kids, your character, your spouse or the roof over your head. Try to make a habit of listing at least three things that you're thankful for every day; the benefits of doing so are clear. Showing gratitude can be a great way to shift your perspective and remind you that life is far better enjoyed than endured.