You know the feeling, those moments of panic that happen throughout the day–they wash over you like a fever. You start to feel the pit in your stomach, your lungs become heavier in your chest and, if you are blessed with anxiety like mine, your bladder becomes a nagging companion every 5 minutes. Anxiety is a @!(#@*.
I have struggled with this for years, reading article after article and trying thing after thing to relieve the unwelcome accomplices of stress in my life. We all deal with stress in one way or another, good or bad. Here are some ways that you might be trying to cope with stress (in no particular order) and some alternative suggestions to help you overcome stress instead of letting it overcome you.
1. You are binging on Netflix (escapism)
Now hold on a moment, don’t panic. I am not telling you to cancel your Netflix subscription or sell your firstborn child. As far as I am concerned Netflix is close to greatest thing since the sliced bread. However, I have noticed an unhealthy cycle in which, when I am stressed and the shadow of my To Do List is looming, I use the escape of a TV show to calm my overwhelming nerves. But in the long run, I neglect my responsibilities and that just leaves me with more guilt and stress to deal with.
Instead: tackle a task and reward yourself
I have found that tackling something on my To Do List actually gives me more of a stress relief than ignoring it. Start with something easy–organize your day planner, do the dishes, do an easy assignment, etc. This will give you the confidence to tackle the giants in your life, and then reward you with something that is enjoyable but won’t distract you too much. Save Netflix for Friday night! (Or, watch it only when you are tackling easy tasks like dishes.)
2. You are over sleeping or not getting enough sleep
Sometimes the sheer weight of the day greets me in the morning and all I want to do is stay in bed and sleep until my problems go away. Or other times keep myself busy until the early mornings trying to convince myself that I am being productive.
Instead: adopt a routine
Find a comfortable routine that gets you out of bed even when you don’t want to. Include exercise in your routine (!!!). I can’t stress this enough. If you can make time for facebook, you can make time for a 30 minute walk outside (Vitamin D!). You are probably thinking I look like a hypocrite but I am only telling you this because I am just starting to reap the benefits of being disciplined in this area of my life. I have been on an exercise program for going on 3 weeks, working out 30-60 minutes every day, and it has made the world of a difference in my outlook on life. Find something that you enjoy. You don’t have to go to the gym or watch a cheesy home video–do what you love and get your butt movin’!
If you are interested in learning about how physical exercise affects your cognitive and psychological state, Spark by John J. Ratey is an interesting read!
3. You aren’t feeding your body
Now you may be eating 3,000 calories of junk, but are you fueling your body? Do you feel stressed, lethargic, have unpredictable waves of energy, mood swings, headaches, or are you having the emotional or physical craving to overeat? My [unprofessional] guess is that your body is not being fueled properly.
Instead: fuel your body!
I challenge you: make sure to get in all of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats and cut out as much processed and sugary food as you can for a week or two… and see how you feel!
4. You are ruminating, a.k.a “chewing the cud,” a.k.a focusing on the problems that are causing you stress
Wikipedia explains this psychological phenomenon as “compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.”
I find myself doing this whenever I know that I need to initiate a difficult conversation. I continuously think about the worst outcomes, and while I think that I am emotionally preparing myself for the discussion I am only paralyzing myself with fear.
Instead: meditate on positive thoughts
Find a scripture or a mantra or whatever floats your boat and take control of your thoughts. One of the cheesy quotes that I have been telling myself is “Either you run the day or the day runs you.” (Jim Rohn.) There you go, folks. Yes, it’s cheesy, but for some reason I feel empowered. Find what works for you! And if there is a problem that needs a solution–make a plan and start from there.
5. You are settling into the grind
You are a hardworking, nose to the grind kind of person. You push yourself to achieve and to always do well. But eventually your drive will wear down. Personally, I have been working towards getting into Nursing school for a number of years, and when I settle deeper into the grind of school and work and… life, I forget what made me want to do it in the first place. Wake up call: you don’t have to stay in that mental state!
Instead: get inspired!
Stop, drop… and try to remember what made you want to do what you are doing right now. What gives you butterflies and makes you excited to get up in the morning? What originally inspired you to live the life your living… or the life you want to live? We all have something that makes us want to giggle or get up and do a happy dance. I look up videos of the stories of people that I look up to and it inspires me to keep working to reach my potential. I imagine myself exactly where I want to be and tell myself that I AM going to be there. This is one of the most powerful things you can do to emotional and spiritually refuel.
You have a purpose and you are WORTH IT. So embrace the fact that even though you may not always have control over the amount of stress that comes your way, you have control over your mind and your life. As always, I love to share ideas, so let me know what you think!