The topic of stress has been coming up a lot recently in my circle of friends. Jobs, relationships, finances, big moves, family drama … stress is everywhere, and the truth is that it’s unavoidable.
When I was younger, I had my fair share of stress and anxiety problems. I was an intense worrier, and easily able to imagine wildly unlikely scenarios about which I would inevitably get myself worked up. I displaced worry about big things onto worry about little things – because the little things I could control. The big things I couldn’t. But through all of that stress and worry, I learned a lot, and what I learned then – from my awesome parents, good books, guidance counselors, friends – still holds true now. Stress is hard to handle sometimes, but the following steps always help me:
1. DON’T PANIC. This was one that came from my parents. Our first reaction when we get stressed is often to panic before we really assess the situation. If we start out in a panic, it will be a lot more difficult to handle whatever situation is causing the stress – and it will inevitably make it seem that much worse.
2. Don’t let stress snowball. This one goes along with “Don’t Panic”, and I found it in one of the many books I own by Richard Carlson (author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff). The issue here is that we often let one stressful situation compound upon another one. Rather than dealing with just the present issue, our minds race to everything else that has caused us stress recently or may potentially cause us stress in the future, and we simply can’t handle what appears to be an insurmountable heap of horrors. In reality, what we are facing is one situation, at one moment in time, and in truth that is the only thing over which we have control – our reaction in this moment. It’s easier said than done to not let stress snowball, but even just being aware of the fact that our brains are doing that can be helpful.
3. Maintain Perspective. This is another tough one – in the midst of crisis, it can be difficult to look beyond the present. Stress grows from a tiny angry animal into a giant monster that stretches infinitely into the future. But this is closely tied in with the “Don’t Panic” rule. It’s important to look at stressful situations and ask if the stress will matter in a week, or a year – knowing that it won’t matter doesn’t take the stress away, but it’s a helpful reminder that it isn’t permanent, and it’s not something to lose too much sleep over. If the stress is larger, then it’s important to be aware of that, too, and figure out the healthiest way to manage it if it’s coming from a long-term situation. Stress is something we all have to live with, but it shouldn’t take over our lives.
4. Have a Laugh. Stressed at work? Take thirty seconds to watch a funny video, or go online and read an article on The Onion. If you’re elsewhere and have more freedom, take a walk. Look at the world around you and find one wonderful or funny or interesting thing about it. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own stress that we almost refuse to leave it behind. But as long as you can still laugh about something – a joke, a movie, a tv show – you can remember that stress can be managed.
What do you do to help relieve stress?