48. How To Manage Stress & Why Stress-Free Doesn't Exist
Stress is something we all deal with on a consistent basis. The stress levels may be higher for some and lower for others but overall, stress is present in everyone's life. Even mine.
I am a person that doesn't cope with stress well at all. This is something I have grown to learn about myself, give myself grace around and open up about with loved ones around me. I tend to get stressed out and overwhelmed very easily and find it difficult at times to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
For a long time I used to feel the saying "when it rains, it pours" pretty deeply. And while, to some this may sound dramatic, when you live this day in & day out - it doesn't feel that way. I never truly understood why some people could handle stressful circumstances really well when I, on the other hand, would get extremely anxious, angry, upset & overwhelmed. Why couldn't I thrive in stressful situations too? This was a question I always asked myself.
I realized sometime in college that I wasn't only feeling mental symptoms from stress such as stressful thoughts, anxiety, etc. but I was also feeling physical symptoms from stress too. These physical symptoms would range from an upset stomach to a severe sore throat and even a terrible headache that only sleep could cure.
Even to this day should my stress levels get too high, throat is the first thing to become inflamed. I assume that this is my body's signal to say "hey! we need to level this out. we're in too deep over here!" And while painful, I'm grateful that my body alerts me when it's had too much.
2016 & 2017 were probably the most stressful years I've ever had. Between moving, switching jobs a few times, ups & downs in my relationship and just overall growing pains, I can say that it was one for the books for sure. And looking back, I think the biggest problem of it all is that I just didn't know how to cope or manage high-stress situations.
I've said this many times before but, the people in my life always see me as Susie Sunshine - you know, the girl who basically has the sun following her around, skipping down the straight with a glass-half-full perspective. In their eyes, that was me. And, I guess in my own mind that was & still is me to an extent. But, I think with that idea of me, I forget (and I am sure others do too) that I'm still human. And that life isn't always sunshine and rainbows and while it's important to be able to stop and smell the roses, you also need to know how to roll up your sleeves and get through the muddy times too.
I don't think I ever properly learned how to get through the muddy times. That's the truth.
Looking back, I didn't really grow up in a family that stayed too long in the muddy times. As in, it was just like a "put your chin up, you'll be fine, keep going" mentality. And I can totally appreciate that at times. I think that type of outlook is so important and keeps you from being walked all over in other parts of life as well. But I think it's equally important to understand that tough times will inevitably come your way and when they do, don't run. Stay right here and these are some things you can do to get through it.
Why Stress-Free Doesn't Exist
My perspective now on stress is that, a stress-free lifestyle doesn't exist. There is no such thing as a stress-free life. Stress comes up in so many different forms for different people that it's impossible to escape. And honestly, it's not always a bad thing. It's like, how else do we recognize the sweet moments of life unless we equally recognize when times were tough?
I truly believe our inability to cope with stress is because we believe a stress-free life exists. I believe that we suffer during difficult times because we continue to wish for something that isn't realistic. Once we recognize and truly understand that stress is constantly surrounding us and that our work is really about building up our toolbox to cope with and manage stress, the suffering can begin to melt away.
At least, this is where my work is beginning. I understand that stress comes in all forms - worrying about money, fighting with our bodies, resisting a craving, comparing ourselves to other people, not enjoying our jobs, fighting with a friend/family member/loved one, raising children, moving, getting a new job, getting fired, losing unexpected weight, gaining unexpected weight, exercising too much, etc. The list truly does go on.
But if we can begin to build up our personal toolboxes to help us manage our stress levels I think we'll be on a better path to enjoying our lives.
What Is A Stress Toolbox?
A stress toolbox is a few things you can go to really easily that can help you reduce stress in the moment or just help you cope with it while it's happening. These tools aren't things that are difficult to access, will inevitably cost you more stress in the end, etc. A few of my tools are journaling, listening to music, watching reruns of The Hills or turning on a comedy show. All of these things are inexpensive, at my disposal right away and won't cause more stress in the end.
Sometimes people put things in their toolbox that, in the moment provide relief and happiness but in the end cause a negative emotion. Some of these things are alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating something they normally wouldn't eat, calling up an ex-friend or partner, etc.
Again, while these tools may help in the moment, sometimes these can end up adding to your stress in the end and so they are better to be left out of the stress toolbox.
Ideas to Add to Your Stress Toolbox
- a bubble bath
- a meditation
- visiting an animal shelter
- visiting a nursing home
- listening to music
- calling up a trusted friend
- watching a funny movie
- rearranging furniture
- cleaning the house
- taking a long drive
- lighting a good smelling candle
- watching an old TV show
- turning your phone off
Any of these are great ideas to add to your stress toolbox. And of course, the list doesn't just stop there. I'm sure you have plenty of easily accessible ideas at your fingertips that can help you cope with stress and get you through difficult times in your life.