Stress Management: Easier Said Than Done - But It CAN Be Done

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How good are you at managing your stress levels? I'll be honest with y'all - I'm HORRIBLE at it.

As I've gone through life, I've been able to recognize that I'm good at a lot of things - but stress management is something that I struggle with constantly. It's not until you begin to suffer the physical and mental consequences of stress that you realize how vital proper management is, but it's definitely something that is easier said than done, isn't it?

The consequences of poor stress management are never-ending. Migraines, chest pain, insomnia. Anxiety, depression, anger issues. Over/under eating, panic attacks, drug abuse. The negative effects of stress attack you across physical, mental, and emotional spheres, but what can we do about it? Even better, is there a way to minimize the amount of stress we feel in our day-to-day lives? I've been reading a few articles from the Mayo Clinic, and found them to be very helpful to me in improving my stress management.

The first step is to identify your sources of stress. Stressors are all around us, and there is little we can do to completely eliminate those factors from our lives. However, identifying what your particular stressors are is the first step in proper management. Take a pen and paper and think about what stresses you. Write the first things that come to mind, then review your list. Do you have acute (or immediate) stressors, like work annoyances or stress around unexpected events? Do you have chronic (or longterm) stressors like money worries or family problems? Are your stressors external or internal? Once you're able to categorize your stressors, you can start to do something about them.

Categorizing was always the easy part for me. Doing something about them? Therein lies the struggle.

I used to fall into defeatist mode with my stressors. There was a time when my stressors either seemed entirely out of my control, or played a cruel game of "one step forward, two steps back" when I tried to tackle them. Managing my stress became just another source of stress, and I worked myself into an unhealthy pattern with really bad after-effects. Panic attacks. Heart flutters. A pseudo-epileptic episode that turned out not to be epilepsy at all - but left me with a propensity to have strange muscle spasms when stressed. Shedding hair, erratic mood swings, and migraines all added to the mix, which made me a not-too-fun person to be around. High stress can also lead me down the road to depression, so when I realized I was isolating myself and choosing to sleep instead of live my life, I knew I had to find some kind of coping strategy.

I've since implemented a few different strategies in managing my stress:

  • accept what you can't control, and change what you can: I hated my job, so I started looking for a new one. I couldn't stand my boss, but while I worked for her I used other coping methods to get through the day. The same idea goes for toxic people, environments, or situations. Accept what you can't control, and change what you can.
  • focus on what you have, not what you lack: it was way too easy to fall into depression or anxiety when I focused on my problems. When I started embracing the good things (starting off with not getting out of bed until I felt real gratitude that I woke up that morning), things got a bit easier. When I focused on the good, I started seeing more good in my life, which minimized the bad.
  • remove emotion and think logically: there are many times when I have to take a step back from the stress-induced sadness and anger, and really think rationally about my situation. This is when I'm able to do the best planning for how I'll get myself out of the situation that's stressing me. Trying to make a plan in the midst of emotional overload leads to the most over-the-top solutions that will NEVER work in the real world, but WILL make me laugh after the fact.
  • find your sanctuary and cry: I'll admit it - there are days when it gets to be too much, and I just have to let it out. I sit on my balcony, I sit in my car, or I walk down to a park down the street from my office and let it go.
  • talk to someone: I have my mom, my husband, and 3 close girlfriends that I turn to when I'm stressed. Not only do they give me new perspectives that help steer me in a new direction, but they also just listen to me when I need nothing else but an ear. Talking to someone can also mean calling a crisis line, utilizing your company's Employee Assistance Program, or speaking with a counselor or other mental health professional. Never be ashamed to seek help.
  • get physical: when the going gets tough, the tough get going - sometimes you just need to blow off steam in a physical way. Yoga is great for rejuvenating and calming you. Kickboxing is awesome for imagining your boss' head on the pads working out your frustrations. Sex is amazing for...well, sex is just amazing. Get it (safely) and get it often.

For me, things like having a good cry and getting physical help in the short term, and the accept/change and the have/have not models help in the long term. I'll be the first to admit, however, that it's much easier said than done. In order to realize how important good stress management is, you sometimes have to cross that line into scary stress territory and see what your alternatives are. Hopefully, by identifying your stressors, using coping methods, and plotting strategies to deal with or overcome your stressors, you'll be able to get on the path to good stress management. I never think of stress management as a destination to be reached, but a journey we'll be on for the rest of our lives. You never know what's around the corner, so develop the tools now in order to handle whatever life may throw at you later.

Are you good at handling your stress? Have you ever suffered from negative after-effects due to severe stress? What are your triggers? An example of my acute stressor would be any kind of mess (dishes in the kitchen? clothes not put away? yeah, NO), and a chronic stressor would be navigating my career path. I've got to do different things to manage the different kinds of stress...what do you do to deal with your stress?

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