I have suffered from stress my whole life, but I’ve always let it win, I always let it control me. It’s only recently when I noticed that it started to affect me physically and it is ruining my ability to think and perform well, that I decided to be more conscious and intentional, about fighting it, that became especially important after couple of times where my stress turned into anxiety attacks, and that is never a good sign!
So I started to search for answers over the Internet and ask people what they think, and tried few tricks myself until I came up with a plan. But first I have to admit that while extreme stress is bad for you, a little bit of stress is not bad at all, in fact, stress can work for you, mild stress can push you forward, push you to work and move and do things instead of standing still.
My problem with stress however is that it is continuous and it “freezes” me, I need to make it work for me instead!
P.S: I encourage you to listen to this TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal, it’s called “How to make stress your friend”, it might be a good idea to rethink stress and learn how it may work for you.
So first I conducted a little “experiment” on my Facebook profile among my friends and family, where I asked them the following question:
“Interested in knowing how people cope with stress/ anxiety/ failure/ or even the overall sadness that -sometime- has no apparent reasons.
What do you do?”
The answers I got, in no particular order are: First, the ones that got mentioned more than others:
- Go to events like concerts
- Hang out with friends
- Eat! lots and lots of comfort food
- Watch TV or a movie at home, also with food
- Take a long walk
The ones less mentioned:
- Talk to loved ones
- Take a long drive in empty streets
- Do something “new”, whatever that thing is, but it has to be “new to me”
Oh! and someone mentioned “Prozac” but I guess we can keep this one out of the results..
When I researched “ways to deal with stress” the answers that came up were almost the same as the answers I got from my friends. Except for the “food” part maybe… and the Prozac..
Now I have 2 remarks to make.. First, obviously food is an important way to fight stress, I can easily say it was my friends’ number 1 choice. However the food my friends were talking about has nothing to to with the food that helps you in stressful situations. My friends, and almost every human on the plant, were talking about ‘comfort food’, mostly carbs, highly saturated in fats foods. This might help for couple of hours, but then it will backfire causing more damage over time, both physically and emotionally.
The types of food that really help combating stress include vegetables, fruits, milk, fish, nuts and other types of healthy food.. Bad news people! No pizza/ burger/ Nutella sandwiches for you! Dark chocolate is good though.. so rejoice!
My second remark, I noticed a lot of confusion in the answers between stress and depression.. People often believe they are “depressed” just because they go through hard times, and what makes them believe that is that “hard times” are continues! They never seem to end.. I believe that the modern environment we live in is very stressful with an emotionally abusive, mentally unhealthy life style, and continuing to live in that pattern will eventually turn stress or anxiety into a real depression, especially if people do not deal with the source of stress and keep co-existing with it! This is probably the most dangerous thing to do.
As for my plan to deal with stress, it is a process of several steps:
First: While “food” and “exercise” were both top choices for my friends, I would personally go for “taking a long walk” as first step.. Walking does wonders to me, but that sure was not what my answer would’ve been 2 years ago! Back then I would’ve preferred staying at home eating a whole lot of comfort food and watch TV, like a newly broken hearted woman! However, now, with the changes I’m introducing to my life style in order to become a healthier, happier person, I’m looking for ‘less destructive’ ways to cope with stress. Walking is not just the best type of exercise, but also being out there in nature, breathing fresh air and watching life around me has a soothing effect, almost like meditation. The exercising and meditating aspects of walking makes my mind calmer and clearer, and it opens that little door at the back of my head that let ideas flow. It all has to do with hormones released in the body but I never understood the complex scientific stuff!
In case walking is not possible for any reason, I turn to an equally soothing but less effective way: Music. It does help but it’s not as effective as walking of course, unless I’m gonna dance or something! Many if my friends mentioned music as a solution to relieve stress, but I would not go for it as a first choice.
Second step is to journal about it. I’m a big fan of ‘brain dump’, whether you’re just clearing your mind out of the clutter or you want to write down things to remember, pen and paper are one of the best solutions ever to relieve stress. Not only journaling makes you feel better, it also lets you think of the problem from a different perspective, as if you’re hearing or reading someone else’s problem, when this happens you can usually discover a new approach or a new solution. If the problem have no solution then writing about it still help to relieve the tension… Spill it all out, get all the toxins out of your system.. It’s the magical power of paper!
Now third step depends on the type of stress. For me there are 3 main sources of stress:
- Work, and that includes every day life management including home management and every day shores and duties,
- Human relations,
- Stuff that we have no control over.
The next thing I do that no one mentioned among the answers to my question, is that I would organize my self and come up with ‘a plan’. Now that especially works when the stress is work related. A good plan to organize myself and addressing the issue stressing me out usually does it and my stress is relieved. I tried it and it works.
If the cause of the stress is not work related, but it is something that can be managed, which is usually the case of relationships, then confronting the problem is also the best way. If not, the problem will always persists.
Problems with human relations never sort themselves out, if you do not address the issue it will always remain there like a ghost making your life harder. Unless of course you are aiming for a ‘strategic silence’ where you do nothing because this is the only way to solve the problem.
Usually talking to the person who is causing me stress is the best way. Now I’m not a good communicator, I never find the words to explain myself especially when I’m stressed, but I’m getting there, I understand the importance of speaking up my mind, even if it’s just to say to someone ‘I have a problem with you’, this simple sentence usually relieves a lot of the tension and lets me think in a better way about how to solve the actual issue.
Stuff I have no control over are the worse. Like being stressed about illness of a loved one for example, the only thing to do then is to keep reminding yourself that you can’t control this and you have to stop worrying. However stress is not to be reasoned with, it understands no logic, it can keep you up at night worrying about things that happened in the past, or will ‘probably’ happen in the future, none of them is controllable. Most of the times, after a long sleepless night you will wake up the next morning to find out that you were worried about something that not that bad actually. The nights are always the hardest.
I’m still looking for ways to fight this kind of stress. I’m not good at it but I think this is more about training yourself to ‘accept’ what you can’t control. Usually long walks help better, but I still need to find ways to cope.
Fourth step, you can say it is also related to resolving the issue causing stress, by letting you mind out of it’s prison. Read a good book, listen to an inspiring podcast, or simply browse the Internet for answers to your questions and worries. For me this is a way to challenge my mind.. Unlike TV or movies that has no purpose other then temporary distracting you, reading and listening to podcasts challenges my mind, they make my imagination at work, and my mind start looking to things from a different perspective, or just simply ‘work’ as stress freezes my capacity to think clearly. This is especially important if you are facing one of the two types of stress that are caused by issues that can be resolved.
Fifth step, and that is not necessary every time, but I find that doing something I love helps a lot to relieve stress, like working on my videos for my Youtube channel. Anyone who has a hobby especially if it’s art related, or if it helps ‘create’ something, knows the fantastic effect of pursuing it on stress levels. My main hobby is reading and unfortunately I have no other artistic hobbies, but my “Agenda” channel is good enough since it has this “creation” aspect and involves quite good part of art to make a video..
However I need to learn new skills, to discover whether I have lost a hobby or tow along the way somewhere during my ‘lost times’. Learning new skills is always good thing to do.
This is my 5 steps plan to fight stress. It has worked quite well for the past couple of months but I’m sure that I’ll be facing some situations that are harder and need different approaches.
While I was researching this issue I found other solutions that may be useful for some. I found this infograph over the website of ‘Anxiety and depression Association of America’ along with a great article.
So this has been my long experience with stress and very short one with coping with it.