Ah, stress. That gut-wrenching, churning, chest-compressing feeling that is such a normal part of the human experience and so bloody awful. If I could make a wish to never feel stressed and always feel calm, believe me I would. However, I don’t think Fairy Godmothers can take away parts of the human experience. Their area lies more in the transforming root vegetables to modes of transport department.
One way in which Merriem-Webster defines stress is “a constraining force or influence”. I believe this may be attributed to the physical definition of stress, however I feel it is also very apt for the emotional. Stress does indeed, for me anyway, feel like a force which both constrains me (keeping me from seeing all the alternative courses of action) as well as builds tension within me. It gets me so wound up in my head that it can distract me from what’s happening within my body. And stress can impact both our bodies and our brains, for example: after extended periods of stress I can experience tiredness.
Basically, stress can be a very difficult thing to deal with. We cannot necessarily magic it away in that instant, but my experience became not of trying to fight my stress, but how to work with it. And for me working with it means:
Self-care. Self-care, self-care, self-care. Not #self-care in the mainstream bubble-baths and hot chocolate sort of way, but actually caring for myself. In other words, taking time to notice what I am needing and missing in a particular moment and doing my best to meet those needs. For me, stress can distract me so much from the present moment that I’m just focused on getting the thing done, which disconnects me from my needs in that moment. So, whether I am able to catch myself whilst stress is beginning to build, when I’m mid-stress or after a stressful period, my answer is to come back to myself and really get in touch with what I’m needing.
I’m aware this can sound pretty abstract, and there is no 10 step guidebook to meeting our needs as everyone’s needs will be individual to them and different at different times. I hope, however, by offering some personal examples they may be helpful pointers:
- Review the situation: Sometimes there may be a specific thing (or things) that are causing me stress and I haven’t even realised it. Or I have but I haven’t had the time and space to look at the stressful situation and evaluate. Taking the time to review where I’m at and point out the specific things that are stressful for me, then finding options and possible solutions for each one can help things seem more manageable. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed with stress, reaching out to someone I trust (a friend, a tutor, a colleague, a mentor, a therapist) can provide different perspectives and may shine light on possibilities that I wasn’t even aware of.
- Work stress: I’m currently at university which, as you can imagine, can be very stressful! As someone with ADHD, sometimes things can seem overwhelming when I have too many assignments due, for example. My go-to way of managing is CHUNKING: I write down everything I have to do, then discard any things that aren’t immediate or urgent. I then set aside some time each day to work on one, or some, of those things. I don’t push myself to work more than my brain can handle and I make sure to stop and do something fun post-working. Boundaries are very important here: I will never work past 7 and I allow myself time every day to do something fun (whether its seeing someone I love, watching TV, playing Ninendo, going out, whatever!)
- Self-Care Post-Stress: Sometimes when we get caught up in a stressful situation, we just push through and get through it. In those moments when I’ve had to deal with something challenging, self-care is even more important afterwards. So after a hard day I ask myself: do I need to connect with someone or do I need me-time? If its me-time, what do I feel I need right now? Relaxation: take a bath, play a game, do something I enjoy.
- Connecting with myself every day: I learned some activities in my therapeutic journey which have been very helpful long-term in getting in touch with what I need. Some examples of this are: meditation (even just 2 or 5 minutes), journaling or self-massage.
- External support: I have the enormous privilege of being able to access therapy. If such a service is available to you, I cannot recommend it enough. Having a space to vent, process and work through struggles, both long and short-term, has been so helpful to my overall wellbeing.
- Reaching out: Having people you can trust in your life, the people who just “get” you and respect your boundaries are so important. Having those you can connect with in times of stress can remind you that you’re not alone.
- Boundaries: boundaries, boundaries, BOUNDARIES! And I don’t just mean with others, with yourself too. For example, when 7pm hits every evening I close all work I’m doing and start relaxing. Other examples of this could be: only checking work emails within your working hours, not taking on extra shifts if you’re tired or setting aside time every day to do something you enjoy.
The above are my top 6 ideas for managing, coping with and self-caring through stress. For me the importance ultimately lies in self-care, which to me simply means meeting my needs. Not just during times of burnout, but regularly in day-to-day life. And when it comes to stressful periods: self-caring before, during (if possible) and after can be so helpful in replenishing, nourishing and restoring ourselves.
I sometimes think of it in this way: a little kid comes home to you after a really stressful day at school, what do you do? I imagine I would ask them what happened, comfort them, look at their strengths, help them find solutions and look after them (do something fun at the weekend, let them take some time off, cook them their favourite meal, play games etc.)
Now imagine that you’re that kid.
You deserve that same comforting.
Chrissy Kapartis is a life coach, NLP practitioner & self-love mentor