[Image: A white table with glasses, an iPhone, cookies, a mug, a notepad and a pen]
I’ll preface by saying I am absolutely not the person to follow advice from when it comes to stress. This is more an exercise in self-reflection than anything else, because as you’ll see, one of my ways to cope with stress is extreme avoidance of the fact that I am stressed. As is already apparent, this is not a self-help blog. It’s like a…watch me try to help myself blog. So if anything resonates with you, that’s dope. But don’t think I’m acting like an expert. Although, I am an expert on being sensitive.
How I Deal with Stress
- The first place to start is by emphasizing what I just said – when I’m stressed, I don’t think about being stressed. In fact, I try to think very hard about all the things that are not what’s stressing me out. This results in some pretty funky mental health. I think of my stress, anxiety, depression, etc. as a giant hole that I sometimes tiptoe to the edge of. And I’m scared that if I really engage with what’s causing me stress, I’ll fall over. And keep falling.
- Along with point one, this means that I spend a lot of time around other people when I’m stressed. Like more than I can comfortably, or even reasonably, sustain. I’m deeply introverted. I need lots of time by myself to feel my best. But if I’m stressed, I’m already not feeling my best so why bother? Of course I’ll come over to hang out at 11 PM the day before a draft of my senior thesis is due at 11 AM. Duh, I wanna go to Waffle House even though I just bought groceries I planned to cook right away. Because being around other people is so taxing, it’s a welcome distraction from stress.
- I vent. I say every detail to a thing to several people, to make sure that the situation actually is ridiculous and it’s not just me being sensitive. I wait until I’ve reasoned through things to vent though, so it mostly just reads as anger, not hurt.
- I stress eat. Or I stress don’t eat. This is a touchy subject for me, but what I will say is that I loveeeeeee Andy Capp’s hot fries when I’m stressed. After orientation for my job ended, I bought 5 bags of hot fries because I needed to. I crave those and sugar when I’m stressed.
- Similar to avoiding my thoughts, I avoid my body’s needs. I take the shortest, most efficient showers possible. I stay up late so I don’t have the dreaded fuck up slideshow in my head before I fall asleep. Instead, I’d rather knock out at 1 AM from exhaustion. I don’t work out because that requires initiative I don’t feel like I have.
How I’m Coping with Stress
- I have to acknowledge what’s wrong. I’m trying to accept that sometimes, the hard thing is the right thing to do. What cracks the stress crème brulee is a hard hit, meaning that it takes me advocating for myself to make headway on a stressful situation. It’s tiring and vulnerable and hard to actually resolve issues but, hey. That’s what works.
- It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be sad and alone. It helps me to know that I actually still exist completely in tact when I’m by myself. I won’t evaporate if I decide to be by myself when I’m upset. Again, what cracks the stress crème brulee is engaging what’s wrong, and it helps me to have lots of quiet, drawn out reflection that doesn’t happen when I’m around others.
- I gotta ask for more hugs. Or say, “I’m not doing well” and let someone take care of me. And I gotta know that that’s okay! It’s okay to voice when I’m not doing well, in the moment as it’s happening. And I have to trust others to be able to handle those feelings.
- Food is fuel and medicine, first. It does feel really good sometimes, and sometimes that means I feel like I don’t need or deserve it. But my body does. I’m trying to listen to my body more and eat when I actually feel hungry, not when my stressed out brain is like, “please, notice me.” Also lots more water.
- Even if my emotions don’t feel good, my body can! I hold stress deep in my body – shoulders, my stomach, my muscles. Working out does release some of that tension. I tend to stress dream (i.e. dream about whatever is bothering me), so I avoid sleep for that reason, but I’m hoping if I ease myself into sleep more gently, like with some candles and a nice face mask or something, the last thing on my mind before bed won’t be whatever issue I’m having.
I could say a lot more about stress and how I work on it depending on what’s wrong (friends, family, work, partners, existential dread), but this is pretty across the board. It helps me to think of strategies in terms of what I’ve done in the past, why I did it, and how I can tweak that. Creating a drastic ten-point plan of how to tackle stress leaves no room for the soothing that’s necessary, and thinking of self-care as only bubble baths and lotion doesn’t leave room for changing situations. I’m trying to do both. Giving myself grace means that I have to recognize that stress is a natural part of any journey, but it doesn’t have to be all bad.
Image from createherstock.com.