It is our nature to comfort ourselves in times of stress. Anxiety takes over and so does our "fight or flight" response. Our comforts are a way of escaping or running away. Babies soothe themselves with a binkie or a blankie. Adults have it tougher. With a fully-stocked, virtual medicine chest full of treatments it’s so easy to reach for temporary albeit, destructive help. Soothing in the moment, regretful in the morning. These kinds of comforts seem to work until we succumb to illness or injury.
How do you cope with life's ups and downs? It can be a tremendous challenge to stay on track when you feel overworked. Through several years of trial and error I've developed my own toolkit of strategies. Coping strategies come into play for me when an entire month is over-scheduled or when I'm hurting from loss. Even with tools in place it's not easy, particularly when I'm stressed. But I keep trying. Yes, these strategies can work for us, wouldn't it also be great if we could teach our kids how to deal with the tough times they'll face as adults?
Here is my basic set of tools:
Take Care of Yourself
Ask for Help
Be Gentle. This is number one on my list because it's the toughest for me to remember. When you live by the calendar and the schedule and the clock it's easy to push yourself too hard. And that's precisely why we need extra special self-care. Being gentle means forgiving--the true essence of love. It’s reserving a bit of the love you send to family and friends and turning back towards yourself. Would you forgive your over scheduled child’s messy room and your grieving friend’s forgetfulness? Grant yourself the same gentle care.
Take Care Yourself. Do you live by your “to do” list? Can you turn a list of chores upside down and just once a week put fun at the top? Scheduling play offers respite from your stress. With something to look forward to you lighten your internal load. Also, plan ahead to assure your life is running smoothly in spite of any outside chaos. Stock up on healthy foods so there are good choices at home, at work and in the car. Do you have the time to make one big meal? Make it a good one that will see you through a few days. And allow yourself a few moments of introspection. Stress fills all the empty space with noise. Like static, it’s a constant grit in the background. Taking some time to journal or to close your eyes and slow your breathing in mini-meditation will turn down the volume of the chaos.
Get Outside. There's nothing like taking a walk to keep you quite literally grounded. There may not be enough time to work out--you may not even feel like exercising--but find a little time to take a stroll or just sit outside. Being outside demonstrates where you fit in the world. While walking look down at the tiniest ant; then up at the expansive sky. Breathe in the fragrant morning and see the vibrant colors. Take a moment to experience all the sensations and know that you play a unique role in this incredible place. Stop and savor "....the tastes and smells in the air, the feel of the wind as it caresses the skin, the feel of the ground under our feet as we walk upon it. And how much easier it is to feel that ground if you allow yourself to sense that the ground itself is feeling your steps as you walk upon it." quoted from-David Abram, fr. The Spell of the Sensuous via Keri Smith's blog.
Ask for Help. Stress turns us inward. It can be a lonely place. And physically painful. Picture the pain of heartache. Do you find yourself withdrawing, even clutching your chest? Reaching out feels counter-intuitive. In spite of the discomfort it is important to keep reaching out. Remember: if you ask, you will receive an answer. If this is as challenging for you as it is for me, then start small. Ask for help in your journal....or in your heart. It is enough to ask, “may I have help managing my stress?” After loads of practice asking God for help you may find the courage to reach out to people too. When you receive help--give thanks.
Be Creative. Stress and loss and pain feel destructive. Direct that negative energy towards creating and it becomes a positive outlet. Play like a child. Scribble with crayons. Find a soup recipe that will help you take care of yourself. Make up a silly song while you drive to work. Collect a leaf, a feather, a stone from your walk and make a place for them inside. Write your stresses in a journal. Play.
How do you manage your stress? Will you try these strategies the next time? Their common thread is attention to the present moment. Stress takes us away, to either the past or the future. Next time you feel like running away--stay. Fear not each disquieting moment. Focus on the present. Each time you try, it gets easier.
This advice is meant to address stress; not depression. Are you so stressed that your feelings interfere with everyday life? Learn more about the warning signs of depression.