By: Teri A. Coutu
I don’t know about you, but lately, it seems like every time I watch the news, I end up shaking my head in disbelief. The past few months have been a challenge in almost every way possible. Health. Work. Homelife. Finances. Education. Travel. Our lives have been changed in so many ways in such a short period of time that it’s almost impossible to adapt and cope with everything. When too much change happens too quickly, it’s only natural to become anxious and stressed. And now we’re seeing the effects of that stress across the nation (and the world) in violent outbursts that add to already elevated anxieties.
I wish I could tell you how to eliminate all your stress. But, the reality is there is no way to have complete control over everything that stresses you out. In fact, this lack of control is usually an underlying cause of stress. And, since stress has always been and will always be a part of life, it makes more sense if we learn how to handle it rather than simply try to avoid it.
Managing Your Stress
While I am a big believer in doing healthy things to help manage stress, I believe we must first start with how we view and respond to it. To do this requires Emotional Intelligence and personal responsibility.
Self-awareness. How we respond to everything in life ties back to self-awareness in one form or another. So, it helps if you know what stresses you and why. What fears are coming up, where does your stress anger come from, and/or why are you withdrawn or depressed? Recognize your emotions and know that whatever you feel is OK and understandable. Feel them in a safe environment that will not affect others. Maybe you can go to the beach and “pound sand,” scream at the ocean, or just cry. Let it out instead of trying to bottle it up until it explodes. Most of all, recognize your feelings and pay attention to how you may be exhibiting that stress to others. Then, try not to add to someone else’s burdens, and if you do – apologize.
Take Control. Obstacles and struggles have always been and will always be a part of life. While you can’t control everything that is going on, you CAN control how you think, feel, and respond to it all. Start by identifying exactly how you want to handle challenges. Picture the very best version of yourself – how would he/she manage this effectively? Do you want to react to stressors by making yourself and others more upset, or do you want to find positive helpful solutions? Employ your self-regulation to keep yourself from repetitively thinking negatively and adding to your worry. Find ways to break out of your unproductive feelings. And, learn how to compose your actions/reactions so that you don’t allow external situations to control your internal serenity.
Acceptance & Peace. Some wise person once said, “There are 3 solutions to every problem – Change It, Accept It, or Leave It.” (Many websites credit Eckert Tolle, Buddha, or Anonymous with this quote.) Recognize that it’s unlikely you can change everything that is going on right now. The issues and challenges are too big and multifarious for you alone to fix. And, while you can leave, life’s problems have a way of finding us no matter where we go. So, your best option is to identify how to accept what is happening. That doesn’t mean you approve of or even like it. It just means you are going to find a way of looking at it and managing your feelings about it in a manner that brings you a sense of peace.
I asked a few “calm” friends how they were maintaining their coolness and received answers like:
- “I stay focused on what’s happening in my life and my home instead of getting caught up in the unrest of the world. I watch just enough TV to know what’s going on, but not enough to let it constantly invade my thoughts and feelings.”
- “I know I can’t control the world, so I’ve stopped trying. Now, I just try to control me – no one else, nothing else.”
- “I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life and I survived all of it, and it made me a stronger, better person. Now, when stuff comes my way, I see it as just another challenge to overcome and I know I can and will.”
To manage stress we must first know exactly what it is. Start by making a list of what is stressing you out. What has you worried, angry, and/or sad? Then, identify what you can control, and write down a few ways to handle the situation (and yourself) in a positive manner. For the things you can’t control, find a way to let them go so they don’t zap your time and energy.
Adopting a stress managing mindset will help you through today’s problems as well as tomorrow’s. And, while it sounds like a cliché, and I definitely don’t mean to make light of current events, history has shown us that “This, too, shall pass,” and it will. So, take a slow, deep breath, and engage your inner calm. You WILL get through this.