I don’t know about you, but stress has been a constant part of my life ever since I can remember.
I was always a high-achiever in school. A perfectionist in dance classes. The obsession with being precise in colorguard. I didn’t have helicopter parents who expected me to be super-involved and maintain straight-As… I did that all to myself. As a result, I became really good at making plans and keeping track of who, what, where, when, and how.
As an adult, my attitude toward control hasn’t changed. I need to know plans ahead of time, or I get annoyed. I dislike chaos – it’s confusing and exhausting. I get flustered when I don’t feel prepared for change, but I always figure out how to roll with it. There are a lot of things in- and outside of my control. Here are some things that have caused me stress over the last few years:
- Work: not liking my job, not liking the environment, not liking the commute, the list could go on forever…
- Poor relationships: let’s just say I’m proficient at cutting bad relationships out of my life, but only after I’ve suffered through them for longer than I should have
- General anxiety: having been diagnosed with general anxiety, just knowing that I’m “generally anxious” is stressful for me, even when I know what (some of) my triggers are
- Mounting responsibilities: adulting sucks, and having to do it alone is such a bummer
- Boredom: I get bored easily, which results in anxiety about what to do about it, which stresses me out
- Professional networking: I spend a lot of time leading up to networking events feeling anxious about what to say to new people, then I have a hard time communicating while at said events, and after the event is over I needlessly criticize myself for saying this, doing that, laughing too loudly, or talking with my hands too much
The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as, “the brain’s response to any demand. Many things can trigger this response, including change. Changes can be positive or negative, as well as real or perceived. They may be recurring, short-term, or long-term” (source).
Long-term stress does really awful things to your body and brain – I can attest to that. These are some of the ways stress has physically manifested for me in the past:
- Poor sleep (too much sleep, not enough sleep)
- Tooth-grinding (resulting in cracked fillings – oops!)
- Headaches (chronic, low-grade headaches that even caffeine can’t chase away)
- Eye twitching (the kind that doesn’t stop when you check yourself out in a mirror to see it happening)
- Weight gain (despite healthy diet and regular exercise)
- Weight gain (when I realized healthy diet and regular exercise weren’t working)
- Painful, cystic acne (the kind that keeps coming, regardless of how diligent you are with your skincare routine)
- Change in body chemistry (in the form of increased sweating and acrid body odor, which in and of itself is… stressful!)
- Low self esteem (combine all of the above and the result is one sad, sad woman)
I’ve seen a noticeable difference in my stress levels since leaving my job and leaving an 8-year-long relationship that I had outgrown. My sleep habits have improved, my weight is slowly-but-surely going down, I no longer get monster zits on my chin that should have their own zip code, and my sweat doesn’t smell bad anymore (but it’s still salty! more on that tomorrow).
Obviously, leaving your job and breaking up with your significant other (or cutting out any other bad relationship) is the drastic option, and it’s not an option for everyone… but take a minute to consider if it is. I think a lot of people stick around in crappy jobs and toxic relationships because it’s easier to stay than go. If that’s the case… YOU DESERVE BETTER. TRUST ME.
But if your job is fine (ie: a normal amount of stress, which can actually be productive), and your relationships are fine (ie: normal ups and downs), here are some suggestions I have for ways to bring more calm and peace into your life:
- Go for a run!
- Take a yoga class
- Take a long drive with the windows down and music blasting
- Go for a hike or a nature walk
- Read a book…
- in the bath
- in a quiet room with candles and a snuggly cat
- on a mountain top
- in a beautiful park
- Get a massage
- Write in a journal
- Write a blog
- Bake something
- Go to a Paint Nite
- Pick up some colored pencils and an adult coloring book
- Take up a new hobby
- Treat yourself to a solo weekend away to do whatever you want
- See a therapist
Honestly, I’ve tried all of this and didn’t feel much long-term relief, but the short-term benefits were always totally worth it. For example, when I run, all I think about is how much I hate running (for real) which distracts me from my stress. When I go to yoga, I focus on having perfect form, which distracts me from my stress. When I read books, Nora Roberts is my go-to, and I get swept away in the stories. Baking feels productive, it makes your home smell nice, and BONUS: you get to eat the end product. With any luck, you have a spouse or roomie who would be willing to clean up the mess in exchange for some of your baked goods. WINNING.
For real, though, probably the most important item on this list is see a therapist. Your company’s Employee Assistance Program might cover some visits, and then your health insurance can take over after that. If not, many therapists use a sliding scale for their fee based on your income. Having a completely neutral person to talk to will help you sort through things that people close to you might not be able to help with. It might not feel like you’re making progress, but simply not involving your friends and family IS progress. Think about how much your relationships will improve when you stop bitching and moaning all of the time. Seriously. No… seriously.
Do you suffer from stress? Do you know what causes your stress? What do you do to take care of yourself?