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Stress. It happens to everyone at some time or another. We get stressed about our work, our relationships, our finances, health, family, and just about anything else that isn’t going exactly the way we want it to, or how we had planned. I’ve yet to meet anyone who leads a completely stress-free life, but there are definitely some times when circumstances get a little out of control and stress levels peak. The key is to have some tools in your personal toolbox to deal with stressful situations when they do come up, and try not to let them get too big or derail your life.
Productive ways to deal with stress
Some of the most productive and positive ways to deal with stressful situations are to:
- Take a step back
- Address the problem
- Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally
- Be proactive about preventing stressful situations from repeating or occurring
- Accept that this is part of life and you will get through it
When you don’t have positive coping mechanisms, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy patterns such as drinking alcohol, using drugs, overeating, overspending, oversleeping, avoiding, or venting on those close to you. Positively managing stressful situations can help you feel better physically and emotionally, keep you focused and on track, and just generally make you happier and more balanced.
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Not all coping skills are created equal. When stress levels are high, we are especially vulnerable to unhealthy habits. It can be tempting to engage in behaviors that will give you quick relief but these behaviors might create bigger problems down the road.
Establishing healthy coping mechanisms will help you reduce your overall stress, emotionally rebalance, and with any luck, rid yourself of the stressful situation entirely.
Take a step back
It can be easy to get emotional and overwhelmed in stressful situations, but this just heightens the fight or flight response. As long as you are not in immediate danger, pause, breathe, and give your brain a chance to process and catch up. Once you’ve had a bit of distance and hopefully calmed down, you can rationally figure out the next best step.
Addressing the problem
Dealing with the problem is a no brainer. Very few things get better or go away without applying some focused attention and action. If it’s a work situation, once you’ve had time to cool down, figure out the best way to approach your boss. If it’s a romantic relationship that’s causing you stress, it may mean putting firmer boundaries in place, making your discomfort known, or perhaps ending the relationship. Finances? These just have to be dealt with. Now might be the time to consider revising your budget, cutting back on some things, or finding a way to earn more money. Whatever the situation, this is the time to get practical and handle it. Bonus: you’ll feel like a rockstar when you do!
Emotional & physical care
While addressing the problem is absolutely essential, you are probably not going to be able to do that if your emotions are running high or you are physically or mentally fatigued. You need to bring yourself back into a higher functioning state so you are capable of dealing with the challenges at hand.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep and exercise, and eat regularly. Be really good to your body and feed it healthy, nutritious food.
If you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, start by acknowledging your feelings and know that they are absolutely valid – whatever they may be. Talk it out with someone, journal, meditate, pray, watch something funny, or in a safe place, try hitting a pillow or screaming out loud. In the car with loud music playing is a great place to verbally vent, preferably when you are not driving to prevent any kind of dangerous situation. Emotions left unexpressed start to fester and will pop back up at a later time, and usually during one that is exceedingly inconvenient.
Be proactive in stressful situations
Since we can’t control the entire universe, completely preventing stress is a no-win game, but you can minimize it. For example, keep friendships and relationships in check and nip problems right away before they become overwhelming. Stay on top of your finances to prevent a sudden cash crisis, and if you’ve worked hard to lose weight, have a plan to maintain it and minimize junk food in the house. It can also help to plan ahead; stress will happen again. Have a game plan ready for when it does strike.
Accept that a certain amount is normal
I’m not saying just put up with whatever life throws at you – far from it! But yes, stress happens. If you try to remember that, it will feel more like a nasty bump in the road rather than a mountain that has to be climbed or a full-blown life crisis.
Whatever you do, be really good to yourself! Even if you majorly messed up, know that we all do it from time to time. Stop. Pause. Breathe. Fix your world. And keep going.
Stop. Breathe. Decompress.
Do what you need to do to reboot the system. You can’t function well when your nervous system is on high alert.
Do the tough stuff
Nobody likes to deal with the ugly, unpleasant, or unfriendly situations but they won’t go away on their own. Make a plan, muster up some courage, step up, and deal with it.
Be good to yourself
Take a hot bath, break out your favorite essential oils, go for a walk, hit up a yoga class, eat something healthy, get some sleep, journal, draw, paint, vent, read, or snuggle up with a loved one (Four-legged furry kind count too!). You deserve to feel nourished and cared for no matter what is going on.
Take back control
What things can you do today to prevent as much stress as humanly possible? Deal with relationships, pay your bills, set healthy boundaries, manage your time well, and know that you get to choose how you live your life.
Maintain a positive attitude
Control what you can, but you just simply can’t control everything! Have a toolbox ready for when the bad stuff happens. Play around with a few different options and figure out what works best for you, your body, and your life. Lastly, keep a positive attitude because sometimes the way you think about things can make a world of difference!
About the Author
Certified Professional Life Coach
Hunter has an M.A. in Psychology and is a Certified Professional Life Coach. For more than 10 years, she coached clients to find and follow their passion and live their best lives. Hunter has also done youth mentoring work with Covenant House, realizing that this is such a challenging and important time in life.
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