We live in a busy world and often feel the need to be busy, productive, or stimulated. In the daily grind there is little time to think about taking care of ourselves amongst the stress of work, kids, family, debt, etc. But could thinking about yourself before others actually benefit you?
Have you ever found yourself so exhausted, overworked, overcommitted that you do not feel like you have anything left at the end of the day to do something for yourself? On an average day several health exceptions are being made; maybe eating food that we know is not nutritious, sleeping in past our alarms, skipping a workout for a meeting, sitting for hours at a time, binging a TV show or browsing social media for extended periods of time. Typically these decisions are made with little to no remorse – most are actually used as coping mechanisms for stress. So let us talk about why we feel the need to cope.
Merriam-Webster defines stress as “intense effort or exertion” but has more recently become redefined as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.” Stress went from being a general term of your body’s adaptation to a strain put on your system to having a negative connotation and negative consequences.
There are two main types of stress: distress and eustress. Distress is probably the first definition that comes to mind when thinking about general “stress” in life. It is defined as “pain or suffering affecting the body, a bodily part, or the mind;” examples listed above. Eustress is a positive stress “having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being;” this could include things such as exercise or getting a new job. Between the two types of stress there is often constant stress stimuli occurring on a daily basis.
Since stress is likely inevitable, how do we best cope with stresses, both positive and negative? The Center for Disease Control suggests the following:
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. They may seem to be a temporary fix to feel better, but in the long run drugs and alcohol can create more problems and add to your stress—instead of taking it away.
- Find support. Seek help from a partner, family member, friend, counselor, doctor, or clergyperson. Having someone with a sympathetic, listening ear and sharing about your problems and stress really can lighten the burden.
- Connect socially. After a stressful event, it is easy to isolate yourself. Make sure that you are spending time with loved ones. Consider planning fun activities with your partner, children, or friends.
- Take care of yourself.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
- Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out—for example, treat yourself to a therapeutic massage
- Maintain a normal routine
- Stay active. You can take your mind off your problems with activities like helping a neighbor, volunteering in the community, and taking the dog on a long walk. These can be positive ways to cope with stressful feelings.
In addition to these suggestions these habits of self-care have translated to an ease of mind for many clients:
- Meditate or practice deep breathing regularly to learn how to filter thoughts and regulate self-talk
- Journal to help gets thoughts, worries, dreams, or ideas on paper and out of your head
- Create “me time,” even if it is short, to temporarily relieve the constant obligation to others and their goals and focus on you and your dreams
- Read to keep your mind active while allowing yourself to think outside your normal box
- Move often and freely, keep blood flowing consistently by standing up at least once an hour, stretching, walking, doing yoga. Taking breaks also helps keep your mind fresh which could cause you to be more productive and efficient
- Put your phone down – the constant stimulation and obligation to check and reply to every notification causes your system to always be in response mode. Try going a few hours without checking it while engaging in other healthy behaviors.
“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***” by Mark Manson explores the idea that the fear of death causes us to care about too many unimportant things in order to distract ourselves from the inevitable. Although death is probably the most extreme end in the general scale of stress it can be a significant driver causing you to hold back from new, possibly enriching, experiences (or stressors.) Rather than trying to remove stress from your life embrace the imminent stressors and try to learn to cope. Remember that not all stress is bad stress, without anything bad there would be no appreciation for the good. By using some of the coping mechanisms listed above we can learn to adapt to stress better. Once we are taking care of ourselves and our stress we can focus on living with purpose, creating a legacy and helping others.