Stress is a funny word. We load it with all kinds of negative connotations, talk about relieving it, coping with it, or even having an idea of a “stress-free” life.
Really? Think about that for a moment; would you really want a “stress-free” life? Where you never had the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal, overcoming an obstacle, achieving a level of mastery through effort and work…is that really what you want out of life?
If so, you’re looking at the wrong blog.
No, the idea that stress is bad is short-sighted; there is bad stress (distress) and good stress (eustress, I swear it’s a real word, I didn’t make it up). It’s also important to remember that “stress” is a reaction, not an action. Life happens, and the same forces and pressures can cause vastly different kinds of stress depending on your mood.
Force and pressure happen naturally; they’re just part of life. Often they are things that are either out of our control (an illness, for example) or necessary (accomplishing a goal you’ve set for yourself). Those things are going to cause stress of one sort or another, regardless. We can’t control that.
What we can…well, control would be a big word to apply to feelings like stress. A lot of that is a result of neurochemistry, and when the ol’ amygdala’s firing “control” isn’t exactly a feature. Influence, though, that’s fair.
And actions? We can completely control our actions.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
In case you’re wondering, like most posts I write this is less a suggestion for you than a reminder to myself. Simply put, in slightly more than a week I will be attending an event I’ve been planning and directing for the last nine months.
We’re in good shape. Things are getting done, and we’re in the happy place where we are just polishing up the last few things before the event.
But it’s still a big event. There’s a lot of moving parts. And my subconscious knows this, and it’s been affecting my sleep, my dreams, and occasionally my temper.
So what can I do to influence that?
- I can avoid self criticism. Jeez, Gray, you write about this stuff, why can’t you do better? Yeah. That’s not going to help. Part of this is also being honest with those I’m in contact with. Hey, I’m on edge because of this thing coming up. I’ll try not to snap, but I wanted to let you know. That can go a long way towards non-destructive releases, because often you can later say something like Hey, can I just vent for a moment?
- I can choose my actions. The strategies for dealing with this are usually one of two things: distract or attack.
Distraction is the easy one, given the ease of losing oneself in social media or television, but those are surface-level. Social media often stresses you out more, and while TV might occupy the mind, your body is still sitting there with all those stressful neurochemicals going through it. A better distraction is something that will take my mind and my body away from the problem and preferably cause some changes in the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in my blood. Walking outside, lifting weights, immersive music or theatrical experiences all work well for me.
Attack is a tricky thing. It takes the thing that is bothering you and presents it as a target to be vanquished, an obstacle to overcome. That can give some satisfaction, and unlike the Distraction technique, when you’re done that particular thing that is bothering you will be gone.
Just remember this is like the hydra: cut off one head, two more take its place. When you take care of that one worry, there’s every chance that your subconscious will just come up with a new one. That’s just how brains work.
- I can reinforce my base. There’s a whole genre of games that’s all about building a strong base, with resources you manage and acquire, and then defending it from outside attacks (aka, stresses). I look at my morning rituals much like that; if I do my yoga, meditation, and journaling I have reinforced myself to better handle the stresses the day may bring. For me, at least, the times of the most stress are the most important times to keep to these rituals of self-care and maintenance.
None of these techniques are perfect. Stress is going to happen, and it’s going to affect us all in various ways. How do you manage your feelings when things are getting hectic for you?
Whatever the answer, remember that handling stress is a skill. It can be developed, it needs to be practiced, and everyone does it differently.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.