Stress is the worst, isn’t it? It can come out of nowhere, giving your calm, collected self a 180 right toward crazy town. It keeps you from starting on a project, or having that really important conversation, or having a good time out with your loved one.
And if we aren’t careful, it can consume our thoughts and emotions, and even set us back on our road to recovery.
It feels like an impossible enemy to defeat, right?
Are we simply buoys at the mercy of the tides of stress?
If you feel like this sums up your life well, then let me pose a question to you: when is the right time to deal with stress? As soon as stress begins? Only when you are feeling healthy or strong enough? Do you even deal with it at all?
Here is an answer that you may have never considered, and one I want to encourage you to think about: let’s all find a way to “deal” with stress before it happens.
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Cut to my ethics class last spring, where I, as a graduate student in a counseling program, was learning some basic differences between what it means to be a counselor versus a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. Unlike other psychology-based careers, which are based on the medicine model (you have an illness/deficit/problem that needs fixing), counselors base their perspective on humans through the wellness model.
The wellness model believes all people go through patterns of ups and downs in life, that we all experience highs as well as lows. The job of the counselor is to help others through difficult times, and teach them ways to cope they can then use in future times of crises.
Isn’t that so encouraging and smart?
Friends, you are not alone when you feel you are buckling under the weight of a mountain of stress.
But instead of rallying only when stress comes our way (and who ever feels energetic enough to face it right away?), let’s establish first, the perspective that stress will always come our way and, second, let’s implement some healthy plans for ourselves now for dealing with stress in our future.
First, take a good stern look at yourself, and tell yourself stress is inevitable. Now, this is not a time to be pessimistic and just give in! This is, for some, one of the best ways to love yourself right now. By acknowledging and accepting this truth, we allow ourselves to be a little less harsh and a bit more realistic.Yes, I thoroughly encourage you to invest in ways to prevent stress all together through means like time management and taking care of yourself. But I also want us to be okay when, even when we are trying our best to keep our lives calm and smooth, something unexpected and out of our control comes and sends the whole beautiful establishment we have been carefully creating tumbling down. When this happens, it does not mean we are a failure at defeating stress.
Stress means we are human.
Stress is an entity we will experience throughout life, and the idea that we can remove it from our life permanently is untrue and unhealthy.
Next, let’s figure out some healthy ways to deal now, while we are calm and able to assess ourselves. Here are a few places to begin some plans of action from.
Look at your past.
Look at some of the highest stress points in your life, and assess how you handled them. What were the things you did? Did it help? Did you come out of it feeling well? Do you notice any patterns?
There might not be clear answers to these immediately, so try to be more aware of yourself and your behaviors the next time you find yourself mega stressed out. I know for me, I am a queen at the ignore-it-until-it-goes-away approach. You can imagine how effective this is for my problems. Let’s all be glad I’m not a firefighter. It is good, however, to see how this method does not really alleviate any stress, and it definitely doesn’t help me feel well and healthy.
Now, I actively combat my impulses and address stressful things directly. If you see how ways you have dealt with stress ended successfully, you can feel more prepared and confident to deal with future stress in the same way! Now you have a strategy that will more likely help you deal well with stress in the future.
Find what works for you.
If you have assessed your methods of dealing with stress and realized you have no established, healthy ways of coping, this is where experimentation comes in. Play around and see what things help you feel calm and stabilized. I would recommend cultivating a diverse set of responses, ranging in time frames, activeness, and mobility.
For example, if you, like me, love cooking as a way to relax, find another activity that also helps you relax but doesn’t require you to have a full fridge of ingredients and an hour to kill. Find ways to relax on the go, at your desk, or in a crowded environment. The more methods you have, the better your chances of managing stress whenever and wherever it comes up.
Know how to deal best with your symptoms.
Finally, if you are managing a mental health issue, pay close attention to the relationship between stress and your symptoms, and know how to manage your triggers or symptoms when life gets stressful.
Also, having an action plan for your symptoms helps you to not be overwhelmed on both sides by stress and your symptoms. This can be especially true for those with anxiety issues, and I want to encourage you to establish a management plan for yourself for your future. Hopefully, you can feel more empowered when you put that plan into action!
It can be so easy to feel out of control of stress — don’t let that perspective master your wellness!
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