We’ve all been there before: riding the typical ups and downs of life, already struggling to through various stressors and obligations and trying to balance it all, when all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere, Bam! We’re blindsided by an overwhelmingly enormous and crushing amount of stress. It happens more often than one might think, and as daunting and defeating as this sudden influx of stress may seem, there are methods to taming the chaos and coping with this seemingly insurmountable stress until things level themselves out again. You do not need to suffer in silence and wait for the crushing mass of stress to work itself out; there are ways to proactively tame this metaphorical beast.
Right off the bat, the first thing I tell my clients is to take care of your basic needs. Basic needs are things we need to take care of on a daily basis to ensure we are able to function. Things like making sure you are getting an adequate amount of sleep, you are eating regularly as well as eating whole, nutritious foods (to boost brain and immuno function), making sure you are staying hydrated and drinking enough water, making sure you are maintaining good hygiene, and taking care of whatever else you may deem a basic need. These may seem a bit intuitive, but they go a long way during times of chaos and exponential stress.
The next thing I tell my client is to know your limits, and start saying “no” when necessary. Chances are you are feeling overwhelmed and overextended, so it may be time to simplify your schedule and priorities a bit. Whether it be in your personal or professional life, it may be imperative to temporarily winnow down responsibilities and tasks that aren’t a priority during times of crushing stress. This will not only make your workload seem more manageable, but it will also restore some semblance of control in your life.
On a daily basis, there are thousands of thoughts that filter through our minds: thoughts about what is going on in our surroundings, thoughts about what we’re doing, thoughts about how we’re doing it, thoughts about ourselves, thoughts that we think others are having about us, etc. These thoughts, or internal dialogue, may affect our ability to deal with the obstacles in front of us. During times of increased stress, we may even begin to be cruel to ourselves and think certain things like “what is wrong with me?” “I’m being ridiculous,” “I’m an idiot,” and so on. In addition to exacerbating feelings of distress during an already difficult time, chronically negative and self-deprecating thoughts may become downright destructive and defeating. As a result, I tell my clients to be gentle with themselves and the internal dialogue they choose to use. Being mindful of what you are saying to yourself and how you are saying it sets the tone for how well you will be able to focus on working through problems and finding solutions. When we start focusing on the thoughts we have about ourselves instead of the tasks at hand, we become distracted and as a result may bully ourselves to the point of shutting down. The goal is to change thoughts that are stuck in a negative loop to thoughts that are more objective and constructive. Doing this helps to diffuse emotionally charged thoughts about yourself and your capacities, and once you aren’t bullying yourself into submission, you clear a path to work on the obstacles in front of you.
Along with being mindful of internal dialogue, I tell my clients to make themselves a priority. Chances are with consuming thoughts of doubt and agony, you are struggling to think about or do anything else. As a result, it may be necessary to engage in some sort of positive distraction. Doing something that you typically love to do but haven’t allowed yourself to do in a while (most likely because you’ve been too busy trying to deal with all of your stress) can not only give you some much needed reprieve from everything that is going on, but it may also clear your head enough to give you some added perspective on things. Making plans with a friend, phoning a family member or friend, trying a fun, new activity, or rekindling an old hobby you used to enjoy are all great ideas for a temporary distraction.
Above all else, listen to your body. Do not ignore red flags, intuition, or what your conscience tells you. If you feel you have done everything in your power to work through this difficult time and still feel like you are struggling to stay afloat, it may be time to reach out for additional assistance from a professional counselor. As scary as this step may be, it could be the difference between succumbing to the stress or taking charge and working through it.
If you feel you have done everything in your power to deal with your stress but feel you may need some additional help, feel free to reach out and make an appointment for a session.
Written by: Lana Rukavina, LPC