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Navigating Stress

Stress feels a bit like a cold, windy day at the beach these days – a relentless and seemingly out of your control pounding by the waves, the wind and the sand.  Many of us feel continually knocked down and hassled by life, and the jokes about 2020 being a bad year are not funny anymore.  We have all also realized that our short-term coping methods back in April are not sustainable through November.  What’s next and how can I possibly manage another stressor?

First, let’s briefly define stress. A stressor is an internal or external threat that impacts your physical and psychological balance and stress is the resultant tension created in how our bodies and minds work to re-calibrate our balance. Think of how you close your eyes and duck your head while walking into the wind, or how you brace yourself when getting struck by a large wave. We respond to and manage stressors all the time. Stress is a part of life. First and foremost, we are not going to get rid of stress because it is a part of being human whether in 1999 or in 2020 or in 2032.  Kind of like how a sailboat is built to navigate the winds, we too are built to manage stress of different kinds. Like sailboats need wind, we too are meant to navigate, discover, learn, and evolve in our lives, and that is not always via a beach walk on sunny day.

Thus, if you have been trying to get rid of stress, pause for a moment! Let’s try to think instead about the idea of navigating stress instead of getting rid of stress. Of course, this is not a simple or easy process, but a lifelong one that takes some curiosity or interest in your own wellbeing or the wellbeing of others. If you are reading this, you have got it! So, let’s consider a few questions:

  • What stresses you out right now? (pick up to 3)
    • Health
    • Family
    • Financial stability and/or income
    • Work-life balance
    • Safety
    • School and Education
    • Community
    • Environment
    • Other
  • What matters most to you right now? (Pick up to 3)
    • Health
    • Family
    • Financial stability and/or income
    • Work-life balance
    • Safety
    • School and Education
    • Community
    • Environment
    • Other
  • How do you typically deal with stress right now? (Come up with top 3-5 ways you respond to stress). While you are reading this blog, no one can read your mind, so be honest with yourself!

 

  • How helpful are your strategies for coping with stress in the short and long term and for what matters most to you? Pick a number below.

0: All my strategies are helpful in the short and long term

1: Most work well but a few strategies don’t work

2: Most of the strategies only work in the short term, not the long term

3: Some of the strategies don’t even work in the short term

4: All of the strategies are unhelpful

You may have picked answers like participants in the Post and Courier Stress Management event this week. Watch this free workshop with members of the Modern Minds team to get more ideas and support in your stress management skill building.  Your answers likely reveal that what stresses you out right now also matters to you. You also likely have some coping strategies that work but not all of them work well and many of them don’t work in the long term. Don’t despair! Let this be a curious opening to exploring new strategies and ideas. Let your sail out for a moment and explore a different direction that might pivot you more in the direction of where you are hoping to go in the long term.

Move more.  Stress is a hugely physical phenomena inside our bodies and if you move more, you do discharge some of the tension. Important caveat though is do what feels good to your body. Dance, walk, jump. Read or listen to the Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal for some framework to this idea. Or watch one of her many Ted Talks.

Create your social world. Social distancing in the era of loneliness feels like real sand in the eye. Social distancing has pushed the limit so far that we are in a new era being created right now. You cannot wait for COVID to end or for someone else to call you.  We all must literally work our way out of the era of loneliness and into another one yet to be named. Put your own stamp on it by writing a letter to an old friend or family member. Or send a text. Or pick up the phone. Cast out many lines from your sailboat to make connections because socializing is as important as eating food and drinking water. Create the ZOOM book club, go on meetup.com and find a group, call your Aunt, call all your friends who you haven’t spoken to in 10 years. Call them all again.

-Seek support. Joking aside, 2020 has been especially hard and if you feel stuck and unable to pivot and pursue strategies that feel more aligned with your aims, take a step towards getting support from a professional. Please find solace and understanding in the fact that we humans are not actually that well built yet for the stressors of modern life. Modern life involves chronic or sustained psychological and social stress such as loneliness, conflicted family relationships, financial struggles, racism, chronic illness, and 2020.  We are best built for acute physical stress as evidenced by our highly honed fight, flight, or freeze reactions.  The stress of loneliness and worry are a bit hairier in fact than a lion chasing you!

Please explore our website for additional tools for navigating your stress, including free yoga videos with Shelly Wolfe, meditations and mindfulness exercise with MM staff as well as other fun stuff to explore.