How to Deal with Stress

By Sharon Clark

                The following is not an attempt to be exhaustive. It is comprised of some of the techniques I have learned over the years to deal with stresses in my life. Different things have worked better at different times for me, and I know other people have their own unique ways of dealing with stress. But since life sometimes requires that you become a kung-fu master in stress management, I thought perhaps I had some things to contribute to your tool belt.

Know Yourself
                The first thing to address isn`t the problem in itself. It is your general mental health. Do you fundamentally have a clear, coherent, and positive view of the world? Do you know who you are, and how you should relate to it? Are you anchored, so that when something comes along you won’t be swept off your feet?

                One thing I find that strengthens me is simply to worship God. This is about being in love with His goodness. Being excited about His justice and mercy. The one who is, who was, and who is to come can handle your problems. It is good to reflect on what goodness is, and that in the long (or short) run God will work everything out for good.

                Gratitude is amazingly powerful. No matter what you are going through, there is still much richness in the world. This isn`t at all to belittle what you are going through. But don`t let the bitterness of that sour your ability to appreciate everything that is good about life. You can enjoy the simple pleasures. The smile of a child. The sun on your face. Happy endings some of us are fortunate enough to find.

                This is highly underestimated. You need to face your problems like a level headed adult. You don`t always have the luxury of being an overwhelmed child calling for one. Once again, this is not to minimize your feelings. We`ll get to those. The problems you are facing are real, and may have real solutions. Your ability to problem solve will come in handy. The emotions you face may be obstacles to that. When things are awkward or embarrassing, I find it is usually best to be practical. Stress can be energy, but it needs direction. It can be pressing on your chest, or snarled into knots, pulling you in different directions and dragging you down. Responding to problems rationally and coming up with solutions that work can settle, straighten, and direct that energy. Think Spock.

Process Your Emotions
                This is something that I developed over the years for myself. To process your emotions basically means that you have decided how to relate to them. Do you embrace and feed them, give them a hug and a pat and send them off to bed, or get the shotgun and the shovel?

Step 1: Identify. Take inventory of how you are feeling. What are those feelings?

Step 2: The past. What is the source? Where did they come from? Try to trace your feelings back to their natural cause. Try to do this early on. If you let them run in the background, you may get a vague haze that colors your other experiences and causes you to misidentify the real source of your mood. In this step, you want to really listen to yourself. Emote to yourself. Complain. Point fingers. Be human.

Step 3: The present. Validation. Now you have to filter your emotions through your ethical judgement. Some emotions are natural, but they are not just. Can you look at the situation from multiple angles? Can you use a standard and objective measure? Are you loving your neighbor as yourself? What is your opinion on this attitude, whether it comes from you or from anyone else? Now you can decide whether you should start rejecting these emotions. It is possible to empathise with yourself, but still not agree with yourself, like you may empathise with the antagonist in a movie or novel. You can acknowledge both the reality of what it means to be an imperfect human, and whether those things are right in the bigger picture. If they`re not right, you can stab them in the heart and stand victorious over the corps. You don`t have to be a slave to nature. Emotions that may not make it past this stage could be lust, labido domino, arrogance, envy, etc.

Step 4: The future. Productivity. Some emotions are totally just, but to act on them would not take you to the place you want to go. Anger and fear are in this category sometimes. Think about the future you want, the way you want your relationships to be. Will acting on your emotions take you to that place? Be strategic with your emotional reservoir. Be wise. Everything you do should be to work for the highest good.

                Some things that help to process emotions are talking to someone or writing them out. Emotions can be complicated. Dealing with it in your head, especially if you can`t step back from the problem, can be like playing blind chess. If you are going to talk to someone, find someone not involved in the situation and who can keep their mouth shut. Find someone who has a pretty open mind and open heart, who can give you the space and time to vent, and who is on your side. Bonus if the person is wise. Journaling or blogging can also be a great way to lay things out.

                A little sarcasm and satire can go a long way. This lets you stand above the problem, and even derive strength from the sad sorry little mess. It melts stress easily.

Scope of Focus
                This is a way to trick yourself when you are really overwhelmed. It is just a temporary way to break the amount of stress you are dealing with into manageable pieces. Be careful not to deceive yourself about the problem. But if it is too crushing, find solid ground where you can and pick this problem up a little at a time. If you are coming apart from some existential dilemma, major life crisis, or failing relationship, narrow your focus. Absorb sensory data, focusing on beauty and comfort. Similar to this is meditation. I am no expert, but this is a practice to use focus to settle chaotic habits of the mind, and one way is to be grounded in the present. Silence and music can also have this effect. You can also distract yourself with a hobby you enjoy. When your present is dark and terrible, envision a better one. Look at the future. Make your problems small and put them into perspective.

                Coming at stress physically can be really effective. [Obvious disclaimer, I am no doctor.] Of course get good sleep and eat well. Also, vitamin B, magnesium, sunshine, fresh air, and nature are all good. Adrenaline inducing exercise also eats stress, and is great fun. Another thing I found was very effective with me was lavender essential oil.

Have Compassion on Yourself
                People can be much crueler to themselves that they are to other people. You should see yourself as someone you are responsible to take care of. When you face something hard it can leave a mark. It can even break you down and leave you in a pitiful mess. When you look at yourself, you may feel disgust. You may feel angry at yourself for not being who you know you should be. Like a person grieving a death of a dear friend, you imagine all the things that should have been, and you can kick and scream at yourself to come back. There isn`t always a way to go back. But this damaged part of yourself is still you, and it opens a side of yourself you may have never known. Like reading a good book where the hero has many battles to face, you feel for that person, and vicariously you fight for them. You are the witness to your own story, and you need to listen, to be held in suspense, hoping you will find a way through this. To have compassion, to nurture, to give reassurance, and to feel solidarity with your weaker self. There is no sin in suffering beyond your control. The Japanese have an asthetic called Wabi-sabi, which is the acceptance of imperfection. They would fill cracks in pots with gold, celebrating its history and character.

                The person who you were, and the future you will never have, deserve a memorial. This is to acknowledge, to love, to grieve, and to validate what the world will never know. To embrace sorrow. Embracing sorrow allows you to more fully embrace what it is to be human. It lets you be on your own side and strengthens you in many ways.

First, you can recognize your own strength. When I see someone carrying a brutal weight, I can`t help but think to myself what a strong person they must be.

Second, you`ll learn to have patience with yourself. You can admit, face, and try to deal with your problems. The fight becomes much easier when you aren`t your own enemy. You can mend. Not only will you be healthy again, but you will know you are a thing who can be torn down and can rebuild. You can transcend, even if faced with future storms.

The third is that you can empathise with others, to hurt for them, to feel solidarity with them, and to have greater patience with those who are doing their best on their own journey.

                You have your own problems, and others have their problems. Their problems are not necessarily your problems. One way you may take on someone else`s problems is to be their helicopter parent, to make sure they are being who you think they should be in their private world. Not your responsibility. Also, not your business. As the saying goes, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

A second way you may find yourself saddled with someone else`s problems is to feel responsible for their happiness. The fact is, you can`t control how someone else feels. You cannot fix them, and you cannot fill them. What you can do is wish the best for them, and then respect their autonomy. You should not be cruel, nor should you accept cruelty, but you are not responsible for their feelings and they are not responsible for yours.
                The attitude you should maintain towards yourself others is one of curiosity, compassion, and patience.

Needing Understanding
                One reason to feel stress is to communicate just how terrible something is. Atrocities need a voice. In part, so you can value yourself, and not be okay with something wrong that is done. But also because you had an expectation of the person who wronged you that they dashed to pieces. You expected the person would know it was wrong. They would feel outrage at what was done to you. So you expect that if you can show that person how hurt you are, they would be ashamed and renounce what they had done. You want to restore your expectations of them. You want them to recognize you as a victim, and therefore as a human worthy of better treatment, and therefore to feel solidarity with them as a fellow human. You want them to understand. In effect, when you show pain to your abuser, you want them to come back to themselves. To not lose themselves to the darkness. But this is another thing you cannot control. People can make that choice for themselves, and at some point you have to let them go. You need to stop needing them to understand. It just becomes an attachment to someone who will keep hurting you.

                Why? Because the world should not be on your shoulders. It should be on God`s. Do your best, and leave the rest to Him. As Moses said, (in paraphrase), “God, these are your kids.” Also, “cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.”

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