I cannot overstate how glad I am that we are talking about stress more. I think it’s integral to our overall wellbeing. We know too much causes both physical and mental health problems. It’s a major health issue which we’re only just starting to address.
Not a Cure
Having said that the way we talk about stress can be incredibly annoying and sometimes patronizing. Whilst it’s great that many people have ideas of what can help us manage better; sometimes it’s not what you want to hear. When moving house almost everyone recommended trying mindfulness as if it was some kind of magical cure. Whilst the advice was well meant no matter how amazing mindfulness might be, it’s not a cure. Also, mindfulness isn’t appropriate for everyone because of past experiences or trauma.
Much of the advice trundles out the same tropes suggesting this or that, x or y, will make it better. We all want that pill or magic wand to wave which will vanish our stress. This is a fallacy and it gets our hopes up. It’s about management rather than eradication. Whilst much information online is called stress management I think we still fall into the trap that the stress will go away rather than being lessened in intensity. We need to be more accurate with our messaging.
You Can’t Go Over It, You Can’t Go Under It
For me, stress is like going on a bear hunt – bear with me here (pun very much intended). As the famous Michael Rosen book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, suggests sometimes:
“We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no we’ll have to go through it”
To my mind this is a far more accurate way of conceptualizing it. There’s no way of simply eradicating it. It’s not something with a solution. You can’t go over, under, around, above or below. We can’t circumvent it. All we can do is equip ourselves to make it the easiest route possible. This is the MANAGEMENT part of stress management.
Thinking About Stress
To manage better we need to conceptualize it and possibly get it all down on paper. Enter the stress container. This metaphor suggests that we all have a container into which accumulates all our stress over a given time. time passes the container will eventually overflow unless we begin to drain it gradually. Unfortunately we cannot overturn the container and empty it all in one go. For one we all need stress in our lives, it’s a biological mechanism, and two as seen above there’s no simple way of doing this. We must settle for management, the gradual draining of excess stress to maintain an equilibrium.
This is where your management techniques come into play. Our coping strategies, the way we manage, help build us a tap which when turned on drains away the stress. If we continuously employ our strategies then our tap stays on and whilst more stress may accumulate we are also constantly managing the level so it never gets out of hand. Some of our management techniques may turn the tap to off. These are the techniques which only have short term benefits. They are unhelpful coping strategies.
How do we know if a coping strategy or management technique is helpful or unhelpful? Think about the benefits. Not just the short-term benefits but the long-term benefits too. A helpful coping strategy or management technique which keeps the stress draining will be beneficial long-term. An unhelpful coping strategy or management technique may have short-term benefits but cannot be employed long-term without some kind of negative impact. For example, drinking alcohol is fine on an occasional basis but if it’s our go-to self care option or stress management strategy we may develop an over reliance or addiction.
So, What Helps Manage Stress?
What are some of those stress management techniques? The ones which help ease our journey and make everything feel a little less intense. The answer is there isn’t one. Or rather it’s different for everyone. On a given day it might different from you depending what’s happened to you that day, what’s available to you or what type of stress it is.
Stress management can be anything from being more organized to different forms of self-care (for more on self-care read here). For organization I love creating to-do lists, blocking out time in the calendar to do certain chores and leaving reminders for myself on my phone or Google Home. When it comes to self-care I try and stick to a sleep routine (new blog coming soon), I know I manage better on a good night’s sleep. I also love to hate exercise but I definitely find that getting moving can help me feel better and more positive. I feel empowered to keep on going. When I need to unwind I love a bubble bath and a good book or I do a short yoga routine for alleviating stress and anxiety.
Let me know your stress management techniques or thoughts on stress in the comments below!