Dealing With Stress
When encountering stress in life, we often deal with it in one of two ways: either through self-care, or self-medication. One is a healthy long term solution, the other is an unhealthy short-term band-aid. Our go-to strategies for managing stress are usually subconscious – meaning that we don’t stop and think about how to manage negative emotions, we simply react. Are you in this camp? Consider, for example, what you do after a long, stressful day at work. Do you go home and binge on ice cream? Maybe head to the bar for happy hour to have a few drinks?
Such indulgence in substances is called self-medication. When you self-medicate, you suppress the feelings that are troubling you. Instead of trying to heal, you simply ignore your stress and pain. While it is common to turn to drugs and alcohol as forms of self-medication, there are many other “socially acceptable” ways to numb yourself from pain. You might go on a shopping spree, for example. Or you might overeat. Some people become workaholics as a way of self-medicating. Others use sex and relationship drama to avoid confronting other deep-seated issues in their life.
In stark contrast to self-medication, self-care means using healthy tools to relieve stress. Self-care involves confronting stress and frustration with activities that will make you feel better, while taking care of your body at the same time. A great example of self-care is getting a massage. Meditation is also a wonderful way to relieve stress. You might simply enjoy a walk around the lake at sundown. Self-care is about doing something nourishing that helps you feel less tired and upset.
Making a Lifestyle Change
If you find yourself self-medicating, then you ought to consider changing your actions. Make a conscious effort to manage stress in healthier ways. Here are some tips:
1. Pay attention to how you react to stress. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink with dinner, but when it turns into three or four every night, you may have crossed the line. Find healthy ways to take care of negative emotions.
2. Practice self-care every day. You must remember to take care of yourself, no matter what is going on in the world around you. Doing so is a prerequisite for helping others in your life. It’s like the safety rules of an airplane – you have to put on the oxygen mask yourself before you can help others.
3. Accept negative emotions and let yourself feel things. Pain and stress are inevitable. No one can go through life without ever feeling sadness, suffering, or anger. Instead of suppressing these negative emotions, allow yourself to work through them. Control your response, not the experiences.
Strategies for Healthy Living
It’s often difficult to make changes in our established routines. Even with all the good intentions in the world, filling the void of self-medication does not come easily. Without a distinct plan of action, you will likely fall back into old, unhealthy ways. Here are some good strategies for self-care:
- Even if you don’t enjoy exercise, you will find that as you improve your physical well-being, your mental health improves along with it. Find a sport you can enjoy with a good friend. Take dancing lessons with your spouse. Play golf, shoot hoops, or ride a bike.
- Take time to meditate and connect with your faith each day. Spirituality offers plenty of avenues to relieve stress. Embrace it.
- Get enough sleep. It might sound simplistic, but a lack of sleep can be devastating – both for your physical and mental health.
- Maintain healthy friendships. There is nothing wrong with spending time alone, but don’t forget your friends. They are tremendous resource – whether you need someone to confide in, or simply enjoy some mutual company.
- Find a hobby. Knit, sew, fish or hike. Do something that you enjoy just for fun.
- Spend time with your family. Go on a weekend road trip, go out for dinner, or just play a game with your kids.
- Eat healthy. Your diet has a direct impact on how you feel. Research nutritional and tasty meals, then learn how to cook them at home.
Life moves at such a fast pace, sometimes you need to stop and take a deep breath. Think about your habits, and consider your strategies for dealing with stress. Do they fall under the category of self-care, or self-medication? If you rely too much on substances to maintain happiness, consider making a change in your lifestyle. The tangible benefits of investing in yourself and connecting with others cannot be overstated.
How do you deal with stress? Do your strategies work?