This post was going to be called, “5 Ways to Beat Stress.” Then I had a conversation with a friend. Well, I say conversation, but it was more like listening to a grown woman freak out over the accumulation of stress and worry while I just tried to tether her to something sane. I realized she wasn’t the only one who would cave under so many pressures. It’s unpleasant to be pulled on from a million directions. The demands of work, school, kids, finances, illness, and alien invasions can make you want to scream sometimes.
You’ve been there. One thing after another seems to pile up on you. Always at the wrong time, as if there could be a right time.You start thinking nobody understands. Only you know what this is like. The planets lined up to get you. Maybe. Maybe not.
I have my hands full. I work at night to pay the bills while I get my projects off the ground. That means late bed times. I also have a 5 month old daughter to take care of during the day. That means early out-of-bed times. Most days I can get her to snuggle up with me and go back to sleep for another precious hour or two. Other days she isn’t having it. All of this alone is a good combination to bring some people to boil over.
I find myself getting frustrated when I can’t calm her down. I just want to sleep. I get angry. A little at her, and more at myself. I get mad that she’s still crying. I get mad that I have to use a bottle already when she’s hungry. I huff and puff my way to the kitchen to get a bottle ready. She’s breastfeeding, and the pump provides only so much to get through the day. I track every precious ounce. When she eats first thing after her mom goes to work, that puts me under pressure to eye the clock with every ounce that goes out. I start to worry if I have enough. It frustrates my sleep deprived mind more. I’m in a full grrrrr mode by the time I get the bottle warmed.
I’m not perfect. I’m human. The good news is I’m utilizing skills to counter situations just like this. So why doesn’t everything kick into gear all at once? I bet even the Dalai Lama gets frustrated. The trick is in our preparations.
I could have freaked out. A lot of parents out there would even understand. I could yell, slam things around, or kick the dog all out of frustration. I wouldn’t kick the dog, but I have slammed a door in frustration. That scares the dog. Not my proudest moment.
A voice in my mind is gaining momentum as I go through these grumpy motions. It starts whispering, “calm down”. I manage to ignore it. The voice says, “manage your reaction.” I’m not listening to you internal yoda. By the time I have warm bottle in hand, I;m taking deeper calming breaths whether I like it or not. I’ve trained my mind to do this with some automatic reaction. It’s when I notice the deeper breath that I start to gain control over my reactions. I calm down. The little one gets fed, and we get back to sleep.
Maybe you don’t have a screaming baby at home for an alarm clock. You have an angry boss, a looming deadline, another breakup, you got fired, didn’t get the job, got cut off in traffic, or someone just said the wrong thing. Whether it’s just mounting stress or a one time event that puts you into freak out land, you don’t have to be flung by the whims of chance and emotion.
How Can You Stop Freaking Out?
Be Selfish and Take Time Outs:
You deserve your own time. Take a light jog. Go to the gym. Read a book. Meditate. Whatever it is, make sure it’s for you and all about you. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. When you constantly serve the needs of others while sacrificing yourself you will eventually boil over. You are the most important person in your life. This is a non negotiable fact. You will disappoint someone. You might let someone down by being selfish for an hour. It’s better than alienating people by freaking out to often under obligation and pressures. It’s far better than suffering through illness when the stress tears down your immune system.
Enjoy The Moment
There is only this moment. The past is gone. The future isn’t here yet. So slow down and be mindful. Drop in on yourself to see what’s going on around you. The easiest way to do this is just noticing your breath. Pay attention to how it feels moving in and out of your nose. Listen to the various sounds around you. Just notice them. There’s no need to rush. This isn’t a race.
Stress and anxiety melt away in the present moment. Leave your worries aside more often. You’ll be happy you chose now.
Breathe Deep. Often.
You’re heart rate goes up in freak out mode. You’ll also notice that your breath becomes shallow. Have you ever checked how you breathe? It’s an action we take for granted until we find ourselves choking or winded. It’s one thing we do for sure until we die, at which point none of this will matter anyway. Go ahead and take a deep breath now. Did you feel your chest rise and fall? What about your belly? The sad truth is that a large portion of adults in the western world don’t know how to take a proper deep breath. Take a deep breath again, but this time imagine a balloon in your belly. Your mission is to fill the balloon with air first, then allow your chest to fill with air. Breathe it in slowly. Now exhale gently. Congratulations! You just took a good deep breath. Now repeat early and often.
What Are You Grateful For?
You have a habit of getting stuck in your head. How often do you find yourself thinking about how stupid you are? Or how dumb that (insert action here) was? It’s normal and unfortunate.
Go Grab a pen and piece of paper. Write down three things you’re grateful for. Pause and reflect on each item. Really allow yourself to feel that gratitude fill you again. Do this every day or at least once a week. Cultivating a sense of gratitude is a proven method to increase happiness, decrease stress, and improve your relationship with other people.
Banish With Laughter
Laughter is another one of those skills that banishes stress, improves health, and even increases your tolerance of pain. Anytime I’m sick, I retreat to my bed for rest. I keep a stack of Adam Sandler movies next to the television to keep my laughter dose up. I always suspected it helped me recover quicker. Science tells me so. Thank you Dr. Sandler.
It’s just not possible to remain freaked out, stressed, worried, or spiraling down the anxiety tunnel when you’re laughing. This fact slips past the attention of anxious people. They’ve forgotten to a degree to see the funny side of life. Laughter is such good medicine, that even faking a smile will produce genuine happiness. Hold a pencil or long straw between your teeth. Go look in a mirror and see what your face is doing. That’s a smile, kids. Hold it for a couple minutes and you won’t need the pencil anymore.
Watch a movie, read a funny book, or turn to youtube. Do whatever it takes to change your mental state to one of happiness and laughter. You can’t take it all so serious. Life isn’t meant to be so black and white. Enjoy yourself.
All the tension that creates a freak out is brought on by yourself. No situation or person holds a magic wand that can create that kind of turmoil inside you. The reaction to an event is our decision. It may not always be easy. That’s why adopting these strategies in your daily life can stop you just before your mental stillness tips into panic mode and help you safely sail back to the shores of sanity. Leave your worries and stress where they belong: in the past.