In high school, my most said expression was, "Stress me out". Check my yearbook, I'm not lying. I wish I did more to help myself out during this time other than simply vocalize it (although that's a start). I didn't have the skills then that I do now. If you have a pulse, at some point in your life, you will (and likely already have) experienced stress. It's not just something you experience while "adulting". It touches people at any age range. So, if it's part of the human experience, might as well learn some skills to cope and manage it, right? Right!
Stress Comes in All Forms. There's this misconception that stress only occurs in negative situations (ie: losing a job, financial pressures/worries, death, illness, injury, etc). Not so! Stress can also occur in positive situations as well (ie: having a baby, moving cities for a dream job, getting married, etc). These situations may be things you are looking forward to, but they are also, demanding something from you. Stress doesn't necessarily have to be foreshadowing of doom and gloom. Having an understanding that stress can occur in both positive and negative events can help us understand, prepare and/or cope.
Awareness. It can be helpful to take an stress inventory (such as the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory) to assess potential contributing factors. Sometimes, people know they are stressed, but do not know why. Or, they may brush off the events in their lives as 'nothing' when that 'nothing' might actually be 'something'. Stressful events can also build up. You may not have experienced the death of a spouse, but stress can still be felt through an accumulation of smaller events as well. Once you have awareness, then you can do something about it, and even be proactive!
Limits. It's okay to know what you can and can't manage. There is no shame in this. Knowing you are about to enter a stressful season might mean you don't take on anything 'extra'. Family coming to visit over the next holiday? It might be a good time to hold off on starting your kitchen renovations or decreasing your medications you've been hoping to get off of, etc. There's no need to be a martyr and take on more than you can handle. This will likely stress you out more, as well as those around you.
Food, Sleep and Exercise. The more and more I work in this field, I am constantly reminded and reinforced around the benefits of having a normalized, healthy relationship with food, sleep and exercise. Often, when one of these areas gets pushed to the sidelines, trouble is looming. Maintaining balance in these areas alsobuilds resiliency. Sure, things come up and your routine may get jostled around some. The idea isn't to be perfect, as it is to do the best you can in meeting each of these needs. Can't get outside for that hour walk you normally do everyday? 15-30 minutes is still better than nothing, or maybe you decide to go every other day. Thinking of staying up an extra two hours to study for that midterm? Let that temptation pass. Stop. Eat. Sleep. These things are so important. Your body, mind and mental health appreciate it!
Routine/Schedule/Normalcy. Don't try to 'wing it'. There is a benefit to having a plan when it comes to managing stressful situations/events. Try planning out what needs to get done and when. We don't always have the luxury of foresight, but there is something to say about following some sort of routine and schedule. A sense of familiarity can also be comforting when life gets thrown upside down. If you always enjoyed meeting with your Monday night bridge group, still try to do this. Whatever you are dealing with will likely still be there afterwards. Give yourself permission to do the things you can that bring normalcy as well as bit of a break. And, if bridge is the last thing you can handle right now, maybe you skip a week or three.
Check Your Thoughts. As always, being flexible in thinking can be helpful when faced with stress. Challenge those black and white, all or none thinking styles. Keep an eye on that part of you that easily jumps to catastrophizing. Be aware of the "shoulds" that sneakily find a way into our vocabulary that only puts unnecessary pressure on ourselves. Change what you can, accept what you can't.
Lastly, Get Help. We can't do everything on our own all the time. It's okay to need someone to help you during stressful times, whether it's an objective third party (ie: like a therapist or social worker) or a friend. It's okay to ask for and receive help!