The Tough Love Guide to Stress Relief
Stress seems to be seeping into more areas of the average person’s life – and not just existing – but almost overpowering people to the point of depression and anxiety on a continual basis.
You may have realized your stress issues a long time ago. At first, maybe you just dealt with it like most people do – ignore it until it bubbled over into tears or anger or exhaustion.
But then it might have gotten worse – to the point where you become aware that you rarely have any good days anymore and that it seems every time you lay your head on your pillow, your mind is flooded with a recap of everything you disliked about your day and what tomorrow might have in store for you (none of it smile-worthy).
There are many ways to alleviate stress. You’ll hear many people teach you to meditate, to use aromatherapy, and to journal your anxiety and anger away. But if you’ve tried all that, and you’re still complaining – then maybe it’s time to make some bold moves and kick things up a notch in your fight against this monster that seems to be taking over your life.
Take a Good, Hard Look at Who or What Is Bother You
One of the biggest problems with the stress epidemic today is that most people know they feel it, but they just find something that sounds relaxing to apply to it – like a Band-Aid.
That doesn’t fix the problem. It’s like you having a disease, and instead of getting to the root of the matter, the doctor just gives you a pain pill. If there was a fix, so that you didn’t have to take that pill again, wouldn’t you want to know about it?
Some people are too general in identifying their stress. You have to say more than, “I don’t have enough time,” or, “I hate my job.” A simple, “People annoy me” statement won’t do, either – you have to analyze it and find out exactly what it is that’s eating away at you.
While some people journal their feelings away, as if to spill all of the stress onto a page – you can do it for a different reason – to pinpoint the exact cause of what’s bugging you.
Sometimes you might routinely mention something like, “I don’t have enough time,” but when you really pick apart the day on paper, you realize that you don’t have enough time because your spouse isn’t pitching in with the kids or errands and you feel disrespected and unsupported.
Identifying your stressors is like deconstructing a meal. You might see the finished item on your plate, but how did it become the chicken parmesan that you see before you? When you work backwards to see what all went into the recipe (or your stress), you’re able to identify important ingredients.
For example, you might feel exhausted and simply think you work too much, but as you work your way back, you discover you’re not sleeping right and if you could simple tweak your sleep hygiene, it might improve the way you handle the regular chaos of every single day.
Start with making some word bubbles of your day as you go through it. Maybe once each hour. Write down an adjective that describes how you felt in the past hour, and a general idea of why.
For example – you might write sad because your parent called and told you about your sibling’s circumstances, which are always a mess. Or you might feel angry because a coworker dumped their project on you at the last minute.
Maybe you felt happy because you got an hour alone one night and you were able to indulge in your favorite TV show without interruption. Be honest about your emotions and then, when you see them, start deconstructing that they’re all about.
The issue with your parent calling to commiserate about your sibling might be deconstructed like this when you’re thinking of what made you feel sad about it:
– Your parent never calls unless it’s to complain.
– Your sibling and you are estranged and you don’t want to hear about their problems.
– Your parent always calls you at work when you’re trying to be productive.
When you deconstruct the issue, you might be able to find solutions or workarounds for the problem. For example, maybe you tell your parent that you don’t want to discuss your sibling anymore – or maybe you tell them that you can’t accept calls at work anymore, so you’ll have to chat on the weekend only.
The key is to understand why things make you feel the way they do – so you can experience fewer down moments and get more of those moments that provide immense personal satisfaction for you.
The only way this will go wrong is if you aren’t honest with yourself about things. It’s okay to admit to yourself in a journal that you want 60 minutes without your spouse so you can watch a show without him or her chiming in about it.
Make a Power Move to Set Boundaries That Protect You, Not Others
Boundaries are not comfortable for anybody. They work, and they work very well – but they make the person setting them uncomfortable and the person on the receiving end either angry, sad or a mix of emotions.
For those who have always felt victimized by the actions or opinions of others, the act of setting boundaries will free you from that label and the stress that comes with it. Being a victim is something you choose – it’s not a decision the other person gets to make.
What does it mean to have boundaries? It can mean different things to different people. For some, it might be something as simple as no longer discussing serious matters with certain friends or family members – keeping them at arm’s length, so to speak.
For others, it can be limited your interaction with that person. Maybe you used to speak to them daily, so to protect yourself from the stress they cause you, you begin dialing down your communication with them from frequently to rarely.
In some cases, you may even have to completely eliminate someone from your life. If they’re that toxic, and if they refuse to abide by the boundaries you put in place, then you can free yourself from that stress by cutting them out of your life.
This is the most difficult thing for many people to do. Instead of seeing it as a protective and preventative measure, they’d rather not suffer the discomfort of cutting the person off, and therefore invite more emotional abuse every day thereafter.
You can start with small boundaries and build up from there – giving the other person the ability to respect your boundaries first. But understand that most people don’t know what boundaries are, and have no intention of abiding by them.
Let’s say you get stressed whenever the phone rings and you see it’s your mom – because you know she only calls to discuss your brother, who you’re estranged from and who has a chaotic, criminal life.
First, you can try setting the boundary of telling your mom that you no longer will be discussing your brother. You don’t ask her not to speak of him – because that gives her the control.
You demand it. Calmly and respectfully, either explain that the issue brings stress to your life – or don’t explain at all, and simply inform her of your boundary. Now if she continues speaking about him, you can then limit calls to one day on the weekend only.
If, on that weekend day, you realize she has no interest in you – but only uses you as a way to unload her own burdensome stress regarding your brother – then you can make the tough decision to eliminate contact until she understands the boundary – or forever, if it brings you peace.
Only you can decide what constitutes cutting someone out of your life. That’s a drastic, yet necessary step for many to make. It depends on how much stress having that person in your life creates.
If it’s overwhelming, then you are literally hurting your body physically to flood it with cortisol (the stress hormone) day after day. If you find a way to easily get past it, then it may not be that big of a deal to you.
This type of boundary isn’t just about people. It’s about things that result in stress, too. Maybe you agreed to some sort of responsibility like being a room mom – that you find is causing you to fall behind on work or not be able to give relationships the attention they deserve.
You may have to set a boundary that you will either finish out that year and never get strong-armed into the role again, ask that the other room moms take on their fair share of the duties – or, request that someone else take the reins and the role and allow you to get back control of your life.
When you deconstruct your feelings and pinpoint the stressor, give yourself some time to analyze how much of an impact it truly has on you – how serious it is. When you understand that, jot down a few boundary options that range from mild to severe – and keep those on hand to remind you of what can be done if the person or situation doesn’t resolve itself easily.
Be aware that there is usually a backlash to people setting boundaries. They don’t want to give up control of the situation and they don’t appreciate you shutting them out. A boundary is simply you taking control of what you will allow to affect you, so don’t be bullied into backing down.
Take Responsibility to Fix an Issue Instead of Just Whining About It
With stress, have you ever noticed how many people like to complain? You probably do it every single day – gripe about the traffic, your weight, the boss, your relationship with someone.
In order to fix the stress issue for good, you have to start realizing that much of this is your fault. Not what the other person or situation is doing, but in how you allow it to affect you and what you plan to do about it.
It’s time to get fed up hearing yourself complain about things and actually take steps to remedy them. Put your foot down and reclaim control over your life. There are many instances where the people stressing you out don’t even know it’s affecting you so bad – mainly because we’re so programmed to be polite and not lash out like that.
But it’s not rude to make your preferences known and then act if someone else doesn’t back off and leave you alone. For example, if a coworker has a way of dumping their projects on you – decline to accept them!
Tell the person you’re already working on something. Make them start accepting responsibility for their own schedule and not using you as a crutch to achieve their career goals.
If you’re always complaining about work – either the career itself or the people you work with – blame yourself for not getting out to change things. Pursue a different career or find another place of employment.
If you’re always complaining that your friend tries to get you to cheat on your diet when you go to lunch with her and it stresses you out, stop going to lunch with her! Either engage in a non food activity, or be blunt and explain that if she can’t stop doing that, you won’t be able to see her anymore.
Don’t Slack Off Once Things Are Better – Fortify Your Stress Relief
At first, you’re going to be really nervous and question if what you just did was the right thing to do. These are major changes. And yet, you’ll start to feel so empowered and so free – that you’ll wonder why you didn’t take these steps sooner.
This is the time when you work on the smaller stress relief goals of your life. If you eliminate the chaotic schedule, then you suddenly find extra time to relax and enjoy life. This is the perfect time to inject more stress relief into your day – the kinds of things like aromatherapy, massage, meditation, and more.
Stress will never go away. Always remember that even when things seem to be calm and enjoyable, anything can happen the next week, day or minute. Be prepared to handle those situations by strengthening your resolve to protect and pamper yourself first and foremost.
This is a great role model situation for you to be in with your children, too. Imagine if your child complained every day about how his or her friend was using them and making them feel sad.
You’d probably encourage them to set boundaries and become strong. Show that you, yourself can do that. You aren’t being mean. You’re being smart. You’re preserving your sanity and living life to the fullest.
Most people will walk through life being walked over like a welcome mat. You don’t have to live like that anymore. Look the stress factors straight in the eye and take them out – one by one.