I work in Higher Ed. In that space, the concept of stress is pretty much daily conversation.
Family situations causing stress
Roommate conflict stress
Health issues adding to or resulting from stress
Students talk about (or at least experience) stress often. So do all human beings.
A few weeks ago a student asked me to share some of the ways I personally deal with stress. As I answered their question and tried to then help them figure out what might work in their life, it felt like three main categories emerged. The more I thought about these categories the more I realized how helpful they can each be in my life.
First, sometimes I believe we just need to distract ourselves from whatever is going on. We need space away from what’s causing the stress. For me, these kinds of stress-busters include things like reading a book, watching a movie, hanging out with a friend doing something fun, playing a game, going for a walk or run, sometimes even scrolling the web or flat out taking a nap! There are times when I’ve thought so much about a situation or issue, that doing something completely unrelated truly does relieve stress and lets me come back to it later with a clearer mind.
But in many things we do actually have to “come back to it” which leads to the second way I think we all need to cope with the hard things that come our way in life: deal with it. If it’s an emotional struggle, for me, this often looks like journaling, talking with a friend, mentor, or counselor, or finding some way to sort through and process through what’s happening. On the work/homework/housework side of stress, this looks like actually getting something done; completing a project surely relieves stress! In relational issues, this involves having the hard conversations and figuring out how to best move forward. Sometimes we just have to DEAL with it!
At first I thought there were really only those two categories, but there really is a third (and maybe more… this isn’t scientific or anything, just my random thoughts)! A key stress-reducer for me is all about habits. There are things that I can do every day or every week that automatically position me to be in a better place when stress comes along. They set me up for success before I even need to respond. Things like getting enough sleep and eating well help avoid the “hangry” state that certainly doesn’t cope well with additional stress added on. Exercise releases tension from the day even if it wasn’t built up from anything specific. Connecting with friends regularly energizes me along with making sure I have a decent amount of alone time to refuel. Reading God’s Word, prayer, and connecting in a faith community add on-going stability in a way nothing else really can.
When I have all three of these things in motion in my life–regular rhythms, ways to deal with my problems head on, and even some distractions–I find I really do stress less. The challenging things that come along don’t rattle me as much as they might have in another season. I feel hope for getting through tough circumstances because I have options of what might help.
With three broad options on the table, and then specific ideas within each category, I can figure out a little bit better what I need in any given moment. Do I need to dig in and deal with this problem or is a night “off” just doing something fun what will refresh my body and soul? Have I been shifting to distraction and ignoring the problem, only adding stress to my life? Is the situation in front of me not really a huge deal, but my reaction to it seems to indicate I’ve let the life-giving habits slip lately? Have I stopped doing the things that normally put me in a better space to manage the everyday inconveniences?
The longer I live the more I realize, there will always be something else hard around the corner in life. This isn’t something I need to fear or despair… it’s just reality in the broken world in which we live. But God has also given us many tools, experiences, and resources to deal with the hard things that come our ways. My challenge for you this week: make a list! What are the things you like to do to handle stress in your life? If you want, perhaps use these three categories to help you brainstorm. What do you like to do to just “check out”? How do you best process and deal with the hard things in life without ignoring them? What are the ongoing joys and rhythms in your life that steady you through the ups and downs?
Comment below and share some of YOUR favorite stress busters!