If you’ve been conscious during 2020… or really any other year, then stress is a concept you may have encountered. An article written by the American Psychological Association reports that: “One-third of Americans are living with extreme stress and nearly half of Americans (48 percent) believe that their stress has increased over the past five years.” Stress is natural. It happens and the things that tend to cause one to feel stressed vary from person to person. So, how do we manage stress? I hope to shed some light on this question.
Stress is a general term for what may be more narrowly described as emotional or physical tension. Abrupt or unexpected changes to our daily lives can cause us to experience tangible emotional or even physical distress. Some common emotional symptoms of stress may include irritability, feelings of nervousness, anger, feeling like you may cry, or feeling a lack of energy. Physical symptoms of stress may appear in the form of headaches, upset stomach, muscle tension, or changes in appetite. Again, stress is natural, and we all may experience stress at one point or another in our life, but how do we recognize when we are?
One method is by practicing a skill known as mindfulness. Mindfulness is a technique often used in mental health counseling that works to draw attention to one’s state or consciousness. Basically, it means trying to pay attention to ourselves. It is easy to go on what I like to call “auto-pilot.” Imagine something for me for one second: think about your commute to work today or a time when you were traveling from one place to another. Can you think of everything you did from point A to point B? I would be surprised if you could. It’s easy to not be self-aware in moments like that, especially when it’s a route we’ve taken several times. This can happen in our daily lives as well. It’s common to lose touch with oneself and get out of the habit of focusing on how we feel mentally and physically. Mindfulness can be a helpful tool in reversing that habit. Something as simple as journaling can help draw our attention to our day, how we are feeling, and help us to gauge how we could manage our stress when we are feeling it.
Once we develop a better understanding of ourselves and are able to recognize when we are stressed, self-care can step in to alleviate some of those negative experiences and feelings. Self-care comes in all shapes and sizes and varies person-to-person. The goal of self-care is basic: practice something that brings you peace. For some, it’s reading their Bible. For others, it could be taking a walk or watching a TV show that makes them smile every time. Finding something that you enjoy and that brings you a sense of peace and calm is a wonderful way to manage stress. However, sometimes the need is narrower. If someone, for example, is experiencing stress due to anxiety or depression, other forms of self-care may need to be implemented to bring about a better state of being. Healthy diet, exercise, and a consistent, positive sleep pattern are helpful forms of self-care to manage these mental health concerns.
The Bible addresses the concept of worry which is usually associated with anxiety and sometimes with stress. Matthew 6:34 says “Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself.” These words of Jesus are simple but modern psychology would agree with him. Focusing on today and what we can do today to help ourselves achieve what we want for our lives is more productive than toiling over what tomorrow will bring.
Self-care takes time to develop as a habit. Practicing mindfulness to draw attention to how we are feeling and then developing a self-care plan to manage those feelings can be a helpful remedy to the stress and distress of everyday life. As a counselor, I would be remiss to not advocate for counseling when I’m talking about self-care. Counseling provides a space for us to open up about what is causing us to feel stress and, with the help of a trained professional, we can develop skills for managing that stress. For many, going to see a counselor a few times a year is as much a part of their self-care practice as going on a morning walk.
I hope that this new year brings you less stress than previous years, but know that even if you do feel stressed, it’s okay. There are things you can do to help yourself, and there are people out there who are willing to help you.