You may find it ironic that I am writing a blog post about dealing with stress. But the fact of the matter is, I am a stress expert, which means I’m very good at being stressed. Unfortunately, there’s no skill involved — I’m just stressed a lot.
The upside is I thrive under pressure, and stress actually helps me perform. The downside is that stress is bad for you and there are many physical long-term consequences. Even though I’ve learned how to deal with stress in the sense that I can use it to get things done, I am not great at dealing with it in the sense that it takes a pretty hefty toll on my physical and emotional well-being.
In reality, I don’t think many people handle stress very well. According to 2019 data from Gallup, over half of Americans are stressed. Now, some people (like me) are naturally more prone to stress than others. But even people who are more “chill” as my little brother would say, struggle with managing stress. They just manifest it differently. So how do we cope?
Well, I’m still figuring this one out. The truth is, this blog post has actually been on my to-do list for a while, but I’ve been too stressed to write it (lol). I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I’ve made enough mistakes along the way that I’ve learned from them. So here are a few de-stress tips.
1. Stop obsessing and choose to let go.
I know this is a shocker, but I’m pretty tightly wound. I often feel that I don’t choose to be stressed — it’s just how I’m wired. And it’s true that I have a natural tendency toward stress. But we all have control over how much we allow ourselves to dwell on things, and we all have the power to let go of the things we feel we need to control. Ultimately, that’s what stress is about: control. Now, from a purely logical standpoint, it may not be beneficial to stress about things within your control, but it’s just pointless to stress about things outside of it. Allowing yourself to constantly dwell on your problems doesn’t help anything, and it definitely has a negative impact on your mental health. Choose to let go of things outside your control. And when you have a stressful situation within your control, deal with it and move on.
2. Channel your stress into positive outlets.
In the timeless words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.” Unfortunately, I hate running, but it’s seriously a perspective-shifting game changer. Extended stress produces the “fight-or-flight” response in your body, and it can take a heavy physical toll. But you can channel that restless energy into literally running from your problems, and chemically balance yourself in the process.
Finding a creative outlet is also a great way to positively channel your stress. I’ve recently taken up cooking, and it’s been a really fun and practical way for me to focus my energy on something else at the end of a long and stressful day (plus, using an industrial grade blow torch on crème brûlée is basically the ultimate stress reliever).
I know this one seems obvious, but it’s amazing how we forget to breathe when we need it most. Your body needs oxygen to function and hyperventilating helps absolutely nothing. So just breathe.
4. Lean into your community.
When I have a stressful situation, I’m tempted to isolate myself and work on the situation until it’s fixed. But the reality is, when you’re stressed is when you most need your community. If you don’t yet have a community, find one. Humans need each other and there are people out there who want to help you. And if you already have a community, don’t hide from them — invite them into your stress. Allow them to help you, distract you, or just listen to you vent. Additionally, being with other people is a great perspective check because it helps you take your focus off yourself and your problems and onto loving other people. Don’t skip out on social activities, church, or volunteering. This goes back to control and obsessing over things. I can promise you that the small amount of time you save by missing out on time with your community is not worth the impact on your emotional well-being. And that time you take to recharge and invest in both yourself and your community allows you to handle your stress so much better, that it is actually the smartest investment of your time you can make.
5. Remind yourself of what is true.
I feel like the majority of my stress always ends up relating to people in some way. Work, relationships, ministry — I’m always worried about disappointing others or being disappointed by them. Some people struggle more with people pleasing than others, but I think everyone wrestles with it to some degree. When you’re stressed, ask yourself: what exactly is the root of your stress? If you’re worried about letting someone down, or someone else letting you down, the reality is humans are flawed and we will let each other down. But you cannot ever be responsible for someone’s happiness, and they can’t be responsible for yours. So what is true?
The truth is that my identity is not defined by anything I do or fail to do, but by who I am. This means:
- I can fail catastrophically at my job, but I am still a person of value and significance.
- I can be hurt or rejected by people I care about, but I am still a person worthy of being loved.
- I can mess things up seemingly beyond repair, but there is nothing that God can’t redeem.
- This earth is ultimately not my home, and my purpose here is not to succeed, or be happy, but to tell the world of a Savior who loves us infinitely more than we could ever imagine.
All right, that’s all I’ve got. I’m going to go blow torch some more crème brûlée now. Oh, and if you don’t have one already, get a stress ball. You’ll thank me later.