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A therapist's guide to managing your stress

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, 4 min read

A therapist's guide to managing your stress

I think we can all agree there is no normal anymore. There was life before the pandemic. Life during the pandemic. And now there’s just life. We all talked about the “new normal” for a while, but it doesn’t seem that we’ve established just what that is–or isn’t. So now we live in this space where life both is and isn’t what it was.

And then just when it seemed that we had all begun to accept that life was going to take a while to redefine, the world found itself in upheaval again. Inflation mushrooming. Eastern Europe embroiled in war. Gas prices skyrocketing. Things just feel tense. And it isn’t like life slowed down to accommodate all this. We still have the demands of our jobs, our partners, our children, and our daily lives. Stress is everywhere. So what can we do to manage it? How do we take the edge off?

As a therapist, I do have some tools and tips to help. And the wonderful part about all of this is that though life is a fairly complicated problem, the solutions are elegantly simple.

Here are 5 of them:

  1. Practice the basics. The words “self-care” are thrown around a lot these days (more on that later), but we don’t always appreciate that that can be some really basic stuff. Getting enough sleep. Making sure to eat when we’re hungry, and eating food that is nutritious. Drinking water. Spending time with family and friends. Humans have some basic needs, and we can’t neglect these and then be surprised when we don’t function well. It’s like asking your car to run without gas or oil. You have to do the fundamentals.
  2. Take an inventory of what truly needs your focus and attention. It’s a myth that all things are of equal importance. They aren’t. When we find ourselves trying to manage too many things, whether personal and professional, we need to sit down and have an honest conversation with ourselves. Because if we don’t, what will likely happen is that we end up doing more things, less well, with increased frustration–a cycle that will perpetuate indefinitely. So prioritize.
  3. Stay out of the future. I like to remind myself that there is a “future me.” And some of the problems that current me wants to deal with are actually problems for future me. They’re too far from where I am for me to effectively deal with them, so I have to delegate them to future me. This allows me to focus on what I can control in the time that I’m actually living. And that reduces my anxiety, because I have fewer things on my plate, and I can actually impact the ones that are there.
  4. Stop trying to define your goodness by your self-sacrifice. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. Again, everything on earth requires specific maintenance. From your washing machine to your houseplants, each thing has its own needs that must be tended to in order for it to function or thrive. You are no different. But we tell ourselves that we are only good if we are constantly sacrificing for others. You can be good and take care of yourself. In fact, they work together, not in conflict with each other.
  5. Now do the self-care. Once you have the basics in hand, then it’s time to look at when and how to beef up your self-care. Life is about balance, so the more stress you have, the self-care you need for balance. This is when it’s good to look at things like time off, even if it is ‘stay-cation.’ Or finding a fitness outlet, or a yoga class. Maybe taking an art class. Doesn’t matter. Find something that is relaxing and engaging and gives your mind a break from all of the stress and hustle of everyday life.

I think most of us tell ourselves that life will be better “when it slows down,” or “things are less crazy.” But life isn’t likely to be either of those things. So we have to figure out how to manage and stay in the driver’s seat. To do that, we must make sure that we are meeting our needs, both physically and emotionally, dealing with what exists in the present, and giving ourselves time and space for additional self-care. And if you can’t figure out how to implement these, or need additional guidance, reach out for professional help. Because though life is stressful, it can also be manageable.

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The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.

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