Did you know that there is an American Institute of Stress? According to research, 55% of Americans are stressed during the day. Not surprisingly, the events of the past few years (Covid-19, rising prices, and most recently the War in Ukraine) have raised stress levels for everyone. The Institute of Stress says that, “stress awareness month has been recognized every April since 1992 but this time it seems particularly important”. I’d not heard of this month before, but after reading about stress it seems that we need it more than ever.
What I notice about sources of stress is that they are most often issues, and events that we cannot control. I suppose that is part of the definition of stress, but in my research it seems that there isn’t any agreed upon definition of stress; it is unique to each person’s perception. That makes a complicated feeling, even more so.
For now, let’s focus on the aspects of stress that we can control. That is, I hope, a way that we can raise awareness—even if it is only our own—during this month of stress awareness.
This has become my mantra. I have found that I feel most stressed when I choose not to do something that I know will help my future self. This type of stress is most often associated with work, school or other responsibilities in your life. You know that finishing up your work project instead of watching the latest season of [insert your guilty pleasure show] will allow you to make it to the grocery in time to go to bed early, which will prepare you the best for that meeting in the morning.
Avoiding stress, and managing stress, can come down to doing what is best for your future self, in the present moment.
Speaking of avoiding...do you know what avoidant behavior is? It sounds pretty self-explanatory, but it is any behavior that is used to avoid or escape difficult feelings, situations or thoughts. The guilty pleasure show I mentioned in the first section? That is avoidant behavior. I’m in graduate school and let me tell you, my avoidant behavior can run rampant when it comes to assignments, or that pile of student essays I need to grade.
Avoidant behavior can of course also apply to emotional situations. I’ve avoided difficult conversations, and (my favorite) avoiding saying ‘no’ to a social invite (which sometimes means saying ‘yes’ when I don’t want to. Big mistake).
Learn to recognize your avoidant behavior. Sometimes it isn’t a conscious decision. Stop and reflect on what it is that I am trying to avoid. Then, try as hard as you possibly can about your future self.
Sleep is proven to reduce stress. Period. I’m going to keep this one short: make sure that you get enough sleep! Everyone has their own cycle; I am an early-to-bed gal myself. Perhaps you like to go to bed late and wake up late—great! Keep it consistent and make sure you get enough.
My stress is often made worse when I begin to criticize myself. I’ll get down about my avoidant behavior, and I’ll look back on a wasted afternoon, or unresolved situation and think I could have done something better. I could have fixed this, or already dealt with it.
Stress, for the things in your life within your control, rears its ugly head when you feel that you are not enough: not good enough, strong enough, or equipped enough. It is your life. You are strong enough. You are enough.
Stress isn’t going anywhere until you can remember that. (bandana mantras are helpful in these moments!)
- There is such a thing as good stress (yes!)
According to the professionals, there is a difference between good and bad stress. The good stuff is called eustress. What is good stress? Well, applying for a new job and waiting to hear back for an interview = good. Stressing about that interview because you can’t make rent this month = bad stress.
Understanding different types of stress can help you understand that the good kind is what motivates you. For me: writing deadlines, first dates, the end of my graduate program. These are things that involve other people, and timelines that operate beyond my control, but the parts that stress me out also motivate me: to finish the essay on time, to enjoy myself on a date, to get excited about opportunities following graduation (and think of my future self by job searching now!).
Be aware of your stress. Be good to yourself.