Managing Stress: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Everyone is now more stressed than ever. Why else are there a million articles out there about "__ # of ways to destress NOW" and other quick fixes? P.S. That dog.
Though, in order to tackle stress, we must first understand how it works with our brains and bodies. I think you'd be surprised with some of this information- I know I certainly was, when I first starting looking at my stress this way. It's not actually about "de-stressing."
While things like online shopping, a drink, mindless social media browsing, eating a treat, zoning out on Netflix are indeed effective for taking the edge off in a singular moment, it's a bandaid for a deeper cut- it doesn't help get to the root of the problem.
Let's think of stress as a two-part entity: eustress and distress
Eustress is the good type of stress. It's that motivating feeling that keeps us working toward a goal or a purpose. It usually involves anticipation, excitement, and elation.
Distress is the bad type of stress that makes the world feel overwhelming- that there's too much or too difficult of things to do, and involves worry, anxiety, and anger.
We as humans need to experiences both of these stressors from time to time- that's what makes our human experience. But when our lives are overwhelmed by stress (both the good and the bad aka eustress and distress), that's when things start to go awry.
Imagine your emotions and state of being as a set of scales:
For optimal health and happiness, it's best to live on a balanced scale. Sure, the scales might slightly waver and tip, but we'd rather not be constantly thunking one side down.
On the right side, we have the stressor bucket-
BOTH the eustress and distress go in that one, believe it or not.
Wait. Good & Bad Stress Do Similar Things to Me?
It is indeed too much of a good thing when you are constantly running around in a state of eustress. You know that feeling, where you're just feeling pumped and motivated for something? Now, imagine living in that state 24/7. Sure, that might sound nice initially because after all, who doesn't want to constantly be beaming with positivity and energy?
Don't you normally get adrenaline rushes when that kind of feeling takes over? That's what makes you feel like you can take on the world and rock that project.
But constantly living at a high like that with constant adrenaline can very easily lead to a crash of adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue is when you've essentially worn down your adrenal glands, much akin to screeching tires when you slam the gas pedal on your car too hard and quickly. Your constant "pumped-up" feeling is demanding your adrenal glands to just produce more and more adrenaline to keep energizing your body, as your body will do it's best to meet for the demands you're asking of it.
But unlike real energy, adrenaline gives you a more temporary and powerful rush that cannot be sustained. Your adrenal glands can only withstand so much and do not bounce back easily. That's why we call people who love this feeling and harp on it, adrenaline junkies- because adrenaline truly is like a drug rush and the body treats it very similarly.
Okay, so let's flip the coin and look at the things that balance out that "state of being" scale.
Note that I didn't say "destressors," but rather the term "balancing out."
That's because sometimes it's unrealistic and it is a waste of energy to try to taking away stressors in your life you can't really control in the immediate moment. In the meantime, try to add things to your life to put on the left side of the scales to help balance things out.
Relax. Rest. Recovery. Rejuvenate. It may not mean what you think it means.
When I was working at my miserable first job, the only thing I could muster up the strength to do when I got home was to pop on Netflix or Hulu, order Seamless, and maybe have a glass of wine. At the time, it felt like I had zero energy so I just need to veg out on my couch and do this nightly routine.
Reality check: that is not relaxation or recovery. That is slapping a bandaid on the Stress bucket; not putting valuable weight in the Balance bucket to actually counterbalance the stress in life.
We all do some version of this. We runaway, we escape; To things like spending money on frivolous things online because it feels good, a drink or four because it feels relaxing, scrolling through our Instagram feeds wishing we had the glamorous lives of a stranger, diving headfirst into a box of cookies, or just numbing ourselves while binge-watching episodes on Netflix.
Those things give us nothing except instant gratification that feels good for about 5 minutes until our credit card bill arrives, the hangover hits, the extra 10 pounds that make you not fit into your clothes, feeling bad about our current lives, and further berating that we aren't enough.
Choose healthy balancers that actually give you something back.
This is behavioral patterning. The solutions and balancers we create for ourselves- we want them to be positive, reinforcing behaviors, not numbing agents or distracting highs.
Everyone has different little things that make them happy, but here are my Top 12 ideas I love, to help get you started:
1. Lifting. Something very heavy, preferably.
There is something that doesn't quite compare to the feeling of raw strength, empowerment, and "I am woman, hear me roar," that deadlifting something twice my weight gives me. The body is a magical, capable thing, and it's rejuvenating to me to revel in that.
2. On that note, sunset outdoor running.
I never have been a runner. I wasn't allowed to for 10 years of my life, so being able to run a decent pace for my short little legs while feeling the wind in my hair and seeing a gorgeous view helps me appreciate it that much more. Plus, endorphins.
3. Having a few moments in the morning for a proper breakfast and a physical read.
Even if it means waking up 15-20 minutes earlier, this quiet morning time to myself is such a treat. Also, having physical paper pages to flip through makes me much happier than an e-read.
4. Farmer's Market explorations.
I only started going to the farmer's market 2 years ago, and it still holds novelty to me. There are so many different veggies and fruits I didn't know existed before, and I love being able to talk with the vendors and farmers themselves to understand where the food I'm nourishing my body with comes from.
5. Playing with something fluffy and furry.
My love for baby animals or any fluffy, furry being is a little over the top. I can't help but squeal (no, really, this grown-ass woman actually squeals aloud) playing with little paws like that. Sheer happiness.
6. Walking through familiar neighborhoods.
I still discover new characteristics each time, here in the city. Noticing something new about the streets I walk everyday is a little bit of wonderment that feeds me.
7. Enjoying the sight of the seasons.
It's a gorgeous Spring here in NYC this year, and I'm not taking any of these beautiful blossoms for granted, as evidenced by my Instagram. Mother Nature is beautiful.
8. Capturing those little, rare moments of incandescent happiness.
And keeping them close to my heart through the rougher and stressful times. Things always get better, and always remember that there is more goodness to come.
9. Admiring eye-candy. Not that kind.
I can't help it, I'm a interior design nerd that loves Pinterest. But instead of living through spaces online, I love stopping into local shops to admire their designs and decor. There is something soothing about taking in pretty aesthetic.
10. Exploring my own city.
I've finally been seeing more of other boroughs and neighborhoods in the city, and it feels like I've taken relaxing mini weekend trips when I do. Novelty never wears off unless you let it.
11. Showing love and affection.
Whether to family, friends, or lovers, it's important that we express our love and affection for one another. Also, a hug never hurts- scientifically speaking, it relaxes your nervous system and kickstarts your endocrine system to release those happy, relaxed hormones we all could use more of.
12. Giving to others and celebrating them.
It shouldn't have to be Mother's Day, a birthday, or holiday for you to show a loved one appreciation. Take the time to remind those you care about just exactly that- that you care.