Have you ever been so stressed out that you just call everything off? Pull up the covers, and sleep the day away in your teddy? Or maybe you sit at your desk, staring at your computer, drowning in a sea of post-its. Instead of delegating tasks in a diligent, divisive manner, you just stare off into oblivion until something snaps you back into reality—perhaps an angry boss demanding those TPS reports. Lately, that has been me. I have been nothing but a big ball of stress.
I used to handle my stress like any young twenty-something year old would, going to the bars with friends, chain smoking, and applying a liquid Band-Aid on my otherwise bruised and stressed out chi. Many of us femmes resort to these measures as first steps to managing stress; after all, we have friends, family, and a huge social network to fall back on. Sure, it feels good to slap on some makeup, pick out a cute dress, and go frolic around 17th street with our favorite gay boys, but in the end, does that really help solve our problems?
Ironically, studies show that in cases of high stress, the very coping mechanism we first run to are often the most ineffective and the least healthy in terms of managing and maintaining our balance. Despite our instinct to slip into our high heels and party our problems away, experts report that alcohol actually increases the body’s production of the same kinds of hormones that the body produces when under stress. Oh, and nicotine is a stimulant, which can lead to higher levels of anxiety. Looks like I quit smoking just in time for handling my major life changes.
As I approach 29, I’m discovering that I can’t handle my stress the way I used to. My body is changing, and so must my coping mechanisms. In researching how to handle stress effectively, I have decided to adopt the following measures to help navigate me back to the path of a stress-free life.
If you’re anything like me, you’re a people pleaser. My passion for my career, my friends, and my future catapults me into saying yes to any opportunity that comes my way. Over-committing myself to things that are not mandatory is probably the number one cause of most of my stress. But how do I fight it? I want to do it all. I love staying busy, active, and productive. It is time to prioritize, and put family my family and my partner above everything else. Harnessing the power of no is sure to help set me back on the path to a stress-free rest of my summer.
Last week, I had a terrible day. Nothing seemed to go right and I was so over it all. I went home, took a 10-minute pow-wow, and decided to go to the gym, which is usually the last thing I wanted to do after a stressful day. But I made it, and after my workout, I felt compelled to be even more productive, completing my grocery shopping and adding a little more dye to my hair. Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, walking the dog or taking a jog can actually help boost mood, metabolism, and self-confidence. When you feel like sulking—get moving!
I think it’s really important to lean on your partner when times get tough. Between new jobs, new cars, new apartments, and new life changes, the types of stress you feel can creep up into your relationship, leading to bickering and fighting that would otherwise be avoided entirely. Being aware of my stress levels and other factors can help me approach my partner with a loving attitude, instead of a snappy text or irrational emotional response. If you can’t openly communicate your situation with your partner, and if she can’t respond in a way that is constructive, then it may be your relationship that’s stressing you out more than anything.
Stress tends to make me shut down. Sometimes, I’ll completely abandon a project or give up on planning a future event—such as a birthday or getaway—because I simply can’t imagine dealing with anything more than what I’m already dealing with. Instead of shutting down, giving up, or making hasty decisions, I am aiming to prioritize and put things in an achievable ranking order. Sometimes accomplishing even the smallest task is cause for celebration, and can boost me back up to my happy place in no time.
We all respond to stress differently. Running a hot bath, having a romantic night with a loved one, binging on our favorite TV shows, or simply taking a moment to celebrate our successes, can help us remember that we are more than OK. We are awesome. Nobody knows you better than you. Take a moment to figure yourself and your body out, and find out what coping strategies trigger positive responses in your psychology and physiology.
Simply stated, stress is your body’s response to life changes. Since life is a series of changes, we will always find ourselves in bouts with stress. Our unique life experiences from family planning to social stigmas regarding our gender or sexuality puts us at higher risk for stress, anxiety, and substance abuse, when compared to our straight counterparts. Being aware of these risks and the types of situations that create stressors in our bodies and lives is key to managing it in a healthy and positive manner.