There is daily stress, and then there is STRESS. Recently I’ve had several friends experience the loss of loved ones and the acute stress that comes with that, but it can happen if you’re going through a relationship breakup, been laid off from work, have a diagnosis, or any of those other heavy things that happen in life. Last week I shared ways to cope with daily stress, and I want to take it a step further and share specific tools for dealing with acute emotional stress.
When you are going through a crisis, the constant state of stress takes its toll on you mentally, physically, and emotionally. These tools will help you take a break from those feelings, but are by no means the solution to finding your way through whatever is stressing you. Note that I’m not a therapist, and these tools should be used alongside other professional recommended help.
These tips are helpful for any kind of stress, so keep them on hand to help you deal with life’s unpredictable situations.
1. Distract. Despite the importance of feeling the feelings when faced with acute stress, we also need a break from them. It’s impossible to carry on all day overly stimulated and still function. Try and distract yourself from what is putting your emotions into overdrive for a time. It could be watching a movie, cooking a meal, getting absorbed in a creative project, or whatever will absorb you.
2. Imagine. This is another way to leave the bad feelings and emotions behind for a time, to give your system some reprieve. It’s also a type of meditation. Imagine safe, soothing, calming images that allow you to relax. Try to really be in that place, and imagine the smells, sounds, and how the air feels on your skin. Alternatively, you can imagine being with a favorite person or pet; I like to imagine scenes from nature. This can take practice, so start with guided meditations that you can find on YouTube or different relaxation apps.
3. Peripherally Relax. I just learned about peripheral vision relaxation recently, and it’s a very interesting and useful way to calm your nervous system. When you are in a heightened emotional state, your body is hyper-aware and focused thanks to our fight-or-flight response. This technique takes you out of that state by focusing on the peripheral.
One way to do this is to sit or stand about three feet from a wall. Stare straight ahead. Without moving your eyes, become aware of the three and nine o’clock positions using your peripheral vision. Then notice the six and twelve o’clock positions. You can actually look at both points at the same time! Soon you’ll notice a softening of your eyes, slower breath, and the muscles in your face and rest of the body will begin to relax. Your parasympathetic nervous system has taken over, making you feel calmer.
4. Be Here Now. Our subconscious mind wants to keep us safe, so we spend a lot of time contemplating what went wrong in the past or what might go wrong in the future. When you start ruminating, which increases your stress, try to be in the moment instead. Use all of your senses, and describe where you are.
“I am in my safe house, in my favorite chair, holding a good book. I’m warm and comfortable, and can hear the dog snoring at my feet. I can hear the birds outside, the blanket is soft, and I can smell freshly cut grass.”
This helps calm your mind and body, and dovetails nicely into practicing gratitude. What are you grateful for right now?
5. Exercise. This is the most important from my perspective, but it may be the one you’re least inclined to do while upset. Still, if you can get up and move, it’s an excellent way to counter big emotions. Physical activity helps to disperse and reduce stress chemicals in your body, release endorphins, and it will even help you sleep better. If you can take your workout outdoors, even just for a walk, you’ll benefit from the fresh air and sun as well.
6. Nurture Yourself. When you’re in the depths of a hard situation, try to be kind to yourself. Do something to nurture and soothe your senses. You don’t need to carry on like nothing has happened, but you can still pare your schedule down to give yourself some space. Lay in the yard and breathe fresh air, take a bath, or just sit with someone you love.
There are many ways to reduce and relieve stress, but these simple strategies will help you find pockets of relief from the big emotions and feelings.
If you know someone who is going through a tough time, please do reach out with them. Even a quick text will show that you care. They may not respond, but they will know that you’re thinking of them. I once made the mistake of not reaching out to a grieving friend, because I thought she was surrounded with family and I didn’t want to intrude. She told me later that she was hurt by my absence, and I can see why. It wasn’t my intention of course, but the situation was completely avoidable. As someone else told me, “check in on the strong ones.”
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