The One Thing I Do When Stress Piles Up

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

It feels counter-intuitive to stop when you are in chaos. When there is stress on your shoulders that you can’t shake away. When it starts to get real.

For me, it’s the struggle of finding a job in the middle of a pandemic, when I don’t qualify for unemployment benefits and when my student loans are running out.

It’s getting real.

In the middle of watching YouTube videos about freelance opportunities, looking up jobs in different states, and trying to finish an assignment for class that is due soon, I had the thought to stop.

To honestly follow my own advice — what I would tell any friend, and what I have even written in a new personal development curriculum I authored — and stop.

Even though it feels counter-intuitive, it is often the best solution in these situations. Will it solve my financial problems? No. But will it allow me to rest and come back with a clearer mindset? Yes.

I stopped.

And as I laid in my bed with the midday sun peeking through the blinds, casting shadows onto my bedspread, I remembered: the last impression I received was that I should focus on writing.

I had forgotten about that thought amid the chaos.

I got up and closed the many tabs on my computer browser — and the metaphorical tabs in my brain — and I started to write. My stressors are still there, but I am no longer trying to approach them with that fight-or-flight reaction. I can move forward with a more mindful, calm approach.

  • Close your eyes and take 3 slow, deep breaths.
  • If you want to take it a step further, try alternate nostril breathing.
  • Take a short nap (don’t forget to set an alarm to wake up!)
  • Take a bath.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Turn off your phone, computer, and other tech for a bit.
  • Sit outside.
  • Write out your thoughts.
  • Read a book for fun.
  • Turn up some music and dance.
  • Bake.
  • Do dishes (but only if it will help you feel fulfilled after!)

…or anything else that lets you step away from your stressors for a few minutes. If you disconnect from technology for a bit, even better.

Now, let’s get to the science of it: When your stress levels are high, your sympathetic nervous system is activated — that “fight-or-flight” reaction. You can imagine that spending too much time in this ultra on-edge state can take its toll on the mind and body. When you practice consciously relaxing the body and mind, you switch into a parasympathetic nervous system. This allows your body and mind to relax which, in turn, will help you be better able to tackle those stressors.

  1. Take note of where your stress level is at right now, on a scale from 1 (very calm) to 10 (very stressed).

2. Then, stop.

3. Step away and try one of those bullet points, then come back and rate your stress level again.

How do you feel? Has your stress level decreased, increased, or stayed the same? What bullet point did you try this time, and what one do you want to try next time?

Like I said, all of my problems haven’t disappeared, but when I can better regulate my stress levels, those problems feel much more manageable.

I’m taking my own advice, and I’m following where it leads me.

Want more tips on how to better handle stress? Check out my article “3 Habits to Develop for Responding to Stressful Situations” on Healthy Humans Project.

Author, people person, aiming to do good. Christian/LDS. Find me on Instagram @lookslikewandering.

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