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HOW to Handle Stress

I’ve never been super fabulous at dealing with stress. When I was in college, my roommate once made a comment that my shoulders were so tense, they were literally up by my ears. I had never noticed.

In graduate school, I had terrible migraine headaches and had to take a leave of absence. Part of my treatment involved stress reduction. “Focus on your breathing,” the clinician said, handing me a workbook. As it turned out, focusing on my breathing made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. I flunked the stress class.

During my divorce, I was under an incredible amount of prolonged stress. Living in that state of fear made my problems feel confusing and huge and overwhelming. Every time something triggered my anxiety, I would feel compelled to take action RIGHT NOW. I was convinced that the action I was about to take was the *only* way to solve my problems.

My life was not helped by my fight-or-flight response. More often than not, that emotional reaction took a stressful situation, hijacked my brain, and limited my ability to see what my *actual* options were. My mind started spinning with possibilities until I complicated things even MORE, convincing myself I was “solving the problem.” Luckily I realized I had a problem, and I got help from an amazing therapist. I was also lucky to have a friend dealing with a similar issue at the same time I was. We both recognized that our minds were spinning out of control, but neither of us knew how to stop it. “WHAT IS THE HOW?!” we would ask each other constantly.

As it turns out, the first step in “how” is being aware that it’s happening. The second step is, after catching yourself, simply *stopping.* Usually you have to stop over and over and over again.

Nowadays I catch myself most of the time. When I feel anxious, I slow waaayyy down and purposefully go as slowly as I possibly can. Somehow, this calms my nervous system down and gives me a chance to step back. Most of the time, I don’t even need to identify what’s causing the anxiety, and I almost never need to “solve” anything in that moment. Sometimes I even realize nothing needed to be solved at all.

It’s taken five years, but every day it gets easier.