A few months ago I was a walking ball of stress UNTIL I had a full-on stress epiphany. I’m definitely still in the middle of this season and learning a lot, but here are some stress management strategies that have been working for me.
Why stress management?
Have you ever been really stressed but maybe didn’t realize it? Or maybe you even realized you were really stressed and you didn’t think much about the impact it had on you, the people around you, and other areas of your life? And there was so much stress that you didn’t even try to manage it because you didn’t know how?
Well, I have experienced such a season of stress. Recently, in fact. It would be accurate to say I’m still experiencing it. The difference between then and now is that now I’m working on it. Please keep in mind this post is not coming from the perspective of “I have all of the answers to managing stress” but instead from the point of “stress is real, stress impacts me, I’m trying to figure it out, and learn how to manage it.”
If you’ve read the post about my health and fitness journey, you will realize that my journey to balancing healthy living and lifelong wellness is a priority. I worked really hard to establish sustainable habits in relation to nutrition and fitness. I learned about what it looks like to establish a balanced lifestyle with a focus on lasting wellness. Over the summer, I met Janes, Truman’s Director of Fitness-Wellness. Janes and I became friends in a pretty unofficial way — basically we were both at the Truman’s Rec Center everyday (him because he works there full-time and me because of working out) so eventually one day we started talking about random interesting things. From talking about nutrition habits, to running, to lifting, I was always intrigued by our conversation topics.
Towards the end of the summer, Janes gave me a full health assessment. The assessment covered everything like height, weight, blood pressure, BMI, skin-fold, etc. The full shabang. I learned where I was at and we talked about the progress I could make. Basically my focus was not on losing weight, but on building lean muscle through strength training! My work outs would be a mix of cardio-based exercise (running, my fav) and lifting. We made goals, had a plan, and the semester continued.
Stick with me, because I promise this really does relate to stress.
a bit later
Life continued on and as the summer ended and the new school year was underway, life really picked up. I continued working full-time in the Alumni Relations Department at Truman, a job which has supported life in Kirksville and has taught me several skills. I started graduate school part-time, focusing on earning a degree in Non-Profit Management. Alan and I learned more about how to live life as a newly married couple. I kept in touch with friends that didn’t live in Kirksville, which were the majority of close friends. Things were busy, but okay.
and a bit later
I’m sure you can see where this is going, but things kept picking up and it got to be too much, especially towards the end of the year. To clearly explain, I’ll tell you a little bit more about what was going on. At work, my boss unexpectedly passed away. Emotionally, this was difficult because my boss was the one who hired me for my first real, full-time job; she had so much faith in me and I learned so much from her. Grief is very real. On top of that, the Alumni Relations Department went from two people to one person (me), and work days were filled with massive to-do lists, problem solving, and shifting priorities. Basically, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. I felt like a chicken running around with a chopped-off head. If I’ve ever described any other point in my life as that feeling, I was wrong unless I was describing this season of work.
On top of work, grad school was a ton. With it being my first semester of both working full-time and doing school part-time, I was still learning how to balance both. As an undergraduate student, I was an academic perfectionist — studying too much, striving for A’s, and honestly working way too hard. I perfected the act of memorizing lectures, taking notes from textbooks, and acing tests. However, graduate school is SO different from undergrad. Grad school for my degree is 100% learning outside of class. Basically you spend all your time outside of class reading books, articles, and writing papers, and then in class is all discussion. I should mention my classes have around 7 people so there’s no such thing as B.S.’ing your way through it. With work from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., there’s not a lot of excess time in the day to read and write papers. It’s like going from crazy running around all day to then ultra-focus trying to read and write solid papers while you’re falling asleep from exhaustion.
With relationships, both as a wife and friend, I put pressure on myself to be the best. To not fail. I tried to put the lives of others above my self, always striving to serve and love. I called friends in hour-long gaps of free time, tried to clean my home and cook food in an effort to serve my husband and our marriage. Yes, that’s an okay thing, but my motivation behind it was to do it to check it off the list. A big problem was that I was giving from a nearly empty heart. Spiritually, I was not in a good place with the Lord. I was not spending time in scripture or prayer, I was feeding selfish desires, and prioritized basically everything over Him.
Life looked like waking up at 5:30 a.m. to go on a run, making breakfast, and getting ready for the day. I was at work by 8 a.m., worked until at least 5 p.m. but usually later. Then after work, I went to night class two nights a week, cooked, studied, and did homework. Then I crammed in as many things like “talk to friend on phone,” “go on date with husband,” or “watch netflix” in little gaps. I don’t say all of this to make you feel bad for me or anything like that. I’m trying to create a vision for what my season of life looked like. I thought I was killing it, but it was killing me. It was chaotic and messy. It was spent living to perfect, people-please, and do things “right” and the “best,” but I was so incredibly far from that.
Fast forward to December 2017. Remember how Janes and I made goals for the rest of the year? Throughout this season of life, I was in fact trying to work towards those goals and it felt like I was busting my butt to reach those goals. I was waking up early in the morning to go running, sometimes working out over my lunch break too, and overall eating nutritious meals. There was so much that I couldn’t control, but gosh darn it I really thought I could control my exercise and meals.
SO, Janes and I met up in early December for yet another health assessment to see where I was. After the assessment we went over the results and I had regressed. I had not even stagnated, but was farther from the goals I had set for myself. What. gives? I was frustrated and pretty pissed actually. The thing I thought I was controlling was somehow out of whack like everything else in my life. At this point, I’m not sure exactly what Janes was thinking but he said something along the lines of, “Okay so you’ve been working really hard in the gym everyday and eating well, so there’s something else going on here and we’re going to figure out what it is.” The first thing he asked me was about my stress.
I don’t know if I just looked stressed or if he could read my mind, but his first question nailed it. He asked about my semester so I started telling him about work, grad school, relationships, and everything else that happened. It was at this point that I realized I was stressed. Until I said all of these things out loud, I didn’t even realize they had built up so much. I told him about how I felt stressed the majority of the time. There were some days I specifically remember feeling stress from the moment I woke up, as in I would get out of bed feeling anxious as I brushed my teeth in the morning. Most days I couldn’t even pinpoint what was stressing me out, why I was anxious, or anything. I was just stressed and that’s all there was to it. That part wasn’t news to me, though — if you would have asked me at any point in the semester how I was, I would have told you I was stressed. That was pretty darn clear from interactions and my day-to-day life.
Then Janes asked me about what I did to release my stress and relax. I was silent. I couldn’t even say a single thing of anything that I even sometimes did to release stress or relax. I told him I used to go running to receive stress, but I had gotten injured a few weeks prior so had to change my work outs to lifting only.
what i learned about stress
- I felt guilty about stress. I pushed everything down into the pits because I considered everything I was stressed about to be first-world stressors that I just compressed and compressed. “I have a job and some people don’t, so I shouldn’t be stressed about this.” “I am married and I love my husband so much, so I shouldn’t be stressed about our marriage and being a wife.” “I chose to do graduate school this semester so I can’t be stressed about having this on my plate.” These are the kinds of things I would tell myself everyday. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be stressed and that these were such petty things compared to the things some people go through. So I compressed. I shoved down and ignored the stress.
- I was a walking ball of stress. Actually. I radiated negative vibes and everything opposite of peace and patience to the people around me. I took out my stress on the people I loved and it wasn’t fair to them.
- Our bodies go through a process of STRESS – TENSION – RELEASE – RELAXATION. I was putting my body through the STRESS – TENSION phase over and over, day after day. Janes explained how really the only times our bodies should be in stress is when we are lifting weights. Well, my body was put in stress when I was lifting weights, but also all the other times of the day. If my body ever wasn’t stressed it wasn’t because of something I consciously did, but because it just happened on its own.
- I needed to think of ways to get to the RELEASE – RELAXATION phase of the cycle.
- My mental and spiritual wellness are absolutely related to my physical wellness. Each of these categories are related. Remember how I had those goals that I didn’t meet? I could eat well and work out so hard, but I wasn’t going to meet the goals if I didn’t work on my stress and my mental wellness.
- I had a lot of work to do and needed to check my priorities.
At this point in the conversation, I was convinced I was in a full on epiphany. Seriously. My mind was blown. It all seemed to make so much sense, and I don’t know how I didn’t realize it sooner. However, I was on board. I knew I needed to make some serious changes. Physical changes aside, I needed to prioritize my mental and spiritual wellness.
Because I’m a task-oriented person, as soon as I was on board, my mind was already thinking, “okay great. What do I do now?”
Basically, I needed to get on the healthy highway. I honestly don’t care how cliche that sounds, I needed to figure out how to get my life going through the process of STRESS – TENSION – RELEASE – RELAXATION. I had to find ways to get to the RELEASE – RELAXATION phase or else I would continue heading down the very scary highway of unhealthy, filled with signs like “you aren’t good enough” and bad habits. Habits like stress eating, shutting down, compulsively talking about problems with people, cleaning and reorganizing without purpose, etc. I wasn’t able to deal with what I was stressed about so I tried to find other ways to deal with everything. I needed to get off at the nearest exit of the unhealthy highway to hell and hop back on the healthy highway. (I love analogies if you couldn’t tell.)
stress management strategies
So what are the strategies? What are the things I did and am currently doing? I’m definitely still learning. I’m trying different things and figuring out what is best for me in this season. I think strategies that work in this season of stress could be different from what strategies work in another season. But here are some things I’ve been trying lately:
- Be real with myself. Until I’m real and honest with myself, I’m not going to get anywhere. I won’t be able to create goals, work towards anything, or move unless I’m honest with myself. Shoot, this is hard. Because often times, if I am really real with myself, I’m pretty freaked out. I’m messy, full of sin, off track, and my crap is not together. That’s as to be expected though since we are in fact, human. However, I need to reflect, be honest, and be real.
- Rearranging priorities. If truly my mental and spiritual wellness are important, then I need to act like it. Instead of waking up in the morning and starting my day with a run or work out, I should start my day with something that will put me in the right direction for spiritual and mental wellness. That being said, I’ve been starting my day with a morning check-in. (see below)
- Checking in (morning)! Morning check-ins are a way to get me down to “0.” Getting down to “0” basically is me trying to release all of the stress and tension from my mind and body. For me, I’ve been doing a combination of yoga (Yoga with Adriene Youtube videos — she even has a series on “Yoga for Anxiety” that I’ve been digging) and reading scripture (I follow She Reads Truth study plans) to help with mental and spiritual wellness. I wouldn’t consider myself a big “yogi” or master of any kind, but I’m working on it. I’m trying. I’m doing my best to start my day in a way that prepares my body, mind, and heart for a day of unknown.
- Checking in (daily)! Similar to morning check-ins, daily check-ins are times throughout the day that I check in with myself to see where I’m at. I check to make sure no tension is in my body, unless I’m lifting weights! Sometimes I realize I’m sitting in my office at my computer with my shoulders up so high. Sometimes I get angry when I am caught off guard with something at my home. For me, it’s about getting down to a “0.” If I’m at a “7” and then something stressful happens at work and I go up “8” more, then I’m going to blow up. I need to work on getting down that number of whatever I assess myself at.
- Breathing. I don’t care how obvious this may seem, but how often do you actually breathe when you’re overwhelmed or stressed about something? I didn’t do it ever! It would have taken me 30 seconds to close my eyes and take some deep breaths to get myself to a better place, but I didn’t do it. So I’m trying to do it. I’m taking deep breaths, big and long deep breaths to calm me down. In the morning, in my office, at night, and all the time I need it. (Wim Hof and Yoga with Adriene know all about breathing deep.)
- Journaling. I have been journaling about every day. It’s not a “Dear Diary, this is the gossip from today” kind of journal, but a “What was today like? Was I on the Healthy Highway? What did I do physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, etc?” Things like that. I also very much still have nutrition and fitness goals, and those are part of my journal as well. I just use a regular planner and have that planner dedicated to check-in’s and how I’m doing, so on every day I reflect and write.
- Moving. I move in whatever way I can. I move in a way that is comfortable to me. I think there’s a lot of danger and consequences from stagnation, on a physical health, spiritual life, and psychological level. That doesn’t mean I work out or run everyday, but I keep moving. Maybe I pace when I’m on the phone. I’ll read at the library instead of my couch. Interpret “moving” as you will.
- Reading, listening, and learning. There are so many resources out there I’m discovering. I’ve been listening to podcasts, reading books, and learning through conversations with those around me. It seems silly to not use resources that already exist to teach me in this season and as I enter into a new one. I’ve found some books and podcasts that I like and others that make me feel worse, so once I actually have a library of some suggestions about books and podcasts I enjoy, I’ll share those with you all. In the meantime, please please share any suggestions you have!
- Hyping myself up. This sounded so silly to me at first, but I have to hype myself up. I have spent way too much of my life thinking I wasn’t good enough. I am learning to tell myself things like “You’re smart enough,” “You’re strong enough,” “You’re good enough.” I am enough. Seriously. I am enough and YOU ARE ENOUGH. If you’ve never heard that before, you’re good enough so I urge you to start telling yourself that and believing it. Most days I still don’t believe it, but I’m working on it.
- Praying. Prayer is powerful. The Lord can work in ways mightier than us.
- Getting outside. Simple things such as going on a walk or exploring a park help me so much. I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, the way the trees look, or the sunshine I get to soak up, but it almost always calms my soul. My favorite, favorite things are camping and hiking, and a long weekend filled with those are a special treat. (The picture of the mountains at the top of this post was from a Colorado trip with my best pals and looking at the picture and remembering those adventures even makes me feel a bit better.)
- Getting a massage. I got my first ever massage! This was always something I’ve heard about and wanted to try, and finally did it. I wrote about my experience, too.
- Counseling. I haven’t actually tried this, but I know several people who rave about this as a resource, and I seriously considered it as well. I don’t have any negative things to say about this, it’s just not something I have tried so I feel like I can’t really talk much about it.
- Doing things for myself. At first thought, this sounded and felt very selfish to me. As a Christian, how did it make sense for me to serve myself before the Lord and others? I’m not going to try to overcomplicate it, and you might have different opinions about this, but in order for me to truly serve and love as the Lord desires, I need to be filled with Him. In order for me to be filled with Him, I need to take care of myself. I need to spend time doing things that take care of myself and make me feel good. I work out, meal prep, bake tasty desserts, drink coffee, go on a run, write, journal, read, explore, take trips, and talk to people I love. These things are going to be so different person to person, I’m learning to do the things I love to do.
- Taking a personal retreat day. Take a day to set everything in your schedule aside, cancel meetings, and cease work. This day can be spent reading, writing, watching a movie, cooking, sleeping in, praying, visiting a friend, going to a coffee shop, etc. This will look very different from person to person, but it is absolutely soul refreshing. I just took a personal retreat day and it was 100% amazing.
- Giving myself grace. Similar to the grace I talked about in my health and fitness journey, I am learning that even when I work so hard, I will fall short and miss the mark because I am human. There are days when I try to manager my stress in unhealthy ways — I eat an entire bag of candy in one sitting, take frustration out on Alan, talk down to myself, or something along those lines. However, I have to forgive myself and give myself grace. I remind myself that tiny baby steps lead to big progress.
where i’m at now
Here’s the deal. This is all an uphill battle. It’s not easy and it takes time. I said it at the beginning of this post and I’ll say it again, “stress is real, stress impacts me, I’m trying to figure it out, and learn how to manage it.” Managing stress is 1000% important. In this season of life, I’m learning about what that looks like. It looks like finding healthy ways to release stress and relax. It looks like working on spiritual and mental wellness. It looks like going through trial and error to figure out what works for me in this season. I think my strategies will change as the seasons of life change, but right now, this is me and what I’m doing.
If you haven’t figured it out, there’s a lot I don’t know and I’m far from perfect. However, I’m learning and trying my best to figure it out. Life in Jordo’s World is about a journey to fill my world with balance, healthy living and lifelong wellness. I’m about learning, creating, and sharing sustainable habits and experiences. More of this, here!
In the interest of learning together, here’s what I want to know:
- How do you manage stress?
- Do you have any helpful resources or strategies for stress management?