After months of mentally training to overcome COVID obstacles, I faced a few new challenges in November. They are fairly common obstacles that many people deal with throughout the course of adulthood, but because of the circumstances of this year, it felt like an entirely different challenge than anything I’d been experiencing. However, those challenges were also very common, real-world experiences, so I started to examine my relationship with stress because of them. Since then, I’ve learned how I handle stress in these situations, and it’s taught me more about myself and how I manage mental wellness.
As with many things in life, people handle stress differently. Whether it’s a unique mental or physical approach to the situation, shaking things up in an attempt to take your mind off things, or engaging more with yourself to get to the root of the issue, stress is universal. What’s not universal are our stressors – the causes of these effects. It’s very important to know what your stressors are in the same way it’s important to now what might trigger any mental health condition you’re facing.
But the lessons we get in stress are usually to avoid stressful situations, and less about how to deal with stress management. Because just like managing a mental illness, your approach to managing stress is uniquely your own. And what I’ve learned in this most recent situation (I’m going through a roommate change and a job interview process) is that there could be a pattern to how I handle stressful situations, which has been difficult to acknowledge before.
I’ve written before about anxiety spirals, or the ways that anxiety can make a situation worse when we can’t get ourselves out of a specific thought process (this can also happen with other mental health conditions, but it’s one I’ve had experience with so I feel more comfortable speaking to it). These spirals can also happen when we enter a stressful situation. Part of the way a spiral gets worse is when we ignore the fact that it’s happening. Avoidance is a natural instinct, and sometimes it can be helpful. But if it turns from a coping mechanism to avoidance coping (changing behavior to avoid thinking about things), it can speak more to our relationship with stress than with a specific situation.
Regardless of context, stressful situations have meaning – if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be stressed. For the eternally anxious, that may be more situations. For others, it takes a lot more to bring on those feels of stress, anxiousness or worry. But due to my familiarity with anxiety disorders, I identify more with that first case. However, I’ve started noticing the patterns my body and mind tend to move in when going through these situations, and this time I decided to tackle it head on with the mental health strategies I’ve learned over the years.
One more thing I’d like to mention is that oftentimes, we do things to make stress disappear even if the situation isn’t resolved. In my experience, that approach helps in the short-term, but that weight doesn’t fully leave your shoulders until the situation is over or the obstacle is overcome. That’s usually a discouraging thing to hear, but in this case we can use it to our advantage. By acknowledging our stress won’t fully disappear, we can focus more on stress management, rather than finding a way to get rid of these feelings. Over time, we can even improve our relationship with stress, which can go a long way toward our mental wellness. I hope that wherever you are in this moment, that you’re managing your stress and getting through it however you need to – it’s not easy, but it’s very human and you are not alone in this!
What is your relationship with stress? Have you ever learned something about yourself after dealing with an obstacle or a stressful situation? Let me know in the comments below!