Stressing Out About Stress

Sometimes the universe starts physically hating on you for not having a handle on your life.

imageI’ve been trying to manage my stress levels this week. I have discovered — or more accurately, rediscovered — that I am painfully not in control of my own body. It does what it pleases: when I’m nervous, it doesn’t matter how many breathing exercises I try: my entire body will not stop shaking; and when I’m worried or upset or angry, it doesn’t matter how early I try to go to sleep: I will wake up every two hours throughout the night, or just not be able to sleep at all. Luckily, I don’t get stressed out all the time. But this week has lobbed stress factors at me left and right.

But when life throws lemons at you, ignoring them will not make them go away — that will only leave you with bruises. I’m attempting to be more proactive with my stress — catching the lemons instead of letting them bounce off me. God knows when I’ll finally get around to making lemonade, but at least I can try to limit the damage.

I’ve compiled a list of stress relief activities for those of you who are also in need of a good release. I’ve also listed my varied success with them; some of these I’m still trying to get a hold on, but I have confidence that with a little time, I can manage.

    • Breathing exercises. Still working on this one. There’s the 4/4 method — breathe in for 4 beats, breathe out for 4 beats — and then the 4/7/8 method — breathe in for 4, hold for 7, breathe out for 8 — but sometimes I feel like doing a breathing exercise actually tenses me up. Apparently there are wrong ways to breathe, though, so I will continue tromping down this path as far as it takes me, until I get it right.
    • Yoga. Four months ago, this would have been a much more viable option, but I have not worked out at all in that time frame. The other day I tried following a Youtube yoga session, and the very first thing the instructor did was child’s pose. I COULDN’T DO CHILD’S POSE. My body is like a brick, but in a bad way. In an underweight, non-muscly, inflexible way. I’m a scrawny brick.
    • Meditation. In terms of what is typically considered meditation (quieting your mind, eliminating thoughts, etc.), I’m having no such luck with this one either. I can’t keep my mind quiet for five seconds, let alone five minutes — or however long it is suggested for beginning meditators — and in those five minutes I end up thinking more about the things that are stressing me out. However. I have found a little bit of luck in my own version of meditation, which involves noticing things around me — nature, people, cracks in the sidewalk and birds passing by — which serves as a great reminder that there is a world around me that I am not tuning into. I find that connecting with my surroundings takes me out of the muck inside my head and gives me a different perspective. I know it sounds an awful lot like avoidance, but for me, this brings peace.
    • Listening to music. The type of music depends on your personality. A lot of the music I like listening to can be very poignant, which, I have come to find, is not ideal when I’m stressing out. It’s great for wallowing, great for feeling intense emotion — it’s the same reasoning behind my love for sad movies: crying is good for the soul sometimes, even if it’s over fiction. It’s a form of release. But when that emotion you’re feeling prevents your head from staying on straight, it seems reasonable to find a better tactic. There are two avenues I’ve taken so far:
      1. Olfaur Arnalds, and other instrumental music. I’ve always loved instrumental pieces, because I love the idea of connecting with wordless music. There is something innately calming about a song that resonates within your soul without telling you it’s doing so. Granted, Olafur Arnalds does have some darker pieces, so you’ve gotta be careful. Living Room Songs is actually a pretty perfect album to fall back on if you’re unsure.
      2. Happy dance music! Dancing is SUCH a good way to release stress. I have taken to having five-second dance parties at work, and it’s fantastic. (Also great for making your coworkers laugh. I do what I can.) Which leads me to my next point:
    • Laughter. Thank God I do improv, right? Laughing, much like crying, is a great form of release. It is said to keep you healthier, extend your life… there are a lot of things said about laughter that I don’t have any actual statistics on, but suffice it to say, it feels good to laugh. This week, I have been filling my spare moments with Star Trek: TNG humor and Youtube videos of John Barrowman interacting with Comic Con crowds. God, laughter feels great.
    • Letting go. This one is definitely easier said than done. As I’ve said before in past blog posts, I have social anxiety issues, and one of the ways this rears its ugly head is when I overanalyze every interaction I’ve ever had. While there is a time and a place for analysis, there is such a thing as overdoing it, and this is something that I am working on. My theory is this: it’s not worth it to dwell on people and issues that hurt or upset you; there will never be any benefit in that.  The best thing you can do is to let go, and focus your attention on more positive things. You can’t always fix things, and stressing over that fact is not going to get you anywhere.
    • Eating pie for breakfast. Guys, this is not a good idea, but it FEELS SO GOOD. No, seriously, I need to start eating better.

Let me know if you have any additions to this list!

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