How many times in the last 24 hours have you said (either outloud or to yourself) “I’m so stressed” or “This is so incredibly stressful!”?
And it’s true: We are all going through something completely unfamiliar and unknown. We have to do things we’ve never done before, We have to find completely new ways of doing things that we’ve been doing all of our lives.
This is the textbook definition of stress.
For most of us, the word “stress” has a very negative, even harmful connotation. And when we hear and say and think it over and over again, it enhances the sense of doom and disaster.
But stress is not inherently bad or good, positive or negative. It’s just challenging. And simply replacing the word “stress” with the word “challenge” can ratchet down the anxiety. And help you reclaim a sense of control and resilience.
Challenges can be energizing. They may cause us to discover strengths and talents we never dreamed of. We may have ideas and inspirations and experiences that we would never have had otherwise.
Of course, challenges can ALSO be difficult. They may be frightening, or painful, or sad. We may feel fatigued or anxious or numb. I’m not denying that.
But we can work with those feelings (and our responses to them) much more effectively if we can name them more specifically.
So, instead of saying you feel “stressed” and diving for the chocolate, see if you can be more specific. What actual physical sensations are you aware of? What emotions are you feeling?
And then consider how you can relieve that sensation, or address that feeling.
- If you’re hungry, fix a meal that will nourish both body and spirit.
- If your muscles are tense, try a gentle stretching routine.
- If your breathing is shallow, try some deep breathing.
- If you are tired, try taking a nap.
- If you are feeling grief, allow yourself to mourn.
- If you are keyed up, try releasing some energy by taking a brisk walk.
- If you are worried about someone, try reaching out to them.
- If you are anxious about having too many things on your to do list, do one of them. (Or, remove one of them!)
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help.
- If you’re depressed by news, turn it off.
- If you’re anxious about the future, bring your focus gently to the present, which is the only realm in which you have any agency.
- If you’re lonely, reach out to a friend.
We are all stronger, more resourceful and more resilient than we ever imagined. I don’t think any of us would have chosen to be in our current circumstances. But every challenge is an opportunity for growth. And massive challenges offer the opportunity for massive growth.