Self-care for stressful time

I don’t have to tell you that we’re living through some particularly stressful times right now. And for many of us, eating is a tried and true response to stress.

I take that back. It’s certainly well-tried. But is it really true? Does eating relieve the stress? Only for a moment, at best.

It obviously doesn’t do a thing to change the circumstances. And often, it piles on more stress in the form of regret, self-judgment, or other negative consequences.

One day–and hopefully soon–the current crisis will have passed. Things will get back to normal. The stock market will recover. We’ll go on with our lives. And when that happy day comes, let’s make sure we’re not 10 pounds heavier!

Better stress management skills would probably help. Unfortunately, most of us don’t start thinking about learning how to manage our stress until we’re virtually incapacitated by it. And trying to master a relaxation technique in the midst of an anxiety attack is a little like trying to read the instructions on the fire extinguisher when the kitchen is already on fire.

If you’re seriously stressed out, sitting down to meditate or practice yoga or do a body scan–if it’s not something you do regularly–may leave you feeling even more stressed.

I’d like to suggest a two-step approach.

#1. Leave a note for your future self. “Dear Self, now that everything has calmed down a bit, and it doesn’t feel like your hair is on fire, wouldn’t this be the perfect time to sign up for that meditation or yoga class, listen to that online course on stress reduction techniques, or create a daily relaxation routine?”

#2. And starting today: practice precovering. Instead of waiting until you’re feeling stressed to start looking for a release valve, find ways to pre-release the pressure. Make a little extra time for activities that you find relaxing and calming and use these as a way to “precover” from the stress that each day is sure to bring. Even 10 or 15 minutes a day of effective self-care can make you more resilient.

The difference between numbing and relaxing

Let me also share an insight I have learned the hard way. Distracted is not the same as relaxed. Numb is not the same as calm. Ice cream, Netflix, Chardonnay, and eBay are all great ways to distract and numb. They are not great at generating peace and resilience.

Don’t feel like you have to stick to the cliches. Bubble baths and lavender oil may not be your cup of (herbal) tea.

Maybe for you it’s line dancing. Or playing piano. Or puttering in the garden. Or playing laser tag with the cat. (What is it for you? I’m always looking for ideas to expand my repertoire.)

Whatever it is, try to do it on a daily basis, whether or not you feel you “need” it. If it feels like recovery, it’s too late. (That said, better late than never.)