Raise your hand if you’re a hypochondriac with a generalized anxiety disorder. Very few things are quite as triggering as convincing ones self that the current discomfort in my neck could only be the result of some malignant tumor, and going down a dark WebMD path to prove it. Regardless of how irrational it may seem, it is incredibly difficult to extricate myself from obsessive thoughts regarding my health, but some techniques and exercises do help. As I find myself in the thick of various online symptom checklists, I realized that many of them are quite useful beyond days like today, so I would like to share them with all of you in case you ever find yourself down any kind of unpleasant rabbit hole.
1. Talk it out.
Ok, you’re probably already doing this because you’re a social, human creature with the ability to make neat sounds with your vocal chords, but this can make a world of difference. How many times have you struggled silently with something, like a bursting at the seams type of workload? Whether conscious or not, the superwoman or man trope is really quite powerful, and as adults, we are expected to have our act together at all times. Even if you balk at the idea of asking for help, just sharing whatever pressures you are feeling with someone (even if they have four furry legs, wear a bowtie, and are named Mr. Noodles) will help reduce some of the visceral feeling of stress, easing the fight or flight response.
2. Write it out.
There’s a reason there are 46 million hits for the word ‘journaling’ alone on Google. For me in particular, since I am prone to obsessive, circular thoughts, writing down what is bothering me forces me to engage the more utilitarian aspect of my mind, as feelings get turned into words, and words into semi-complete sentences at the very least. This is especially useful to deal with the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do, which again, is a major stressor not just mentally but physically. It is most useful as a stress management tool to engage in some kind of writing on at least a semi-regular basis. This will allow you to get in the habit of routinely expressing your thoughts about anything that is bothering you, and as a bonus, you can go back to what you have written later and gleam that November is always a super stressful month, so maybe ask your great aunt to host Thanksgiving dinner instead so you can just relax, and enjoy all that yummy tryptophan.
3. Take it outside.
It might seem reductive to mention just how awesome nature is, but it is frankly such a powerful way to ease stress that it is somewhat shocking that we spend 25% less time outside than we did just over thirty years ago. Even with that said, I kind of get it. I am less than enthusiastic about walking my dogs in the morning. Absolutely hate it sometimes. Yet, every morning when I am outside, even now with the much cooler winter air, I feel a sense of rejuvenation and peace (which is then interrupted my one of my dogs peeing on the other dog). When I am working and have just been getting nowhere with my projects for the day, a leisurely walk to get a cup of coffee across the street just feels utterly marvelous, and makes it that much easier to get back into the swing of things.
That’s it. Rather simple right? The key is consistency, something that a lot of us struggle with. Sometimes a particular thing will make us feel better, but once it does, well we sort of file it to the backs of our minds and then find ourselves panicking when the stress inevitably kicks in again. One bonus tip that is related to the journaling is to actually write down the types of things that you find soothing in stressful situations. Is it more or less stressful if you actively oversee your children pack for a trip? Did having a glass of wine as you kindly explained why a suitcase full of Legos might not be the very best choice makes you less likely to pull your hair out? Or does having your partner automatically take the lead on household chores and cooking while you get ready to meet a big deadline at work help? This ‘things that make me feel less insane’ list can be kept in a handy place, that way you can go back to it immediately when the overwhelming, stressful feelings arise, and initiate the self-care that you (and I) most certainly deserve.