Stress is an alert system. Stress is your built in warning system that something needs your attention. Just like your car has warnings that alert you that something may be wrong, or needs maintenance soon, stress alerts you that you need to pay attention to your body & environment. It gives you a chance to react to it before things get potentially worse. Letting stress go uncontrolled leads to more emotional chaos, physical symptoms and illness. Left unchecked, small stresses can pile up and threaten to wreak havoc in our lives. Sometimes one large stress hits us like a sudden storm and we’re left reeling, struggling to regain our footing. No matter what kind of stress it is, we need to identify it, pay attention to it, and combat it accordingly. Just like you wouldn’t ignore your car’s warning signals for too long, you can’t ignore the signal that your body is giving you about your stress level. For example, you may notice sudden tension in your body, whether in your muscles or the sudden onset of a headache in response to having to make a big decision, or getting a behavior notice from your child’s teacher, or showing up late to an important meeting. These are your body’s signals that you are stressed and it’s an opportunity to choose how you respond. You can either respond in a way that increases your stress or decreases it. Something as simple as taking a 5-minute break alone, a quick walk around the block, or stepping outside for a breath of fresh air can significantly reduce the stressful impact. Let your body be your guide in the moment.
Stress can motivate you to reach your potential & do more than you thought you could. In his article “The Science Behind Relentless Breakthroughs,” author Brian Lee states, “While most of us crave a degree of stability, a life without challenges robs you of your fighting spirit and motivation.” Stress can force you to look at different options, potential alternate outcomes, and increase your performance. If you can identify that your stress is related to an upcoming work presentation, or meeting an important deadline, or choosing between several job opportunities, let that stress motivate you to focus on the outcome you desire. It’s important to manage that stress and make sure it doesn’t stay around too long, but use it in the moment to your advantage rather than allow it to overwhelm you and make you immobile. For example, maybe several projects come across your desk all at once with looming deadlines. Or the back to school season for your kids comes with after school activities, social invites, and more carpooling than you imagine is possible. Or maybe it’s an exciting season of planning a wedding, all the while trying to juggle your full time job and relationship with your future in-laws. Whatever the season of stress, resolve to face it head on. Get organized with detailed calendars, apps that create lists for you, or good old-fashioned sticky notes. Rise to the challenge rather than let the stress overwhelm you like a tidal wave and shut you down. Remember, the stress is for a season and you can not only manage it, but perform well and come out on top!
Stress is an opportunity to learn to be kinder to yourself & develop self-care habits. Recognizing your chronic stress and the potential causes of it is an important opportunity to develop different or new self-care habits. Oftentimes we give everyone around us a break, or extend grace, but rarely do we do this for ourselves. Eventually, we can’t do that for others if we don’t do it for ourselves. We run out of our capacity for compassion and empathy and soon become resentful of those closest to us who need us, all because we’re not taking care of ourselves. Wondering how self-compassionate you are or what areas you could improve? Take this quiz to find out and learn ways to be more self-compassionate. In the age of blogs and podcasts and apps, it’s easy to find something that works for you to develop these new habits. A few examples are the Calm app, which guides you through quick calming techniques and offers reminders to breathe and walks you through calming yourself. If you’re a blog reader, The Blissful Mind is a great one to help you create balance, routines, and identify priorities. If you struggle with decision fatigue and general overwhelm due to a busy life or season, the podcast, The Next Right Thing is perfect for you. There are many great blogs, apps and podcasts out there that offer all types of ideas to simplify your life and manage stress. Find one that works for you!
Stress can lead to positive, long lasting change. It can lead you to new discoveries about yourself & uncover strength you didn’t know you had. When called upon to face considerable odds, history is full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things because they had to in order to change their undesirable circumstances. While oftentimes self-help strategies and books are great, this is a unique opportunity for you to consider how therapy might be able to help you create long-term change. Therapy can help you identify ineffective coping patterns, self-destructive habits, and help you create new goals and a system of accountability to meet those goals. Look at your current stressful situation to identify “What can I change about my situation or myself for the better?” Oftentimes, seeking outside help and guidance can lead you to make wonderful discoveries about yourself or situation that you couldn’t see before. Recently, a client that sought help due to overwhelming anxiety and debilitating panic attacks came to identify the stressful triggers in her life. For example, she realized she wanted to just focus on school and that her job, while fulfilling at one point, was now adding undue stress and increasing her anxiety. Through our work together, she decided she was in a position to quit her job and noticed the immediate “burden-lifting” feeling of making a decision to eliminate stressful triggers. While not everyone may be able to quit their job, or completely eliminate every stressful trigger, you can work to discover ways to mitigate the effects and control what you can. Sometimes it’s hard to identify these things on your own, but with the help of a therapist, you can discover new ideas
Stress can help you gain control of things in your life. Stress is a part of life that you can’t ever fully avoid; but rather than let it run your life, learn to identify what type of stress it is & incorporate new ways to manage & lessen it. While we can’t control everything that comes our way, or what others do to us, we can focus on what we can control; how we let things affect us and what we will allow to continue in our lives or what we need to cut out because it’s no longer healthy or no longer serves a purpose. Gaining a sense of control over something in our lives is a powerful feeling in a world where so much is out of our control. For example, you may find that you experience anxiety over something bad happening to your child or loved one. You are constantly controlled by thoughts of “what if?” or “it’s just a matter of time before something bad happens to me or my family.” A powerful and often overlooked practice to combat this type of stress is that of gratitude. Practicing identifying what we have to be grateful for changes our perspective and helps us focus on what we have, rather than what we lack or what could be taken from us. Try an app like the 5 Minute Journal to help you cultivate this simple, yet life-changing practice.
While there are different types of stress, small and big, things of our own making or things that happen to us, we can allow stress to be the catalyst that moves us into new seasons of learning and growth. Stress often forces us to make necessary adjustments in our lives; but it can be for the better!
By: Kelsey Hawk
Kelsey is a licensed mental health therapist with years of experience working with a variety of populations and ages. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Northwest University in Kirkland and a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Walla Walla University. Kelsey is from eastern Washington and recently spent some time in Portland, OR before returning to Seattle. Kelsey wholeheartedly believes in the power of owning our stories and loves the work of Brene Brown. She recently became a Daring Way Facilitator Candidate and loves to bring the power of these experiential workshops to women in retreat settings. Kelsey is also involved in volunteer and mission work locally and globally. She currently works with Mending the Soul Ministries to bring healing to victims of abuse in the church through a Christian based trauma curriculum. She is also part of an international women’s club that serves to better the lives of women and girls called Soroptimist, which is Latin for “best for women.” In her free time, Kelsey loves to read, run races and enjoy all the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
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