Stress. It can come out of nowhere or it can build slowly. While it’s normal to hear advertisers talk about “stress management” or living a “stress-free life” and maybe you’ve had some fleeting experience with this on a vacation or two, but all in all, stress is a part of life—and it can be fairly helpful.
Most people need a certain amount of stress to get anything done. It’s a motivating factor. Too much and we’re overwhelmed and paralyzed, too little and we aren’t turning off whatever show we are currently binging. Hopefully, you’ve experimented enough between due dates for school and job projects that you have a grasp of your ‘optimal level of stress’ and know what types of good anxiety are optimal for yourself.
Life Stuff Happens
Like it or not, life events can lead us to go beyond that “good anxiety” level. Sometimes several things are expected to be turned in on the same day while at the same time your family is in the midst of a crisis.
Basically, life happens, and it’s out of your control. You will get overstressed. I’ve seen it in Buddhists, capitalists, and sometimes even dogs.
Here are some stress management techniques that you should stay away from. Even if they help you in the moment, the ramifications and consequences will come back to bite you (unlike my dog, I promise).
1. Don’t take your stress out on others.
And that includes both people and animals. It’s not cool to deal with your feelings by displacing them onto your pet! Your partner, friends, parents, or co-workers are not to blame for your stress. Actually, even if they are, you’re going to want to have a better plan to deal with it. You don’t want to burn any bridges by simply letting your boss (or whoever) “have it”. I’m all for expressing your feelings, especially for expressing them directly to the people you’re having those feelings about, but there’s a way to be a human being. Expressing your anger at someone who screwed you over is different from taking out your anger on them. The depths of overwhelming stress can blind you to how much you want to say. So while you’re in the midst of your overwhelm some stress management exercises are to write in your Bullet Journal, go for a run, tell someone that you’re struggling and you need to vent. Using your stress as an excuse to be a jerk isn’t ok (but read more in number 3).
2. Don’t use avoiding behaviors.
We are amazing. We can find so many ways to avoid feeling stress. These aren’t necessarily “bad behaviors” they’re just numbing—sometimes very enjoyable—behaviors that take us away from the stress. But they don’t get rid of it for good. And they don’t absolve us of our responsibilities. They simply delay it. And this often has the added “benefit” of making the stress worse once we return to it. Some of us are so good at avoiding stress that we don’t know how great it feels to just do the stressful thing in the moment. Because then it’s done with. It’s rarely (sometimes, but rarely) as bad as it looks like it will be. Social media is one of these behaviors. Social media can be great—we can connect (I use that term warily) with others. We can learn about the world. We can find new blog posts about how to deal with stress. We can also lose hours of our day doing all of that. Alcohol comes to mind too–if you drink (and you don’t have an addiction) remember that alcohol is better used when starting with a good mood, not to push down negative feelings. Using it to manage stress is a dark well that will feel even worse the next day which can lead to…
3. Don’t fall into self-judgment.
Want to feel worse about yourself? Think the overwhelming stress wasn’t enough? Well, let’s take a little stroll into self-judgment land. Listen, I’m not against us feeling a healthy guilt for doing something that doesn’t jive with our moral or ethical code. Guilt has its place. But the free fall into self-judgment can be a bear to crawl up from. Plus, you’re already feeling overwhelmed and this just compounds that stress. Beating yourself up for being stressed, running late, or being short with someone doesn’t make it any better. I’m not saying give yourself a pass for these things, just don’t compound your stress by falling into, “I’m horrible person and I deserve to fail.”
Stress is inevitable. So is the end of stress (it’s the Fifth Noble Truth.) Start to become aware of your go-to behaviors for how you deal with stress. Ask yourself if they’re working for you—or if they’re just compounding it or making someone else deal with it.
Then start experimenting with some other ways to manage. Maybe just the awareness is all you need. Being able to state that you’re stressed can put you in the mindset to go slower and not react in negative ways. Or you’ll need something else, and there’s no shame in that. Certainly, don’t let your needing support stress you further.
This post was originally published on The Good Men Project and republished here with the permission of the author.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working in family and men’s counseling for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.