Stress is a part of life. We all experience stress or pressures of some kind or other. Most of these fall under the heading of daily annoyances or difficulties – a delay in a plane flight, or a trying encounter with a co-worker. Something as simple as not being able to find our car keys when we are leaving for a meeting can end up making us feel tense and harried.
There are other times, though, when we’re confronted with challenges that are not only stressful, but may be ongoing for a period of time. These include chronic illness of a loved one (or ourselves), job loss, life transitions such as divorce, or death of a close family member. Navigating challenges such as these can be not only destabilizing, but also threatening to our sense of self and well-being. Having experienced losing both of my parents to cancer, and going through a prolonged period of illness and treatment with my mother especially, I can well remember the roller coaster of emotions I went through – sometimes several in one day.
Having picked up some ideas along the way, as well as drawing on my own experience, what are some ways to manage those times when life seems most challenging?
- Self-care, self-care and more self-care. I can’t think of one thing that can make a bigger difference in our ability to stay centered and cope effectively than being sure to take good care of ourselves in times of heightened stress. At those times when we may find it most difficult to find time for ourselves and our well-being, it’s paradoxically most important that we do. Maintaining our physical, mental and emotional health is key to meeting continuing challenges. Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or involve expense. Getting outdoors for a walk, healthy nutrition, creating a space for quiet time or reading, getting enough sleep – these are the basics that can make all the difference. This is a time to treat yourself gently.
- Get support. It’s a known fact that community and social support enhance health and well-being. If you’re fortunate to have a strong social support system – friends, family, community – be sure to stay connected at this time. Reach out to a friend for coffee or a walk when possible. If you’re going through a situation specific to an illness or other circumstance, there are many support groups available that deal with a variety of challenges. Sharing with others who are struggling with a similar situation can help maintain balance, hope and clarity.
- Conserve energy. Dealing with the roller coaster of emotions that often accompanies ongoing stress can easily lead to emotional exhaustion if we’re not careful. Taking measures to protect our emotional energy by limiting what we take on, and making sure we get enough rest and down time are essential. We may need to say no to requests for our time or attention, and that’s ok. If appropriate, let others know that you are going through a challenging time and appreciate their understanding that you have limited availability. Know your limits and have good boundaries.
- This, too, shall pass. When we’re in the middle of a difficult time, it can seem never-ending. The truth is that tough times in life may go on for a while, even a long while, but they don’t last forever. Sooner or later, we get to the other side, in whatever form that takes. We may still miss our loved one, or deal with continuing fall out of some sort, we may need to adjust to a “new normal.” Life will go on and, likely, we will adapt, grow as individuals, and become more resilient.
Things change, and life is a series of seasons. Developing your inner and outer resources will help you to better navigate the tough times, and appreciate the happier ones. As the saying goes, “Without the rain there would be no flowers.”
Thoughts? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.