Life has quite the twisted sense of humor. Or maybe it’s a deranged idea of irony. Either way, it’s almost darkly comically fitting that National Stress Awareness Day falls right, smack-dab in the middle of what most of us would unanimously agree is the single-most stressful time we’ve ever experienced. Even if we’ve succeeded in finding ways to cope, and no doubt we’ve made the most of our situations, there’s a lot of stress, out there and internally.
We’ve already offered a plethora of tips on becoming your healthiest self (get your deep sleep and drink that lemon water, to start), ways to stay sane while you’re staying home (prioritizing personal rituals, instilling regular fitness routines and cultivating self-love help) and how to tune out from all the chaos (think long walks, breathing exercises and unplugging from technology earlier in the evening). Now we’re going to talk about stress specifically because if you’re not experiencing at least some level of anxiety, you’re officially superhuman, or maybe a sociopath. But the good thing about stress is that it doesn’t own us. We own it, so we can manage it. Right now, especially on this day when we’re all probably more aware of it than ever, we need to show stress—along with its trusty cohort, anxiety—who’s boss.
Make stress work for you.
Did you know you can use stress to your advantage? As in, apply it to improve your general well-being? Years of research have proven that just like your skincare routine can be optimized by using U Beauty, your stress can be optimized by using the right mindset. According to this 2020 report by the American Psychological Association, the prevailing valuation of stress in our culture is that it’s “bad for me.” They note that commonly seen “villainizing headlines like, ‘A cold fact: High stress can make you sick’ and ‘Work-related stress can kill, study finds’” have implanted this idea in our heads, and our tense shoulders. On the contrary! The in-depth study argues “even high-intensity stress experiences triggered by life-threatening events can sometimes have positive outcomes, including improved relationships, greater appreciation for life, and enhanced perceptions of strength, a phenomenon known as ‘post-traumatic growth.’”
It’s all about how we evaluate and ultimately regard stress. Which means there’s no reason to not look at this particularly stressful phase of our lives as an opportunity for self-improvement. Essentially, it’s only bad if you think it’s bad and perception is everything, bringing new meaning to the phrase “mind over matter.”
Create a judgment-free zone.
We all cope with stress in different ways. For example, some get hyper-focused on their work, and others just get hyper and can’t stop moving, talking and thinking out-loud...which can be irritating for the person who’s trying to work. When you’re in close quarters for extended periods of time with your significant other, loved ones or roommate, it’s easy to get even more stressed out by the way they’re dealing with their own stress—and that creates nothing but a maddening cycle. If your “quarantine buddy,” if you have one or several, is getting on your last nerve, pause before letting yourself get seriously annoyed. Is it worth it or will the moment soon pass? If you do feel the need to express yourself, try the therapist-trusted phrasing techniques of beginning sentences with, “I would feel better if…” or “It would help me if…” rather than making it personal, which will only spawn negativity.
Think of food as fuel.
When we think “self-care,” we tend to go to massages, manicures and, of course, our skincare routines and while they’re all valid, vital even (some more than others!), self-care starts with three basic pillars: sleep, exercise and eating. And not just doing them all but doing them well. Food is a particularly tricky category. While some of us stress eat, there are those who can’t even think about food when they’re anxious. Either way, if you don’t strike a healthy balance, you’re not going to feel great.
It’s no coincidence that most of us are prone to overeating during times of duress. When stressed, our bodies produce more cortisol, a hormone that makes us crave fatty, high-carb foods (we also produce a surplus of cortisol when sleep-deprived). Quality and moderation are equally important, so avoid stocking your pantry with processed, packaged foods, opt for the smaller plate to inspire portion-control and make plant-based protein shakes to avoid getting too hungry. While comforting, food is ultimately fuel—even if we’re not fueling up to go anywhere.
Reframe your thoughts.
We get extra-stressed out when we feel overwhelmed, whether it’s by the laundry list of things to do for the day (and that likely includes actual laundry) or the endless onslaught of mostly disheartening news. So none of what’s happening these days is normal, and life is stressful enough without a global pandemic. Enter simplicity. Focusing on what you can control, and forgetting the rest, is paramount to keeping anxiety levels in check. Taking care of your skin, body and mind? That’s all you. Making the right choices when it comes to physically distancing and protecting yourself? Check. Finishing a seemingly trite activity like cleaning out your closet or a desk drawer? Yep. Even saying “no” to that evening glass of wine can feel like a liberating choice. It really doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re keeping in mind: It’s your choice. Place all this in the category of conscious decisions and you’ll feel a lot more empowered.