Are you supporting a family member facing a health crisis, facing a crisis in your professional life, or dealing with a traumatic end to a relationship?
Or is this a time of a different kind of severe stress in your life?
What is stressful about severe stress is that you deeply want the situation to work out, but there are many aspects of the situation you can’t control.
Your power in any stressful situation comes from maximizing what you CAN control. Here are five things you can control even when circumstances seem stacked against you.
Change your question about WHY the situation is happening
Your mind will naturally try to explain why the events happened. You may have a mental loop asking: Why is this happening to ME? This question will only drain your energy, bring up self-blame, or re-trigger a stressful response.
To see the situation with a new perspective, ask the question: How is this situation happening FOR me instead of TO me? Then your focus will be on what you want to learn and what strengths you can develop from this situation.
Rather than wanting to avoid it or wish it wasn’t happening, have a Growth Mindset. Stressful situations require us to get out of our comfort zones and find solutions that we didn’t need beforehand. Many women are grateful that they had to develop new skills in difficult times because it helped them be more successful and compassionate.
Keep up basic self-care
Stressful situations are overtaxing. You must constantly put your energy into improving the cause of the stress and not pressuring yourself to do anything not essential to dealing with it.
Although it might seem indulgent at the time, it’s important to keep up the basics of your self-care. Prioritize sleep because that’s when your brain processes all the stress you faced during the day.
If you wake up at 2 am with your thoughts racing about your worries or your to-do list, practice Left Nostril Breathing. Cover your right nostril and breathe exclusively through your left nostril – it activates your relaxation system and will put you back to sleep within 3 minutes.
The more stressful the situation, the more you have to proactively create calm inside of you. Anything you did regularly before the stress (e.g., deep breathing, exercise, meditation, stretching, a morning cup of tea, or journaling) will be important to maintain as much as possible.
Honor your emotions
In order to get through previous stressful events, you have already developed coping mechanisms. You may be someone who grits your way through the situation while holding all your stress inside. Or someone who becomes more emotional. Or you may use external substances or unhealthy food to help you stuff down your feelings or numb your emotions – because they would feel too overwhelming if you didn’t.
Respect your coping mechanisms; they are in place in order to get you through the acute situation. But have awareness of your behaviors and know if they are actually helping you deal with the situation.
Women’s bodies are built to process stress by connecting with other people. By sharing your experiences with someone (or a group of girlfriends) you trust, it will calm your nerves. It will help you know and make sense of what you are feeling and give you a place to come up with solutions.
It’s women’s natural way to be attuned to the feelings in their bodies and to do any expression of those feelings (e.g, cry, speak, gesture, raise their voice, move their body, etc). The most intense part of uncomfortable feelings lasts only 90 seconds, so if you can allow yourself to feel your emotions for that time you can get to the other side where you feel more comfortable.
Have a resilient mindset
Positive psychology teaches that you have a better chance of staying optimistic when you appraise your situation with the 3 Ps:
- Personal – try to not take the situation personally or think it’s your fault
- Pervasive – try to not see the challenge as affecting every area of your life; maintain some aspects of your life where you can still have joy and connection
- Permanent – try to not see your feelings of hardship as permanent
Stay connected to your sense of purpose
A severely stressful situation can make it hard to remember what was important in your life before your change in circumstances. If you can stay connected to the bigger picture purpose of your life, it will help you to believe even in the hard moments that “this too shall pass.” This paraphrase by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche can sum up your ability to persevere: “When you have a why that is strong enough, you can endure any how.”