How do you relieve stress? (plus four keys to getting stress levels under control)

Last week was one of those weeks. You know, the ones where it seems like anything that can go wrong will.

There was nothing truly major; it was just one thing after another after another.

How to relieve stress |

We had:

  •  A stomach flu (which included a day out of daycare and parents trading off childcare based on who had meetings at what time)
  • A case of pink eye (which necessitated a first-thing-in-the-morning urgent care visit. Also, did you know that there are non-contagious strains of pink eye? Me either, but I sure was grateful mine was one of those!)
  • Forms, updates and billing challenges with health insurance, auto insurance, home insurance, and medical bills (with the usual array of endless paperwork, red tape and back-and-forth phone calls)
  • Signed papers for our new house, which officially closes next Tuesday (see: endless paperwork)
  • Then there were the Christmas parties (two one of us attended, two more that were skipped)
  • Normal home life (see: terrible two’s in full swing, and why didn’t anyone warn me that age four is harder than age two? Also, #kidsnotsleeping)
  • And slightly-busier-than-typical work weeks

On top of that there was the endless rain, and with it, the worse-than-normal traffic that I didn’t adequately prepare for. Then the fun experiences like calling an office that should have been open, only to find out they weren’t when I had planned around getting phone calls done in a certain time frame and other small annoyances that added up quickly.

Monday brought the greatest December 24-hour rainfall on record in Portland with 3.32 inches in a day. My attitude felt like the weather outside.

I’d love to say that I handled it all with grace and perspective.

I didn’t. 

I found myself stressed, tense enough that I was feeling physical pain and grumpy angry enough that I wasn’t all that pleasant to be around (Sorry, Charles).

By about Wednesday, I was calm enough to think, “Hmm, I clearly can’t control how my week is going, but I need to get my stress levels under control regardless of the circumstances!”

Four Ways to Get Stress Levels Under Control

1. Acknowledge that it’s hard – without any caveats – and then move on.

Please tell me I’m not the only one that needs to start here. If I don’t acknowledge what’s difficult in my life, and attempt to go straight to “Well, others have it worse off,” I just get angrier. Especially if it’s someone else trying to rush me along. Don’t make me feel like what I’m experiencing isn’t real. Are there times I need to buck up and get over it? Of course. But typically in the middle of it isn’t the best time to address that.
Note: There’s a difference between acknowledging something is hard to yourself or another trusted person and whining, complaining or wallowing in it. Also, acknowledging your own hard doesn’t minimize anyone else’s hard. 

2. Recognize what triggers you. 

Take a step back and look at the big picture. What’s really stressing you out? There are some obvious stress triggers that affect most of us: lack of sleep, poor nutrition, money.

Then there are stressors that may be huge for one personality type and non-existent for others. Know your personality and recognize what triggers you – so that you can do something about it.

Time stresses me out. Being on time specifically. Being late due to traffic, poor planning on my part, toddler tantrums, meetings that started late, meetings that ended late, or any other reason makes my neck knot up faster than you can say, “Merry Christmas.” I know this about myself.

Knowing this doesn’t prevent the stress, but it does help me to plan around it. How much earlier should I plan to leave the house to account for traffic and kids? (Then take that buffer time estimate and double it). What meetings can I reschedule in anticipation of others running late?

3. Take a deep breath and cut out the non-essentials. 

There were a few moments where there was nothing I could stop doing in that moment – but I could stop and take a few deep breaths.

Lack of sleep and lack of health meant my energy levels were low – and entirely used up on getting the essentials done. My eyes hurt, my body ached and I was exhausted. I let Charles take over as much of the home front as possible, let the laundry, dishes and emails pile up, and went to bed early.

The two Christmas parties that were skipped were work parties of mine. I would have liked to go, and it likely would have been good professionally to be there. But they weren’t essential.

4. Find reasons to be thankful. 

There’s a reason gratitude journals are so popular – intentionally focusing on being thankful and positive works. It took me a day or two longer than it should have to get to this point, but it really is true. All of our health concerns are minor. We have insurance – of all kinds. The hospital bill is from an injury Charlie fully recovered from. I am fully recovered from the auto accident. We didn’t have any flooding with the major rains this week, and we each had at least one co-worker who did. I truly do have much to be thankful for.

How do you get your stress levels under control? Any additional tips for me?

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