Stress can be one of two things: an impetus (eustress) or a hindrance (distress). One is healthy and one is indistinguishable from suffering. Pain is part of life, but suffering is the unnecessary perpetuation of pain caused by reliving it over and over again in your head.
How do you stop the cycle? First, by literally stopping the thought in its tracks. Personally, I struggle with thoughts of suicide, and visualization is the most effective way that I know how to battle this particular demon. Sometimes, the image of me putting a gun to my head will pop up, so I visualize the gun disappearing in a puff of smoke, and it’s gone. Just like that.
Now, I have to mention here that thoughts of suicide are caused by deep, emotional turbulence, and I am doing WAY more than this technique to heal myself, this is simply a technique used to stop a suicidal thought in the moment. If you are struggling with suicide please see a mental health professional to deal with the issues that is causing you to think and feel that way.
Another great way to stop the cycle of mentally torturing ourselves is to fill our lives and our minds with fun, playful, and lighthearted experiences and situations. It is difficult to relive that moment you knew your wife no longer loved you, or whatever you are reliving in your head, when you are dancing, riding a bike down a mountain, or doing yoga.
Active Stress Management
Which brings us to the next topic. You have to stay busy! And no, I don’t mean watching YouTube videos, reading articles, or anything else that keeps you staring at a screen. No matter how useful the information is, the only thing that will ever be truly useful to you is something that you apply, do, or otherwise engage in.
Being active is immensely important. Your body was designed to move, so get up and shake that ass! Seriously, though, I never felt so alive until the day I started dancing. I’ve been slacking on it a bit lately, but when I’m not doing Yoga or P90X, dancing is my workout. I personally find it difficult to exercise when it’s something I don’t fully enjoy, and dancing is one of my favorite things to do.
I never would have guessed it, but getting up, moving my body in sometimes convoluted ways, and jumping, shaking, and otherwise writhing my body feels so cathartic and stress-relieving. I started dancing more out of utility than anything else. I was at a point in my life when I was feeling hopeless, strangled, and half-dead. I wanted to dance for so long but wouldn’t admit it to myself because it felt stupid and childish.
But, then, one day, as I was listening to Sean Paul, I think, I just got up and started dancing. It literally saved my life, because I finally started doing something I truly wanted to for the first time in months, and I stepped more than a hair outside of my comfort zone for the first time in years. I was alone, which at the time was probably the only way I could have worked up the courage to do it, but I still just went for it, and I danced for three whole hours, when I only intended to dance for a couple of songs or so. I felt amazing afterward.
I was in one of those deep numb canyons where I could hardly believe I was even alive anymore and something inside of me jumped up out of my anesthesia, off the couch, and into the most healing movements of my life. I was moving in ways I didn’t even know I could. Life had new meaning!
But anyway, enough about that. Let’s talk more about managing stress. If stress is beneficial, or eustress, it can still become a problem. Some of you might be asking, how can stress be beneficial? Well, if it drives you to do something positive or accomplish something, then it’s beneficial. It’s when it becomes a burden to bear that you need to relieve it.
How can we accomplish this? By taking action on whatever it is we are stressing about. If you’re stressed that you’re going to lose your significant other, perhaps it means you need to treat your partner with more respect, show them that you love them, or whatever the case may be.
Actions That Relieve Stress
There are four components of behavior: action, thought, feeling, and physiology. Action is the thing we have the most control of, followed by thought, and then feeling, and our physiology comes in last. Our actions influence our thoughts, and on down the line. Stress is a feeling and the body’s prolonged physiological response to it can be devastating.
What are some actions that relieve stress? Meditation. Having sex. Eating nutritious meals. Getting enough water and exercise. Expressing gratitude. Journaling. Being in nature. Basically, taking care of ourselves, which not enough of us do. I didn’t for the longest time, but I am finally starting to and am feeling loads better for it.
Here is my morning routine: after brushing my teeth and drinking some water I say the serenity prayer, then I meditate for an hour, read at least a chapter of whatever book I’m currently in, do yoga for thirty minutes, and then I am ready to face the day.
Am I perfect in my routine every morning? No. But I do my best. For the longest time I would watch YouTube videos, read articles, listen to podcasts, and so on, but I never really applied anything I was learning. Well, in 2015 that changed. I studied psychology intently and actually applied the things I was learning. But I was still drinking and doing drugs, going to bed anywhere between midnight and six AM, eating processed foods and sugars constantly.
Essentially, I was taking care of myself in certain ways while abusing myself in others. In fact, I even started harming myself, because nothing was getting better and I didn’t know why. Well, today I have 69 days clean and sober, I go to bed at 10 o’clock almost every night, no later than midnight, and I limit my processed foods and sugar intake. I plan on cutting them out completely, but I am early in my recovery from drug addiction, so I’m taking it slow and allowing myself to indulge when I’m feeling weakest.
For some of you reading this, everything might seem a bit overwhelming, and that’s why you haven’t really started yet, but there comes a day for most of us when we realize that we have to get off the couch, stop learning and start doing, and actually apply the things we are being taught.
Most of us already know how to change our lives. We’ve been reading about it, listening to others talk about it, and otherwise learning about it for years, but we never really do anything about it. I’m here to tell you that nothing will change until you do. I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, but I’ll be the last to say it. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
To conclude, let me paint a picture for you. If you were to read all the books, watch all the videos, and do whatever you could to learn about riding a bike without ever actually getting on one, how well do you think you could ride a bike? You couldn’t. Eventually, you have to put the book down and get on the bike.