"Its not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it" ~ Lou Holtz
Day 1 of Graduate School we were warned of a test that we would eventually have to tackle - the National Counselor Exam (NCE). While I have been aware of this test for the past 3 years, it did not make it any less intimidating when it crossed my mind. I scheduled the test a month out to give myself a little push, as I tend to do better under a little pressure. So I scheduled it knowing that I had 1 month to study for the biggest test of my career. I identified that it was a stressor for me, took it in stride and studied a little bit at a time, but as I was down to the last week, I did not feel that I had studied enough. I devoted every waking hour that I could that week to this test and went all in. However, to reinforce my hard work, I would engage in a little Self-Care. I would buy myself my favorite drink from Starbucks, take a bath at the end of a study session, and give myself 15 minutes to zone out and take a breath in between chapters. The stress paid off for me, as it motivated me to stick with it even when I did not want to, but I had to take care of myself while doing so. As I walked out of that 3 hour test, my results were going to be handed to me and that was a scary thought, but I was encouraged when I got the results and saw that I had passed. I share this story to show that even with something that felt too big to conquer, if you take care of yourself while conquering it, it is attainable.
I have not talked to one person that doesn't experience stress to some extent. Everyone may not have the same stressors, but we all have stress that we have to handle. Even though stress is something that everyone experiences, most do not know how to manage it in an effective way and often become overwhelmed. So what can you do about it?
1. Identify the Stressor
While you may be aware of and feel stress in your life, the time is often not taken to identify what specifically is stressing you out. While a healthy amount of stress can be helpful in motivating us, it becomes unhelpful when it starts to become too much for us to handle. Do yourself a favor. Take a moment, and identify what is causing you stress. What is causing you to feel overwhelmed? Maybe it is multiple things. In simply taking a moment to identify what is causing you to feel stressed, you have more control over how you respond to that stress. If you know that you have a big project coming up and are aware of it, you can identify ways to lessen that stress upon yourself. For example: Maybe instead of waiting to handle the entire project at one time, you work on it over a period of time so that it is less threatening. Maybe it is work that is stressing you out. Can you take 15 minutes to go outside, step away from the work, and breathe in the fresh air? We choose how we let things affect us, and while we do not have control over everything that life throws our way, we do have control over how we respond. Give yourself the time to stop, recognize the stress, and tackle it in a way that is not overwhelming for you.
Take a big deep breathe in..... and out......(repeat). In giving yourself 2 minutes to take some deep breaths in and out, you may find some relief during those times of overwhelming stress. Often times when we are stressed, we forget to take deep breaths and therefore affect our ability to take in the most oxygen that we can. While breathing is not naturally a conscious process, we can make it one. In us making it conscious, we bring ourselves into the present moment and out of our heads. When we are stuck in never ending thoughts, it can often be helpful to not experience them for a moment. Not only does it bring us into the present moment, but it can also help us control our body's responses. In taking deep breathes, we can slow our breathing down, which can therefore slow our heart rate down if it is racing - a common physiological response to stress/anxiety. Give yourself a few minutes right now to just take some big breaths in and out. Feel your belly go in and out and you breath. This can also be a helpful way for you to relax at night if you have a difficult time falling asleep.
3. Engage in Self - Care
What is Self-Care? The name within itself often turns people off, as it includes "self". We often feel that if we do anything for ourselves, that we are being selfish. This is the furthest from the truth. Self-Care is a necessity! Self-Care not only includes taking care of ourselves physically and mentally, but also emotionally. Often times our bodies become the avenue for us to live out our lives, but we do not take care of it in the way that it needs. It is absolutely necessary that we give ourselves that right amount of sleep to recover from the previous day's work and recoup for the next day. This amount is different for everybody, but you probably know the amount of hours of sleep that you need to feel refreshed. Taking care of ourselves physically also includes eating habits. Are you drinking enough water throughout the day, eating healthy foods that give you energy, or allowing time for exercise? Exercise not only gets rid of toxins in our body, but it also releases Endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in the body. I know what you are saying. Yes, while all of these things seem ideal, it is not always possible to get enough sleep, pack our lunch instead of going out for fast food, or not having time for a workout. If these self-care items are not happening, most likely, you are struggling to get by everyday without being overwhelmed with stress. I have good news, there is still hope.
While you may not be perfect at self-care, don't be too hard on yourself. All of us struggle. It is definitely something that is a constant work in progress for me, and for most. While it may not be possible for you to get a good nights sleep every night, there are other things that you can do. If you can implement one self-care activity into your day, you will be surprised how big of a difference it makes. Self-Care is all about being introspective and determining what you need. For me, it is often taking a hot bubble bath at the end of the day. Those 30 minutes of quiet and relaxation can make the world of difference in how I end my day. It is an activity that no matter what, can make me feel better. For you, it may be taking 30 minutes out of your day to read your favorite book, take a walk around the park during your lunch break, lighting your favorite candle when you get home, or stopping for a Starbucks. Self-Care is completely individual and something that you have to determine for yourself.
If you had to rate how well you are implementing self-care into your life, where would it fall on a scale of 1-10? How can you improve your self-care routine?
Share your journey with me in the comments below or send me a private message.
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Nurtured Hearts Counseling's Blog
I am a Licensed Therapist in Lone Tree, Colorado and my goal for this blog is to explore taboo subjects that no one is willing to talk about and I am eager to bring awareness to.