Stress is a funny thing.
Most of us require some level of ‘stress’ to function, to get moving, to focus, and be motivated. It almost translates as a ‘need’ - a minimum requirement in order for you to operate.
Examples could include:
- I need to perform better at work in order to improve my pay.
- I need to run for the bus in order to make it to my meeting on time.
- I need to go to the gym so that I look good on my next beach vacation.
This low-level type of stress is totally manageable for most people on a day-to-day basis, helping us to get where we want to go, and do what we want to do.
Low-level stress can push your heart-rate up, get the adrenaline pumping, help you to focus, and spring into action.
Occasionally though, your stress levels might spike beyond normal levels, and it’s fairly hard to predict what impact this will have on you mentally, emotionally, and physically.
You could describe this as a stress meltdown.
For me, a stress meltdown usually results in my brain and body just kind of shutting down. Almost ostrich-like, I bury my head in the sand, hoping that something will change and that the situation causing the stress will somehow be magically resolved - this pretty much never happens, the ostrich strategy is a terrible idea and generally just makes things worse. At the more extreme end, a stress meltdown leaves me feeling physically ill - nauseous, migraines, that kind of thing - my drinking increases to dangerous levels, and I start contemplating self-harm and suicide.
Most of the time I’m pretty good at managing stress, but if it gets out of control it’s usually to do with a situation - such as work, relationships, or financial - where I don’t seem to have any options, or able to take any actions that are within my control. My stress-levels tend to get out of control when I feel helpless, and trapped in a negative situation.
On a day-to-day level, my stress-management strategies are fairly obvious.
If my stress-levels are starting to get a bit uncomfortable, my go-to options for stress-management techniques are:
- Go to the gym.
- Go for a walk.
- Go to the movies.
- Use humour to try and put things in perspective.
- Switch focus to something that’s going well.
I haven’t really found any silver-bullet solutions for defusing a stress meltdown, but here’s a couple of tactics that I’m currently trying:
- Write down the problem. Articulate what’s causing the stress. Once you can give something a name, once you can describe it, define it, it might be a bit easier to put it in perspective or to develop strategies to address the underlying issues.
- Find a stress buddy. It might be a member of your family, a friend, or just someone in your network somewhere. Someone safe and non-judgemental. Someone who you can call up and say: “Can we grab a coffee? I’m feeling a bit stressed and I think it would help if I could just talk it through with you.”
- Get some counselling. It doesn’t have to be as major as therapy, but there’s plenty of professional counsellors who can help you to talk through what’s bothering you, and help you to put in place some steps to work through the issues.
- Take some time out. If you’re in the middle of a majorly stressful situation, you’re probably thinking that you don’t have time for a vacation. But just taking yourself away somewhere, by yourself, to change your surroundings and change your environment could be exactly what you need. Taking yourself off on a mini-break can really put some physical and emotional space between you and whatever is stressing you out.