There is another way to do self-care.
We often think of self-care as what you do to relax after a stressful day, and that kind of care is useful. But it’s not the only one. And it partially comes from a confused vision of stress.
Stress is our body’s response to challenging situations. When we are under pressure, our body enters a state of lockedness to fight – our muscles are locked and ready to act, our mind is locked onto the menace (be it a tiger or a deadline). Our life cannot ben stress-free because we wouldn’t be able to react to danger otherwise.
P.S. The word stress means “drawn tight”. We collect our energy and keep it close to us while waiting to do something.
In itself, then, stress isn’t evil. It gets problematic, though, when it becomes chronical. Our body can sustain lockedness only for a short timespan, those few moments we need to survive. When it stays locked for days or weeks, this tension mines our physical, mental and emotional energy.
At stage combat, our professor always told us that you have to keep the fist a bit open to throw a punch (even a fake one). If you close it too tight, you lock the muscles of your whole arm and then you won’t be able to move it fast enough to parry and keep fighting.
How to not stress about stress
Then, self-care is a two-fold course of action. There is a kind of self-care focused on unwinding and relaxing in the present moment, one that relieves stress. But there is another kind, with a long-term vision, which reduces stress before it becomes too much.
It’s the difference between therapy and prevention. Breathing techniques and grounding work well to feel better now. Without a structure that helps us avoid chronic and unnecessary stress in your life, though, we are chipping a wall with a spoon.
(Without considering that, when we are fatigued, even the smallest act like showering can become another source of stress.)
A long-term vision of de-stressing
If we want to lower our level of stress, we can create de-stressors – guidelines on how to eliminate certain sources of stress in our life.
These guidelines work on two levels. On one side, they help us avoid potential stressors. On the other side, once we know what we need to feel grounded and energized, and pursue it in our everyday life, stress stops being overwhelming.
There are a thousand potential stressors in our life. But no one feels the same for everyone – consider how different the perception of social interaction is for introverts and extroverts. If we want to create our own de-stressing structure, we have to think about us.
Self-care requires a self, after all.
Three ways to find your de-stressors…
If you have two minutes, take a pen and a pad (or write on your laptop – though there is a gratifying feeling in scraping the paper), and write down everything stressing you right now. Think “global” – from work to friends, to all the nuisances of everyday life.
P.S. This brain dump is a good trick for when you are juggling too many tasks and commitment! It will free your mind and your energy.
Done? Purrfect! Now…
- on the long term: do you notice any pattern? For example, if you have a week crammed with commitments and doctors’ appointments, maybe you could realize that it’s because you always say yes to everything (in which case, you can choose to limit commitments to 2 or 3 per week) or because you wait until the last minute to book appointments (in which case, you can choose to schedule check-ups and regular stuff way in advance). These are just two examples to show how you can use this moment to learn something about yourself. Do you find it difficult to set boundaries? Do you prefer having structured days? Do you procrastinate until the last minute? Over time, you’ll develop an idea of what gets on your nerves;
- on the short term: draw a Circle of Action and write what you actually have control over! This way, you’ll see what you can deal with on your own and what instead is just adding to the stress.
If you already know some of your stressors, you can also draw a diagram like the one below and write down what you need to live without tearing your hair out.
Finally, another strategy (which works especially well in the short term) is analyzing your current desires. Do you really want to spend a week at the seaside? Maybe you just need a day or two off. Do you daydream of living in downtown and spend every night hanging out until 2 am? Maybe it’s been too long since the last time you went out. It’s common for needs to grow “out of proportion” when they aren’t met.
… and three ways to maintain them
- Start with one thing and keep building on it. Don’t try implementing everything at once, or you’ll get burn out. To choose, think this – what is one thing that, if changed tomorrow, would make you think your life has improved?
- Take suggestions from outside with a pinch of salt. Even my own! You know you. You know what gets on your nerves, and what instead calms those nerves.
- Consider your de-stressors a priority. They are the structure that keeps you going, the ecosystem you need to thrive. Give them the top place.
Until the next time… relax:)!
P.S. Here is a list of websites you can visit to feel better!
Do you have thoughts or doubts bothering you? Do you just want to vent? Ask Box is the place where you can drop your questions about life, the universe and everything. My inbox is always open – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.