Last week, I hit a low point emotionally and mentally and, although I could easily go into the details, I feel that it would only distract from the focus of this article. This is about how to cope with stress, not discuss stressors that bring us to low points in the first place. Let’s dive right in.
First of all, I ought to point out that I am not a life coach or a mental health counselor. I am just a normal young woman who has dealt with stress and found ways to help myself survive. Sometimes I need to get moving to handle emotional stress. After a rough breakup in college, I became a runner. Although it was only for a period of about eight months, that brief stint into running helped me work out the anger and brokenheartedness of the entire situation. It was surprisingly cathartic to listen to P!nk on full blast in my earbuds while focusing on my feet repetitively hitting the ground.
When more activity doesn’t cut it, I refocus on smaller, quieter elements around me. I have the good fortune to work at a facility that has an abandoned railroad running along the back side of the property. Last week, when I was feeling overwhelmed, I spent my lunch break outside, soaking in the rare Seattle sunshine and just being. When thoughts crowded in, I pushed them slowly back out again, paying attention to my senses instead.
Above me, the sun radiated warmth that I could feel on my cheeks and the back of my neck. In my mind’s eye, I fancied freckles popping out on my cheekbones to soak it in. There was a warm breeze blowing, wafting smells of tart-sweet, wild blackberries to my eager nostrils. There were occasional industrial smells from the businesses I passed along my way, but beyond that was an ever present smell of warm earth and vegetation.
The railroad tracks themselves were rusty orange, and the ties below my feet were unevenly spaced and in various states of decay. Some ties were practically new, their wood smooth, their angles straight; others were clearly older, with weathered hues and chunks eaten away by time. Between the ties, tall, lanky plants pressed up through the gravel, stretching out green leaves from reddish stalks. There were wildflowers too, delicate purple and yellow blooms that I didn’t recognize.
As I walked, I focused on breathing in, breathing out, and being grateful for the simple beauty around me. As an introvert, I cherished the solitude of the walk, finding a place in the midst of a small city where I felt alone but not completely abandoned by society. I walked past a school where I could hear children laughing during recess and past several apartment complexes where I heard the somewhat distant sounds of people living their lives.
When I came back from my half-hour walk, I felt refreshed, peaceful, and ready to get back into the daily grind. I stood up straighter, and I felt lighter, feeling truly blessed by my brief escape from the “real world.”
I know that not everyone will have this sort of opportunity where they work, so I also wanted to include a few other suggestions for pausing in the midst of the craziness that is life so that we can avoid being overwhelmed. Meditation may get a bad rap from some, but I find that sitting quietly and focusing on my breathing can do a lot to quiet my mind. As a Christian, I take this time to pray as well, and what I do is hold my hands facing down, as if I’m giving something into God’s waiting hands. I pass over my burdens to Him and then turn my hands so that they are facing up, asking God to give me peace and the strength to make it through. The best part about meditation is that you can do it nearly anywhere. You might need to lock yourself in a toilet stall for a few minutes to get away from people, but finding a relatively quiet place is possible.
There are other activities you can do to quiet your mind. I find that repetitive tasks help me focus on the activity of my hands, instead of the activity of my mind. I enjoy domestic activities, so cooking and cleaning can be very therapeutic for me. I recognize this won’t be the same for everyone, but finding a repetitive task that you already enjoy doing and then performing it while stressed, slowing down to focus on the individual steps of the process, can really help.
In all of this, I’m curious to hear about other suggestions that our readers have. When you get stressed out, how do you cope with the emotional turmoil?