If you wake up with an anxiety-induced stomachache more often than not, you're definitely not alone. Figuring out how to
cope when you're having trouble dealing with stress is a process everyone has to go through. Finding the strategies that work for you can be tough, but it'll help you conquer the days where you don't feel your best.
"Avoiding or ignoring stressors can feel good at first, especially if you're overwhelmed," says
Alma psychotherapist Katie DiMuzio, LCSW. "If you're waking up each day dreading what's ahead of you, or feeling tense and panicky all the time, these might be signs that your coping strategies need tweaking."
It's easy to beat yourself up if you're going through a stretch of time where you're more angsty than usual. "'I should be able to handle this', 'I shouldn't feel upset', 'I'm not able to handle this', 'I'm sensitive', 'I'm not good enough', etc., are all too common beliefs that people knowingly, and unknowingly, carry with them," says marriage and family therapist
Erica Curtis, LMFT. That negative self-talk is a blaring alarm that you're in need of kinder, more effective coping strategies (because really, telling yourself you're trash never actually makes you feel better).
If you find that you’re not handling pressure all that well right now (or you're trying to push your way through it by pretending it's not there), this might be the perfect time to seek emotional support. When your jaw won't unclench and your body won't stop humming with tension, here are six strategies for dealing with stress.
Get A Self-Care Routine Going
Self-care is about more than hot cocoa and bubble baths. It's also about developing an everyday routine that makes you feel more at ease. "Keeping a routine can help you stay grounded and prevent work (or worry) from bleeding into all aspects of your day," DiMuzio tells Bustle. What kinds of activities do you know you'll feel off without doing? Maybe it's an intense daily workout, painting some watercolor sunflowers before bed, or calling your best friend on the commute home from work. Whatever your thing is, prioritize it each day to reduce your overall angst level.
Just like you should do stuff you enjoy, though, DiMuzio says it's also crucial to get the pesky little things done as often as possible. That includes making sure your chores don't pile up. "Have you ever put off folding your laundry and ignored the pile in the corner?" she asks. "After a while, the thought of having to put those clothes away can feel like an enormous task, when in reality, if you hunkered down for 10 minutes, you'd have a clean space and you wouldn't have it hanging over your head any longer." Especially if you're not into meditating and lavender-scented baths, then yes, putting away your laundry definitely counts as self-care.
Get Connected To Community
Whether it's spending time with someone in person or chilling pantsless in virtual hangouts, your bonds with others can keep you stable during unstable moments in your life. "Try to stay connected with loved ones through video conferencing or phone calls," DiMuzio tells Bustle. "There are apps where you can play games with friends, too. And be sure to share your struggles with those in your circle — we're all in this together, and you never know what kind of helpful advice you'll get if you're open to others!"
Practice Acceptance Of What's Happening
It can be a terrible sensation to
feel out of control, whether it's at work, with friends, or when someone is sick. You can often blame that daily tightening in your shoulders (you're probably tensing them right now) on that frustrating inability to control when the payroll office finally gets you your check. You don't have to pretend all this isn't happening, because that denial might actually raise your stress levels even higher. Accepting that you can't control everything and it's OK to be freaked out by that is an important first step.
"Functioning your way through stress is different than coping with it," Curtis tells Bustle. "Some people deal with stress by putting one foot in front of the other. That doesn't necessarily mean they have addressed it. In these cases, stress can sometimes 'pop out' in unexpected, or seemingly unrelated, ways, such as an eye twitch, snapping at your partner, or other." Curtis says that what our individual "tipping point" is, and how we respond to stress, "can sometimes be linked to early experiences and resulting beliefs about ourselves and the world." Seeking extra help from a therapist or other mental health professional can help pinpoint where your tipping points are and how to most effectively navigate them.
Reframe Your Perspective
When you first adopt stress-busting tools and techniques, it might take time to notice the benefits, Curtis says — but that doesn't mean you're failing. Shifting your focus away from what you think you're failing at and onto where you're succeeding (you woke up this morning! you texted your mom back! you took one breath, and then another!) can help shift your mind into a more affirming space.
No matter how small they seem, make your victories the center of your perspective. It might take some time, but Curtis says thinking of your angst as a reminder to be good to yourself can lead you forward. "Just because something doesn't work right away doesn't necessarily mean you won't reap the benefits if you keep a regular practice of it," Curtis tells Bustle. "Like any feeling, we want to use stress as information. Listen to it, understand why it's there, and address its need." Maybe your anxiety is telling you that you need to hang out with your friends more often (or less). Maybe that constant, guilty itch to
do more even when you're exhausted is a reminder that you are worth more than the sum of your productivity. Pay attention to when you think you're actually pretty cool, and try to replicate those self-love feels whenever you can.
Find Some Humor In Your Day
DiMuzio says that a injection of humor into your day might be just what the doctor ordered. Whether it's spending a good hour on TikTok or going to the arcade for some good old-fashioned Ninja Turtles games, bringing levity into your life can help keep anxiety at bay.
Laughing can decrease cortisol (that pesky stress hormone) and boost serotonin and dopamine levels, which are the happy hormones that help your brain not focus on the doom and gloom.
Even if you don't feel like you have the energy to laugh yourself, find a hilarious meme and show it to your roommate. Hearing someone else
laugh can alleviate your own stress, according to a 2018 study published in the journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine, so share the heck out of those cat gifs.
Cultivate Gratitude (And Be Gentle With Yourself About It)
Yes, it's good to be grateful for what you have at this moment. But if you're upset and every seemingly little thing is making you panic, it's also OK to use gratitude as a way to be kind to yourself. "Give yourself permission to be less productive and feel less than your best right now," DiMuzio says. "Yes, gratitude is important and it is great to put things in perspective, recognizing the privilege you may have as compared to others. That said, your own feelings of disappointment, anxiety, and grief are valid and it is OK (and helpful!) to feel and express them."
Studies Referenced: Fujiwara, Y. (2018) Hearing laughter improves the recovery process of the autonomic nervous system after a stress-loading task: A randomized controlled trial. BioPsychoSocial Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30598694/?from_term=laughter+stress&from_filter=ds1.y_5&from_pos=3. Experts: Katie DiMuzio, LCSW, Alma psychotherapist Erica Curtis, LMFT, marriage and family therapist