You never know what punches life will throw at you when you wake up in the morning. Today was one of those days where stress tried to find me, but I did a good job of not being found by it, or it’s nefarious accomplice, panic. I knew I had to write about my experience today because I realized that it’s not what happens to us as much as it is how we react to it. We may not always be able to control our circumstances, but we always have the ability to control our emotions. I think many of us are prone to overreact to unexpectedly distressing situations with unhealthy emotional upset and I hope this post serves as a reminder that in most cases, those little stresses are really not that big a deal and nothing to worry about.
This is my story of how I didn’t let a small thing turn into a big thing and the source of inspiration for this post. Most likely you will be able to relate! My would be stressful day started out with no stress at all and was actually the best sort of day a fashion lover could ask for. I excitedly drove to the mall expecting to have nothing less than a relaxing shopping adventure amidst stores I rarely have time to enjoy. I needed holiday presents and new sweaters for myself and I was on a mission to find those warm, cozy items that my body would most certainly be thankful for as the air became even more frigid and the wind chill was becoming a threat to my comfort levels. I was having a blast listening to holiday music that all the department stores play this time of year and not only did I find a bunch of holiday presents for my family and friends, but I also found a warm red sweater that fit the bill for maximization of warmth and comfort. Success!
What wasn’t successful was my effort to find my keys when I attempted to leave the mall a few hours later. And I searched my purses and bags very, very well. My suspicions about locking my keys in my car were confirmed when I walked to Scarlet (this is the name I’ve designated to my car- I am a firm believer in car naming) in the freezing weather and saw those keys staring at me through the glass window of my unmistakably locked car. Given that I had yet to put into action my goal of always carrying around a spare set of keys, this meant giving AAA a phone call to help me out.
This is one of those situations that really isn’t that bad, but in the moment I could have easily responded with anxiety, dread, or in this case, feeling like an idiot. I had to stop myself from going to that place of self-inflicted criticism and instead took some deep breaths and waited the hour and a half for AAA to help me unlock the door. Locking oneself out of one’s car is nothing compared to other calamities and stresses people contend with, but this doesn’t change the fact that this situation could have resulted in negative self-talk and anxious thoughts that I was wasting my day waiting when I could have been accomplishing other things.
These minor troubles and potential stressors have the potential to make us feel horrible in the moment, but they don’t have to! We all deserve to treat ourselves with compassion and love and this means handing the everyday stresses of life with as much tranquility as possible. Below is a list of what to do to turn a potential tornado of negative emotions into a light sea breeze of calm:
1) Identify the cause of stress– Why is your heart pounding so fast? Is it because your roommate left a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink or because you have to give a huge presentation in class today? Stop and take a moment to identify what’s truly making you feel antsy.
2) Shake it off– Literally. Do one big ol’ shake and let all that stress role off you as you do so. Inhale deeply through your nose and hold it while you count to 10 in your mind. Exhale slowly through your mouth for another five seconds. Repeat this a few times as you can consciously allow your body to relax.
3) Take action– When you are ready, think about whether or not there is something you can do to improve the situation. If there is, do it. Sitting around worrying only leads to procrastination and more worry. Taking actions to improve the situation as quickly as possible will make you feel empowered and reduce the likelihood of anxiety or stress creeping up on you.
4) Look at the big picture– How much will the source of stress matter a week from now, a month from now, a year from now? Most sources of stress are among the small stuff, but some stuff is quite a bit smaller than others. Odds are what your stressing over won’t matter too much in the long run.
5) Be mindful and remember what’s really important– Your safety. Your health. Your relationships. A warm bed to sleep in at night. These are a few examples of things that matter. Remembering what’s truly important can make a worry seem trivial and insignificant.
6) Be forgiving– Alas we are all mere mortals capable of making mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up for being imperfect and treat yourself how you would treat someone you love, like a family member or best friend.
Remembering all of these tips will help you handle all sorts of daily stressors with as much peace of mind as possible. We can be our own best friend or our own worst enemy, but these tips will help you become your own best friend. And hey, next time something minor threatens to stress you out, just think, at least you didn’t lock yourself out of your car today.