I believe there is no one that is immune to stress. Indeed we all deal with stress differently. For some of us, there are moments where we feel incredibly overwhelmed, where our circumstances leave us emotionally, physically and psychologically drained.
Often we look at people and think that they are always calm and have their stuff together. Personally, I often hear comments about how well I deal with stress or pressure. While this is indeed the view that is visible to the outside world, I am aware that as a high functioning individual amidst extreme pressure, I am able to hold it together. When I do not have moments of pause in between to check in with myself during these times, my body and spirit takes a beating and often will rebel at some point.
We all probably have many influences (inside and outside of us) that strive to advise us how we should handle different aspects of our lives. I really feel bombarded with information on how and what I should do to avoid and deal with stress. The result is that I start beating myself up for not doing better at avoiding stress. This becomes a cycle that continues to induce stress rather than reduce it. Over time, I have come to accept that none of us can avoid stress. What we can do is have better ways of managing it, and constantly learn from it so that we improve continuously.
From my own experience, I have found that self-acceptance and compassion are key to moving through periods of overwhelm. The following key principles has helped me to work better with stress:
It is okay to feel overwhelmed!
Sometimes, the world feels like it’s going to fall on top of you and squeeze every last bit of positive energy out of your pores. Sometimes we cannot avoid what happens or is initiated by our external environment. I have learnt that what is more important is how I respond. Thus I give myself permission to feel all kinds of emotions. I don’t put pressure on myself to have a ‘perfect’ response, and I try really hard not to give others the power to define how I should feel or respond.
I also have learnt that it is okay to want to run away to my happy place, and sit in a corner with my journal, or just listening to soothing music. For me, the power lies in recognising when I am overwhelmed, and being okay with it. This means accepting this part of myself, and that there is nothing wrong with me because everyone feels overwhelmed at some point.
Accept myself completely and how I respond to stress triggers.
Sometimes I may respond by being a highly emotional being. Sometimes, I may use strategies to try and avoid what is happening. This could be burying myself in my work, in socialising or just some other form of escapism. Sometimes I might feel as though I take on the world’s problems and feel all of it, completely. I have come to appreciate all these parts of myself.
Accepting my response to stress and overwhelm means that I am the authority, not everyone else who might warn me against what I ‘shouldn’t’ be sensitive to. Indeed, sometimes, hiding for a bit is also an option, putting your head down and zoning the world. The trick is having mechanisms in place to bring you back. Once you are back, acknowledge your battle scars and wounds, then do the work to recover.
Knowing when to ask for help.
For many of us, when we are overwhelmed, or stressed, we sink deep into our fear of what will happen if others find out. It took me a long time to accept that my fear of vulnerability was a major stumbling block to self-acceptance. The fear that people would see that I too have my meltdowns often loomed larger than life, and in fact, what it did was to pull me deeper into powerlessness. Over time I have learnt that when I recognise my sense of overwhelm, and in those moments when I can see that I am unable to pull myself out of it, I need to ask for help.
Asking for help could be from a friend, a family member, or even a professional. Recently, I saw a post on Facebook where a friend posted ‘I have quietly been falling apart’. This opened up a flood of support for her, as well as gave her some freedom as she was no longer controlled by the feeling that falling apart was an abject failure on her part.