Stress Doesn’t Have To Control You

I was naive enough to think that, by graduating college a semester early, I would be able to live a stress-free life during the spring semester. Obviously it hasn’t worked out that way. While I have had more free time now that I’m done with homework, life hasn’t become a permanent vacation. I’m still balancing part-time work with an internship and trying to find a real, adult job. And I still have to deal with my parents calling to ask me what I’m doing with my life at least once a week. Life is stressful with or without homework, but I’m trying not to let that bother me.

Stress is dangerous. Not only does it take a toll on your mental health, but it takes a huge toll on your body. Too much stress can raise your blood pressure and lead to headaches. And it can cause hair-thinning. I realize that, in the grand scheme of life, losing a bit of hair is nothing compared to high blood pressure, but when you’re 17 and accidentally pulling out clumps of hair while shampooing, it feels like a nightmare. It’s important to keep stress under control! I used to let stress crush me, but I’m done with that. If stress is going to be an everyday part of my life from now on, I need to work with it and not let it hold me back.

I haven’t always been very good at dealing with stress. I’m still not great with it. In the past year, my initial reaction to stress has been to shut down. I never used to take naps, but last year I dozed off every afternoon in an effort to avoid finals. Sometimes I didn’t even nap. I would literally sit around and do nothing. It was like my brain shut off to avoid dealing with the world, and when I finally got back to my work, I would be even more stressed out. Naps might help some people battle stress, but it didn’t help me. Neither did jogging, quitting caffeine or meditating. We all need to figure out what stress-busters work best for us. The same things won’t work for everyone, but I think I’ve figured out what works for me. As long as I stick to these habits, I can kick stress’s ass!

Before I share any of my stress-busting habits, there’s an important first step. All of these habits require upbeat, feel-good, empowering or relaxing songs. Once I start blasting that playlist, these are some of my favorite activities to take my mind off of things:

  1. Bathe. If I need to take multiple showers a day, then that’s what I’ll do. I find showers and baths to be the best stress-relievers. And if my stress is a result of needing to make a decision, a shower always helps me figure out what I need to do. I came up with the thesis statement for every paper I ever wrote while in the shower. It’s a great place to think if you’re stuck on a work or school assignment, and it’s also a great place for a karaoke session or to zone out while still accomplishing something.
  2. Break out the coloring books. This habit comes therapist-recommended. I can’t paint or draw or sculpt, but I can (almost) color inside the lines. Even my friends with actual artistic talent agree that coloring is relaxing. There’s no stress when you have a coloring book in front of you! The picture is already there, so there’s no pressure to create anything beautiful. It doesn’t even matter which colors you choose. Sometimes I close my eyes and pick a crayon at random. And this is a stress-busting habit that can make for great gifts. My artwork is featured on many fridges!
  3. Clean. After a busy morning at work, I like to clean everything in sight. Unfortunately, I have yet to take this de-stressing method home with me. My apartment is a mess, but you should see where I work. When I leave after a double shift, that place is spotless! I used to work at a restaurant as a hostess/busser, and while my co-workers fought to be the host-on-duty, I always volunteered to bus tables. Clearing the dishes and wiping away globs of ketchup was so relaxing.
  4. Choose a new hobby. I’m always picking up new hobbies as a way to handle stress. Right now, I’m assembling puzzles. I worried that puzzles would worsen my stress, but, it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Yes, a puzzle can be difficult because there’s a lot of thinking involved, but I liked knowing that a solution existed. And not only did a solution exist, but it worked out perfectly. Other hobbies that have worked for me include swimming, knitting, making friendship bracelets and yoga. I keep all of them in a rotation so I’m always doing something different. (Except making friendship bracelets. A bizarre pinky injury put an end to that hobby.)
  5. Pamper yourself! Not everyone enjoys giving themselves a makeover, but I love it. One of the first things I give up on when I get too busy is my appearance. I’ll start forgetting to put on makeup in the morning, and sometimes I don’t even bother combing my hair. I love makeup! During stressful times, I try to take a moment to do something new with my appearance. Usually I just paint my nails, but occasionally I’ll dye my hair or try a new eyeliner technique. But it’s important not to be selfish just because you’re stressed out. If you have willing friends, you can try out new hairstyles on them and paint their nails, too!

I hate to say it, but stress is a part of being a person. We might be able to get rid of it temporarily, but stress always comes crawling back, even though it’s totally unwanted. While it can feel overwhelming, stress doesn’t have to take over your life! Find a hobby or take a long bubble bath! Or try whatever you think will help calm you down. Everyone handles stress in their own way, so if you’re able to stop stress from controlling your life, you’re probably doing the right thing.

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