Practicing Self-Care in Stressful Times

By Zoey Giesberg, MSW

It is a universally acknowledged truth that stress is an inescapable part of life. Stress can come from anywhere at any time, and it’s always a pain. I don’t know anyone who enjoys being stressed out, and anyone who says otherwise is flat-out lying. But what matters when it comes to stress is how you deal with it. You can either let it consume you or you can manage it in whatever way you find best de-escalates it. (You can also shrug off anything that might give you stress but that will tend to come back to haunt you.)

I’ve been trying to find out how to do that second part for all of my life. But I know one thing is always reliable – caring for myself is critical to ease stress and prevent it from consuming me. And nowadays, I feel the need to engage in self-care more than ever before to maintain my well-being.

To say that stress doesn’t affect me is a complete fallacy. If anything, I will flip out at any sign of the smallest trouble. My go to mode is one of panic quickly overwhelming me and jumping to conclusions of the worst possible outcomes. I’m a perpetual Chicken Little – something comes up and no matter how small the issue I will run around screaming that the sky is falling. And no amount of people telling me “Zoey, calm down – things will turn out fine” will ease the chaos in my mind.
Okay, I exaggerate. But I do know what can help me out. In fact, I’ve known what can help me out since I began my graduate studies in social work. A concept called “self-care”.

Self-care is exactly what it sounds like – caring for yourself. This can take many forms in mental, physical, and various other activities to keep yourself emotionally collected. Exercise and healthy eating are among the most recommended activities for self-care (besides being beneficial for physical health), but smaller activities like meditating, taking a bath, and cleaning also can calm people down when feeling stressed. There are as many articles out there about self care as there are methods of self care – a few examples can be found hereherehere, and here. Trying to engage in self-care in this time has been particularly hard in this time for me. Checking my social media feeds has proven futile as they have turned into cesspools of meltdowns.  I also currently split my work time between keeping up with disability developments, social media maintenance for work (hence not looking at Facebook and Twitter is not possible for me), attending as many community events as possible, and now working directly with clients. I have a full plate and not a lot of spare time to take the mental breaks I need.

My go-to method of self-care usually involves escaping into different mediums to avoid dealing with reality. Entertainment is a particularly favorite realm of mine – I’m always searching for new music to listen to (which I discussed my attachment to here), reading books on my Kindle, rewatching favorite YouTube videos, and binge-watching favorite and new movies and television shows. I also have the tendency to delve deep into my imagination, pretending I’m living in a different world and reenacting it when I’m alone. Engaging in these activities provides some relief, but I can’t image absorbing myself in them is particularly healthy for too long. There’s a difference between enjoying frivolity during downtime and letting that frivolity dominate your life. And at the end of the day, I’m aware retreating into escapism won’t always assuage the stressors of life.

This is where I’m constantly reminded of the importance of practicing self-soothing thoughts. Often called “mindful meditation”, this involves curating self-love and self-compassion by reflecting on the positive things in one’s life and person, releasing negative thoughts in healthy and constructive manners, letting go of things one can’t control, and reminding oneself of their individual strengths and power to make the best out of life. Mindful meditation is not easy – engaging in these mental exercises are particularly tough for me given my tendency towards spiraling into depression. It’s perhaps my greatest challenge in life to let go of the negative thoughts and feelings clouding my current worldview and sanity. Every day my family and therapist implore me to reflect on the good qualities I have and what I do to keep trucking through the world. I do the best that I can but it’s a process. I don’t know if or when I’ll get to a place where I can self-soothe naturally, but all I can do is try and that’s half the battle.

During a recent session with a client, the client expressed their stress over a recent bout of horrible events in the world. They were beside themselves absorbing the impact of news and confided fear about how it would directly affect their life. I know that fear too well, but attempting to be a source of strength for them I said to them the following:

“There are things that we simply cannot control. We cannot control what happens in the world – we can’t control natural disasters, we can’t control violence others commit, and we can’t always control what happens in the political sphere. But what we can control is how we live our lives. We can control what we do every day and how we look at ourselves and the world we live in. At the end of the day, we can only control ourselves and that’s how we can ensure that we’ll get by okay. What happens will happen but we can do the best we can for ourselves to make the best happen to us.”

As shocked as I am to find myself being able to say that, I’ll admit it’s pretty sound advice. No matter how big and anxiety-inducing as the world can be, we have the power to shape how we process and operate in it.  We can either let worst get to us and give up or we can reconcile with it and power through. It all comes down to how we take care of ourselves in what we do and what we think.

Now let’s all put that into practice.

Originally appeared on Jumping Out of the Fishbowl.