Everyone knows the holidays can be stressful.
But do you know how your stress manifests and how you can best get it under control?
As you know, the Human Emotional System has three channels it uses to communicate with you: thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Did you know that your stress likely shows up earlier than you think through one of these three channels?
And that you can most effectively manage your stress through one of these channels?
That formula is specific to you.
So, that’s what we’re going to do right now.
Figure out your Stress Management Formula.
Step ONE: What are the first signals you get that let you know stress is here?
Are you the person that becomes more irritable, snappy and impatient?
Do you start eating more treats and snacks?
Do you start thinking you hate everything?
The first example would be of someone whose stress coming through emotions, the second through behaviors and the third through thoughts.
The goal is to find which channel gives you the earliest signal. The sooner you catch it, the better you will be able to bring the stress back under control.
I know, you can handle a lot and you feel like you shouldn’t have to do this stress management stuff.
But then fast forward to the moment when you are screaming at your loved one for something that is not a big deal. Are you feeling good about that? Probably not. Can you handle the stress? Yes. You probably will survive. Would you like to handle it that way? No. Ok, then.
What is the earliest sign of your stress?
When you think about the answer to this question, is that signal an emotional, behavioral or thought signal?
Here are some examples so you know what I mean:
Stress Signals that Come Through Emotion:
- becoming irritable or impatient
- taking things more personally than you normally would
- feeling like everything is a bigger deal than it really is or, in other words, easily overwhelmed
- something manifesting in your body such as headaches, muscle pain, stomachaches
- staying up later than you know you should
- engaging in emotional eating or stress eating (usually cravings for more carbs or sugar)
- disengaging from healthy habits such as working out or meditating
- rushing or not giving yourself enough time
- things falling through the cracks (forgetting to pay an important bill or respond to an email)
Thought Based Stress Indicators:
- having thoughts of hating everything
- finding yourself gossiping or being very judgmental
- ruminating (going over problems or anxieties again and again)
- racing thoughts that interrupt your sleep
- catastrophizing (believing that things are a bigger deal than they are or will definitely lead to the worst case scenario)
- help rejecting (being resistant to anyone offering solutions)
Now that you know what the signal is and which channel it is coming through…
Step TWO: What is the way that has worked best in the past to calm down your stress?
If you know that you manage stress better when you exercise, then that could be a clue that communicating with your internal world through action or behavior may be the most effective channel for you to bring down stress levels.
Your stress can manifest through one channel (emotion) and be most effectively reduced through a different channel (thoughts). Or, your stress manifests through one channel (behavior) and is best addressed through that very same channel (behavior).
That’s the trick, to find YOUR formula.
Even better to have this fresh in your conscious awareness so when the holiday stress creeps up, you can catch it and nip in the bud. That way, you can enjoy a more lovely holiday season.
So, now you have in your mind what has always worked best to relieve your stress and the channel it comes through.
What you have used in the past to reduce stress may not be practical right now, so here is a list of stress management strategies that are categorized by thought, feeling and behavior so you can check out some options for your system’s most effective channel for managing stress.
- connect with a friend and talk about what is going on for you. Sometimes someone just knowing what you are going through and your feelings being heard (that’s the main thing they want), can be a relief.
- connect with a friend or loved one and talk about them. This helps disengage your brain from your stuff and gives you a little emotional space from it. Sometimes that brings perspective.
- build present moment awareness by focusing on your senses (this could be mindfulness meditation) to help practice dealing with what is present in this very moment. This can help relax the nervous system (it gets revved up with stress) and give you the sensation of having a little bit more space to deal with what is going on.
- allow yourself some unscheduled time so you can do what you feel like doing (it’s worth it if this ultimately makes you less resistant and more productive when you have to do the things that stress you out).
- work out
- take your dog for a longer walk
- park your car in the farthest spot in the parking lot
- ride your bike outside
- use the stairs rather than an elevator
- play with your kids
- set up a hike or a work out with a friend to keep you accountable
- get a massage
- schedule an energy healing session (like reiki or bioenergy)
- go to a yoga class
- delegate responsibility (let someone help you or don’t be the first one to offer help)
- say no things you really don’t want to do
- cross some stuff off your to-do list (yes, I mean things you didn’t actually do)
- get organized –start your holiday gift lists now! Get your kids wish lists the week of Thanksgiving. Tons of articles are being published for gift ideas right now
- increase your efficiency by getting the same gift for multiple people (not because you are lazy, but because it is a great gift that many people would like)
- focus on getting to bed earlier
- Reframe the stressor. For example: Is the stressor short term? Remind yourself of that “this will be done soon”. Or, if there is some stress (like holiday shopping or travel) that will result in a fun time or the joy of seeing someone else receive your gift, keep reminding yourself of that.
- Look at the big picture, getting some perspective helps. Is it really as horrible and terrible as you think?
- Break whatever the stressor is into smaller, more manageable bits and schedule that out so you know you will have enough time and it doesn’t have to overwhelm you.
- Prioritize tasks. When there is much too much, look at your stuff and prioritize what is time sensitive. Leave the rest.
- Use distraction. Yup. I said it. Distract yourself from the stress to give yourself a break. Think about something you enjoy thinking about, think about someone else’s stress if you want. Watch a show or youtube video that distracts you– pick your poison- cute animal videos, disgusting videos, bloopers, fails, low brow television–whatever. Just give yourself some mental space when you know your thinking is becoming unproductive.
- Set up some support for yourself. Start seeing a therapist.
So, what channel is the most effective channel for you to use to bring down your stress?
Now you have your channel where you first notice stress and the channel that most effectively manages stress. That’s your formula!
So you can see how it looks, here’s mine:
My stress first shows up emotionally with impatience and irritation. My stress is best managed by giving myself enough time and space by making sure there is unscheduled time for me to do what I actually want to do. That allows me to have time to meditate which creates emotional space for me as well. So I’m the type of person where my stress shows up through the emotional channel and is best managed through the emotional channel.
A person who experiences their stress through one channel but manages the stress through a different channel would look like this: The first signal of stress is behavioral: stress eating. Their best way to reduce the stress is thought-based: reframing the stressor (this is so my kid has some meaningful holiday memories) or putting things in to perspective (this is a short time of stress and it will be done) works best.