We recently celebrated National Stress Awareness Day (as if we all weren’t already aware of our stress!). Seriously, though, it is important to shine a light on the increasing amount of stress that plagues many of us on a regular basis. In addition to the conflicts that can come up when we’re fighting an eating disorder, we also experience stress in other areas of our lives, such as work, school, romantic relationships, and friendships.
No matter where someone is on the journey to recovery, stress can be a major barrier to maintaining wellness and engaging in appropriate self-care.
In addition to knowing how to manage stress, it’s also important to know what triggers it and how it impacts our bodies. Notice how you can tell that you are stressed out. Check in with your body first.
- Are you more tired than usual, or are you having trouble sleeping?
- Do you feel tightness in your muscles?
- Have your hunger and/or fullness cues changed?
- Are you having headaches?
- Some people even develop chronic illnesses after dealing with a high amount of stress for long periods of time.
Next, consider your cognitive/emotional cues.
- Have you been more irritable?
- Do you feel like you can’t turn off the messages that are playing over and over inside your head of all the things you need to get done or take care of?
- You might find yourself saying or thinking something like, “I’ve had it up to here!” (with the accompanying hand gesture, of course).
Now that we are noticing our stress, let’s go over a few ways to decompress and de-stress!
- First of all, check in regularly with yourself about what you need to support your body, your mind, and your soul/heart. Figuring out what we need is an integral part of getting those needs met. (Side note: If you feel embarrassed or guilty about the needs you identify, I want to remind you that every single one of us has needs. Needs make us human, and we deserve for them to be met.)
- Use those DBT skills. Let’s remind/teach everyone about some relevant mindfulness and distress tolerance skills. If you are extremely stressed or overwhelmed, use distraction until you feel you can go back to the situation with a level head. Be gentle and kind to yourself, validating your experiences along the way. Self-soothe using your five senses. Try progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or taking a hot bath or shower when possible to recharge. Make sure you are focusing on one thing at a time. And, lest we forget: self-care, self-care, self-care!
- It. Out. If you’ve met me, you saw this one coming. If not, let me tell you why crying makes it onto the list. Crying is a fantastic skill to use when we are overwhelmed or stressed. Not only does it let us be in our emotion and process through some of it, but it is also a huge release for our bodies. We are all bundles of energy that are moving and changing all the time. When things build up, we have to find a release (and in wellness, this means finding a release that also doesn’t harm us). We actually release stress hormones in our tears when we cry. See the link at the bottom of this post if you want to check out the science for yourself!
- Laugh! Similar to crying, laughing releases stress in our bodies. It loosens tight muscles, reduces stress hormones, and can have many positive effects on overall health. Ideas here include watching a funny movie or TV show, calling someone who has a wonderful sense of humor, or going on YouTube (there is an endless stream of videos that are very funny – the ones with laughing babies and silly animals are my personal favorites). There’s a link at the bottom about the science of this, too!
- Reevaluate things when you feel more regulated. If you are in a job that is causing you significant ongoing mental anguish, is it beneficial for you to continue to stay in that environment? If you are in a friendship or other relationship that is stressing you out more than it’s benefiting you, will staying in this relationship support a healthy lifestyle? Reflect on these choices. Weigh the pros and cons.
All in all, decreasing stress starts with identifying it and taking actionable steps toward improving our well-being. Remember that you are not alone, and that reaching out for help from trusted friends, family, and providers can support you as you work toward making lasting changes in your life.
The benefits of crying with links to scientific studies: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319631.php
The benefits of laughing with links to scientific studies: http://mentalfloss.com/article/539632/scientific-benefits-having-laugh