Everyone knows the pain of stress, marked by big sighs, gentle complaints to friends, maybe even some tears. But there comes a time in everyone’s life when that stress turns into something insurmountable: you can’t sleep, you can’t eat and every breath you take feels like a death rattle. Often, these stress levels arise from personal issues--a death in the family or a break-up, perhaps you’re on the verge of losing your job or maybe you’re realizing that something in your life is just fundamentally wrong. These issues are valid. They are real reasons for stress to completely inhibit your ability to function. Here are some ways to get going again when the going is really tough.
1. Talk it out.
Nothing is worse than bottling up negative emotions. They’re inherently explosive and that bottle won’t hold as much as you think. It’s imperative that you find someone trustworthy in whom you can confide. Stress-management therapy appointments at colleges and universities are often free services, and if the counselor feels you may need more support, they’ll be able to recommend someone off-campus to see on a more long-term basis. But therapy isn’t an option for everyone. Perhaps you don’t have health insurance or you’re still a minor and don’t want to disclose your distress to your parents, or you just don’t feel comfortable talking with a stranger. If that’s the case, a partner or good friend who has supported you in the past will likely support you through this time, too. If nothing else, write in a journal. Getting your feelings out in any way, shape or form will alleviate your stress, even if it’s not an immediate fix.
2. Consider your limits.
If you are taking 18 credits, working full time, struggling to pay for groceries and (for the icing on the cake) in the midst of a personal crisis, it is definitely time to reconsider how much you’re able to take on. Often, we feel as though we must take on huge amounts of work in order to succeed, but that simply isn’t the case, especially when doing so much is inhibiting your ability to function normally. Remember: changing your long-term plan won’t kill you. If you have to drop a class or take out a loan or end a relationship that’s dragging you down, you will survive.
3. Research stress-management techniques.
So many articles will tell you, “just breathe.” Yes, while slow, deep breaths will calm you, it can feel patronizing to read an instruction so simple when your feelings are so complex. Breathing and yoga and drinking water aren’t your only options. There are thousands of emotion regulation worksheets available online (check out some that detail my favorite Dialectical Behavior Therapy techniques here) that can help you utilize skills to manage your stress when you feel unable to function. Distress tolerance exercises will teach you how to ride the wave of emotion using specific techniques like grounding, radical acceptance and TIP (temperature change, intense exercise, and progressive relaxation). Even after this time of seemingly-unbearable stress and anxiety is over, emotion-regulation skills are incredibly helpful when dealing with others, tackling mental illness and helping you learn more about yourself.
Remember that your feelings are valid. You are worth the energy it takes to pursue and rediscover well being. The pursuit of mental health isn't always soft and cushy. It’s not always bubble baths and long walks and quality time alone. When you are in crisis, it’s gritty and unpleasant and feels like running a marathon over hot coals. But, even marathons have a finish line.