Certain amount of stress is pretty much a given and to be expected in this life. Smooth sailing is a nice and (temporarily) achievable dream and worthwhile resting place, but for the most part stagnation in this eternal bliss is impossible because not everything will always go your way. So if some amount of stress cannot be avoided it’s only logical to take it as a given and make yourself a strong net to fall on when it hits. Although we all experience stressful situations or periods, it seems that some of us cope better. Why would that be? Why do some sink and are torn to bits by the centrifuge while others learn to swim and take the current as a guide and teacher? How well we cope with stress is a good topic for a multifactor analysis because there is no single answer. It is somewhere at the intersection of personality traits, temperament, histories, choices and willingness as well as social circumstance and mind-set, but there are some tested and tried certainties that bulletproof us from being annihilated by prolonged stress and that pretty much keep us from going off into the deep end.
So the first thing is – you need to vent. You need an outlet for your frustration, a hobby, a ritual, a release of some sort, be it you close yourself off for a few hours to cry, be it doing yoga, punching a boxing bag, crocheting pillowcases, talking to your plants or your fish, going for hiking trips or creating weird metal sculptures. It really doesn’t matter. Whatever you like to do which makes you feel cantered, fulfilled and balanced again. Whatever lowers cortisol and rises dopamine for you, do it. This will keep you sane.
Second is that we respond far better to stressors we are ready for, that we see coming or which have a predictable expiration date. In order to predict, and therefore have a sense of control, you need to know things. Get informed about whatever it is and think about it intelligently. If you can see a storm approaching you can hunker down and fortify the shields. Feeling you’re in control even if the thing is not pleasant gives you a better fighting chance. We deal better with the stress we in which we don’t feel helpless. If you know enough you can fight it and maybe even win. Learn more, notice more.
Third is the support of your social network. Having healthy relationships and friendships is one of the best predictors of life satisfaction and the ability to recover from hardship, stress and trauma. No matter how introverted you are, we need each other and having someone to talk to about the hard and important stuff can save our mental health and life. Friends are important because it will sometimes get to hard to do everything on your own. Social isolation is one of the hardest things on the soul and body. There is a reason why exhale from one’s community was considered to be the ultimate punishment.
Finaly – We need a sense of control and predictability. We do better in a stressful situation if we believe we choose to undertake it as a sacrifice for something we deem more important, and something which will improve our life, life of loved ones or community. If we willingly step up, rather than hide, keep our head down and pretend we’re not there, we’ll perform much better and without getting bitter or angry at the injustice of life which shoved this suffering upon us. We can often choose the lesser of two evils and the notion of us as active agents in pursuit of betterment rather than victims makes all the difference in how well we’ll handle ourselves.
If you put this four pillars up right, intense stress may be just a bruise or a cut instead of a critical wound. Cuts and bruises heal and tell the story of a life lived out with courage and intent, not as a thing stored stagnant for safe keeping. Face things, deal with them, don’t forget you’re not alone, get an outlet and take some control where you can. Brace for impact and ride it out. There’s no shame in having a hard time with something or needing help. No matter how far away they are, all oceans have shores. You can swim. We can swim.