Relieve Stress move on to Plan B

Three Effective Ways to Relieve Stress in Tough Times

Summary: When times are tough, overwhelming stress can feel unavoidable. But there are some important steps we can take to reduce stress and manage our emotions more effectively. Based on the advice of experts and my own experience, these three practices are key to reducing stress and increasing resilience in tough times.

Three Effective Ways to Relieve Stress in Tough Times

“Life isn’t about how you manage Plan A, it’s about how you cope with Plan B,” 

Stephanie Lee, clinical psychologist 

The quote above reminds us that there are two essential things in life: our plans, and our lived experience. Often, the two aren’t the same. Never has that been more true than now. 

We’ve said our goodbyes to Plan A and are living Plan B with an eye on Plan C. Things are still shifting day by day. How do we relieve stress and maintain our sanity and sense of well-being while living in turbulent times?

How to Relieve Stress in Turbulent Times

Based on my own experience and the advice of experts, these three things are key.

Woman relieves stress by swinging in a hammock

Make self-compassion a top priority. We live in a results-focused society, which means we fall into the trap of thinking our self-worth is tied to our productivity. As a result, we spend our time running around trying to accomplish things. We forget that we are primarily emotional and social creatures whose basic needs lie outside the scope of pure functionality. We also live in an unpredictable world.

A productivity-focused sense of self-worth is especially dangerous right now. The mindset detracts from our ability to meet the physiological and psychological needs that are especially important right now. These needs include getting enough rest, maintaining some sense of stability and security amidst upheaval, and finding ways to connect meaningfully with others in a time of social distancing.

We’re living in a highly unpredictable and uncontrollable environment. To relieve stress and increase well-being, Instead of focusing on what we accomplish each day, we should focus on extending the same type of grace, kindness and care we’d offer a good friend. 

“Since brokenness is the way of folks, the only way to live peacefully is to forgive everyone constantly, including yourself.”

Glennon Doyle

Many of us are juggling an insane number of demands under ridiculous circumstances. For now, let’s set aside the role of being our own Taskmaster in Chief. 

Instead of heaping more stress on yourself, adopt a more self-compassionate point of view. Rather than starting each day with a list of unrealistic expectations for yourself that you can use to beat yourself up with at the end of the day, consider an approach that’s more self-care-oriented. Go ahead and hope for anything you’d like, but expect nothing. View anything you actually accomplish as a small miracle, something to be savored and celebrated. If you get three things done – why, that’s three things that weren’t done the day before! Go, you!

Which brings me to…

Take into Account the New Reality

Lower your standards. Nope, lower… I strongly recommend that you temporarily (by which I mean, for as long as necessary) throw a social distancing-approved plexiglass partition up between your “normal standards” and your “coronavirus standards”. We’re all trying to build a new plane while flying it. Really, our only goal should be not to crash the plane. Every other priority can take a back seat.

This isn’t a time to fret over the fact that your productivity or work quality isn’t up to its usual standards, or that snacking has become your household’s new favorite past-time (we’re all putting on the “COVID 20”), or that the kids are spending too much time on their iPads. 

Woman carries baby on her back during a walk to relieve stress

Instead, relieve stress by adopting more compassionate and appropriate standards for this time. Is there food in the house (some of it nutritious)? In your job, are you getting a few meaningful things done and supporting your colleagues who are also struggling, while maintaining your own health and sanity? Do your kids feel safe and loved? 

If so, experts say you can relax. 

According to the Child Mind Institute, “It’s time to lower our expectations. You won’t be able to do as much as you usually can as a parent, employee or partner. Instead, experts recommend focusing on you and your children’s emotional state and strive to maintain positive family dynamics.” 

“Happiness at any given moment equals reality minus expectations.”

Research shows that lowering your standards can make you happier, and being happier boosts your immune system, combats stress and makes you more productive. Reframing your expectations is the first step in managing the present situation, while also maintaining your health and sanity. These are much more important considerations than whether your 5-year-old is eating enough veggies or you’re a rock star at work. 

Which brings me to…

Make Time for Joy

Woman smells a yellow flower to relieve stress

Make time for activities that bring you joy. Moments of joy help make you happier, too, which again relieves stress and helps preserve your health and sanity. What is joy, exactly, and how does it differ from happiness?

Joy expert Ingrid Fetell Lee explains it this way: “Happiness…is a broad evaluation of how we feel about our lives over time.”

“Unlike happiness, joy is momentary and small-scale: It comes from an intense, momentary feeling of positive emotion,” explains Ian Bogost in his article for The Atlantic, “The Infrastructure of Joy”. Joy does contribute to our overall happiness level, but it’s easier to find on a daily basis because it’s less complicated in scope.

There are specific steps you can take to increase the amount of joy – and therefore decrease the amount of stress – you experience each day. For example, making a point to celebrate small wins can help you experience joy. Did you finish that critical work project despite obstacles? Rejoice! Did your kid actually take a nap today which gave you a little down time? Fabulous! Were you able to get outside for a while and enjoy a beautiful day? Hallelujah!

Curious to learn more? Our JOY GUIDE is full of great ideas to help you find joy each day even in tough times.

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