There’s a lot to stress over in the world right now, whether it has to do with the uncertainty of your health, employment, the stock market, or anything else causing you to feel out of control or overwhelmed. Stressors exist all around us nonstop, presenting themselves at varying degrees depending on what matters to you most. Stress can manifest itself in different ways for different people, and we all handle it in our own ways—sometimes in a good way and sometimes quite poorly.
The greatest stressors most often include change and uncertainty. As humans, we naturally seek out and crave control because it gives us a feeling of comfort and security. When something unexpected is thrown into our plans, we’re often scrambling around in fear, uncertainty and doubt wondering what we should do to properly cope.
As most of you I’ve had to learn how to navigate my own change in plans as the threat of COVID-19 continues to expand across the globe. With the North Carolina school systems closed down due to the virus, I’ve had to shuffle my plans abruptly to pick up or coordinate move outs of three of our six kids from their school campuses several hours away.
This all seemed like a minor hurdle to jump since my partner and I both have flexible work obligations and schedules that we designed just for times such as this. And I like to pride myself on managing change well, but sometimes it is just, well, A LOT, right?! What we hadn’t considered, you see, was that our kids also had a ton of stuff and friends that they needed to bring with them! Duh!
Obviously my stress grew as I tried to organize how this would all work smoothly. I needed to figure out where to store everyone’s belongings in our house, where they would sleep, where they could do their online coursework, and we still needed to shop for groceries to feed us AND extra mouths! Did I mention the laundry?
Triggers that Cause Stress
We all have things that trigger responses in us. So here’s why: positive and negative experiences from our pasts are what create all triggers, and when something reminds us—even slightly—of that past experience, we respond. It’s just how the human experience works. So, it’s normal but it doesn’t have to consume you.
One of the things that triggers me often when I get overly stressed, even though I am completely aware of it, is having to do things alone. When I’m alone and having to do, you know, “adulthood heavy lifting”—my thoughts sort of swirl around in my mind and I start feeling overwhelmed by my situation. Yep, I begin feeling overwhelmed, abandoned and, quite honestly, begin telling a story of being a victim to my circumstances. I have some pretty clear inklings about where these feelings stem from, but that’s all for another post (Wink, wink.) Let’s just say reacting this way is completely normal. I’m not broken, I’m just having a moment.
Here I am folding a fifth or sixth basket of laundry—alone in the house—when I’m suddenly bombarded with texts. We should get gas. Hey, another kid needs a place to stay. We’re going to need more groceries, aren’t we? OMG, Public school is now closed! Great, I think, this feels like prepping for a Hurricane but with no end in sight!
My thoughts spiral as I recognized all that needed to get done. And where was everyone? Great. There was no one in my immediate space to reassure me or make me feel supported in that moment. I felt like I was all alone in everything that needed to happen even though in the back of my head I knew I really wasn’t but, as you know, when you are triggered, the feeling is hard to shake. Instead of acknowledging my overwhelm and giving my mind and body a chance to rest itself, a coping mechanism I knew darn well was needed during times like these, I just kept adding responsibilities onto myself that only increased my stress. A very old habit of what is called “overfunctioning”.
Only You Can Show Up For You
And when my family did show up, unfortunately I was already so stressed out I resorted to blaming them for not showing up for me the way I would show up for them. Something that’s impossible for them to do because they AREN’T ME! No one can show up for you the way you show up for yourself.
You are human. This is something I already knew, of course, I am a coach and have done a ton of work, but it’s easy to forget it when we’re in an overly emotive state and haven’t taken the necessary self-care steps to avoid the stress. I expected something of those around me that they simply couldn’t give. Everyone shows up for their loved ones in different ways because we’re all unique in how we respond to things and we all are having different levels of stress and different life triggers. And that’s okay! That’s real. That’s normal. It’s not how long you go there, it’s how long you stay there.
Overcome Your Stress and Overwhelm
So how do you move out of the trigger and overcome the stress and overwhelm during times like COVID-19 when the world is seemingly spinning in chaos and uncertainty?
Start With YOU: Validate Yourself
First, recognize that your feelings are valid and common. Anyone in this situation, everyone in this case, is experiencing some sort of stress reaction. Emotional responses to stress range widely from person to person. Look, there’s no way to change your feelings, or the feelings of others for that matter, the only thing within our control is how we shift our reaction. Take a few minutes to sit back and take note of everything that’s going on around you and acknowledge how you feel. Remind yourself that it’s normal to feel this way in this moment and you’re going to get through this. Give yourself a pep talk if you have to! If you acknowledge your feelings, validate yourself, and remind yourself this is normal, you’ll feel a burst of energy and relief. I bet you’ll even let out a little sigh… and guess what, then you’ll have more energy to validate and support others.
Observe Yourself: Don’t Blame, Ask
STOP and take a deep breath. Observe how you are feeling. Remember, those around you might not know how to cope as well as you either, even if you feel like you’re barely coping yourself! Remember that if you’re feeling stressed out, other people are most likely going through very similar feelings. Role model for them. Try to treat those around you sensitively and with understanding, as if you were comforting yourself! Understand what matters most to you in this situation. Listen to what you need in that moment. And, now here is the key response, be honest and open with everyone around you by simply letting them know how you’re feeling at that moment.
Don’t blame. Start with “I” statements vs. “You” statements. Often you’ll find that this ownership and openness in the stressful situation begets more openness and can completely change an entire experience for everyone involved. You can’t get the support you need if you don’t ask and share what you are experiencing with those you need the support from first.
Own It: You First!
Look in the mirror. What do YOU need?
You can think it’s selfish all you want, but if you don’t take care of yourself during a time like this, you won’t be good to anyone around you. How can you help others if you’re exhausted, hungry, or completely distracted? Give yourself the proper amount of time to sleep, exercise, eat, pause and notice what is going well, look at the beauty around you even if it is from the window of your apartment. Stay grounded throughout your day, moment to moment, to avoid the stress triggers. This is the only way you’ll be able to survive and thrive.
Look, if you’re over-functioning like I habitually do, staying grounded is critical to fully help those around you get through this complicated time. Self care is not selfish.
As always, if you need to chat with someone, I’m here! Visit the coaching page or contact me if you need help navigating this stressful time.