How I Manage Stress (Without Controlling My Body)
We all have stress in our lives. Whether it’s work, school, relationships, money, or any number of other challenges, stress is pretty much inevitable. What we can decide, however, is how we respond to stress.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was dealing with all the normal stresses that come with being 14: struggling to adjust to a new academic environment, trying to make friends, worrying about my low snapchat score, and longing to feel ~popular~. None of those experiences are unusual, but I felt like I was the only one who felt stressed and insecure, so I decided to deal with my anxieties by trying to change my body.
Because I grew up in diet culture- watching movies full of makeover montages, reading fat-shaming magazine articles, etc.- I thought that if I ate “perfectly” and lost weight, people would like me better. Unfortunately, that insecurity and fixation on “health” only led to isolation, even more stress, and eventually an eating disorder that took years to recover from. Obviously in hindsight I can see that this was a terrible plan, but I don’t judge my younger self for wanting to control her body because it was all she knew. And though I’m not grateful for my eating disorder, I am grateful for the perspective it has given me on issues such as intuitive eating, body acceptance, and healthy stress management.
I just graduated high school last month,, so the past year has been pretty crazy. I’ve applied to college, taken some really challenging classes, tried to spend as much time as possible with friends, and fluctuated between excitement and terror at the through of moving away from home. And despite the fact that I consider myself about 95% recovered, when I get really stressed I do still feel the impulse to control my body. Therefore, it’s been crucial for me to developing coping strategies that have nothing to do with food or intense exercise and instead truly just make me feel good.
My Stress Management Strategies
Talk it out
This one is huge for me. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or insecure, the first thing I do is sit down with my mom or FaceTime a friend and explain what I’m feeling, why I might be feeling that way, and the type of support that I need. I’m a pretty emotional person, so this part usually involves some level of crying (either a lone tear or full on sobbing) and honestly that’s pretty cathartic too. I’m also a huge proponent of therapy (though I’m aware it’s a privilege to have that resource) and I think that having a completely non-judgemental space to work through one’s challenges is incredibly helpful.
Get a hug
Hugs are seriously so underrated. Getting a hug both reminds me that I have people to support me, and it helps release so much of the physical stress that I carry in my body. In fact, this Scientific American article explains that receiving hugs can even reduce one’s risk of stress-induced illness.. And if you don't have people around you who you're comfortable hugging (I imagine I might not for the first few weeks of college), this study shows that spending time with animals gives similar results, so visiting a local animal shelter and cuddling with puppies totally counts.
Watch an episode of your favorite show
When I was going through the college application process, I had to deal with more rejection than I’d ever faced before in my life. Though I knew rejection was an inevitable part of the process, the perfectionist people-pleaser in me really struggled to accept that I couldn’t be the right fit for every school. So I developed a strategy to deal with the feelings of inadequacy that arose throughout the process. I would give myself a few minutes to feel my feelings- cry, journal, punch a pillow, etc- and then I would turn on an episode of NCIS. Though the show itself couldn’t make me feel better, the action and drama got me out of my own head, and getting caught up in someone else’s story gave me the distance and perspective I needed to approach my own feelings in a calmer, more rational way.
Focus on gentle movements
When I feel badly about myself or my body, I’m often tempted to try to get rid of that discomfort through intense exercise. And in the moment, going for a run or hitting the gym does make me feel a little better, but it’s really just a bandaid. In order to get to the root of what’s bothering me, I usually press pause on formal exercise and instead engage in gentle movement, such as yoga or walking, that let me unplug and tune into my own thoughts.
Be mindful about caffeine
This one is hard for me because I absolutely love coffee and don’t want to deprive myself. However, if i’m completely honest, too much caffeine makes me feel pretty awful, especially if I’m already stressed. So when I start feeling extra anxious, I try to cap my coffee consumption at one small cup or swap it out entirely for a cozy mug of tea or hot water with apple cider vinegar and honey.
Listen to an audiobook at night
Getting plenty of sleep is really important for my mental health, and it's even more crucial when I'm dealing with a lot of stress. Unfortunately, I often find it hard to sleep during stressful periods in my life because as soon as I lie down my mind starts racing. This creates a challenging cycle because if I can't sleep, I can't deal with my stress in a healthy way, but that very same stress prevents me from sleeping well. Luckily, I've found that listening to a comforting audiobook as I fall asleep (Harry Potter is my go-to) works wonders to quiet my mind and help me fall asleep faster.
Katherine Weltzien is the blogger behind Primarily Plants and the host of The Brains Behind the Brands podcast. Some of her favorite foods are strawberries, roasted cauliflower and mint chip ice cream. When she's not experimenting in the kitchen or interviewing incredible entrepreneurs for her podcast, she loves visiting cute cafes, going for walks in Golden Gate Park, and reading everything from Scientific American articles to romance novels.