We all face stressful situations; it's a regular part of life. How we deal with stress differs from person to person. I always admired those people who actually seemed to become stronger when faced with stress. Of course, the vast majority muddle through trying circumstances in one way or another. And then there are those of us who suffer from depression and anxiety.
It seems that for us, every stressful situation is life-changing. A stressful situation feels like a tidal wave of emotion that we're helpless to deal with. We often seek to hide or run away . . . not from the situation, but from the feelings the situation causes. It just looks like we're running from the situation.
You'll know I'm hiding from my feelings when you see me with a video game in front of me. I first learned to numb myself with video games clear back in the days of Atari. I once stared at the screen while playing a game of Atari Pitfall for so long without blinking that my contact lens dried up in my eye and popped out. Yes, folks, video games are my drug of choice.
As I'm becoming healthier and learning to deal with my emotions, I've learned that there's a difference between avoiding stress and distracting myself from stress. According to the authors of The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, avoiding stress is deciding not to deal with it, while distracting from stress is giving yourself time to calm down until you are able to deal with it.
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1. Engaging ActivitiesFind something you enjoy doing, something you can get lost in for a while. This can be anything from hobbies to housecleaning. Of course, if you're like me housecleaning doesn't fall into the enjoyable category, but it does for some people. I was raised by one of them, in fact. Apparently it's not hereditary. For me, it's more likely to be writing a blog post or reading a book, but for you it might be exercising or working in the garden. It could even be playing video games unless you're an addict like me. Then save those games for a less stressful time.
2. Think About OthersTake your mind off of your own pain by focusing on others. Do volunteer work. Make someone a gift. Call a friend to see how she's doing. Bake cookies for the children.
3. Look for Someone Who Has It WorseCompare your life to that of someone else who is worse off than you are. This makes it easier to count your own blessings. This is not do be done in a self-judgmental way: I shouldn't be whining when my problems are so small compared to his. Rather, it is to be done in a positive way: I can get through this when I see how much smaller my problems are.
4. Act the Opposite of the Way You FeelAlso known as fake it 'til you make it. Our actions help make our emotions, so change your actions to those which match the emotions you want to feel. Listen to calming music. Watch a funny movie. My favorite? Puppy and kitten videos via YouTube!
5. Push It AwayJust refuse to think about it. Put the situation in a mental box and refuse to take it out. Or physically remove yourself from the situation until you've given yourself a chance to control your emotions.
6. Fill Your Mind With Other ThoughtsWork a puzzle (I like Sudoku), watch T.V., read a book. Examine the natural world around you, count the colors in a tree, imagine images in the clouds. Daydream. Remember happy occasions in as much detail as you can summon. Spend time in prayer remembering to be thankful for your blessings.
7. Distract Yourself from Mental Pain with Physical SensationsSqueeze a rubber "worry ball." Get a handful of ice and see how long you can hold it. Engage in a little hugging, squeezing, and caressing with someone you love. Well, it really isn't a good idea to engage in those particular activities with strangers. I'd say definitely stick with a loved one.
How do you distract from stress? Leave other ideas in the comments!