Listen to Benedict Cumberbatch, and take a deep breath. Let’s talk about stress. I’ve been dealing with stress my whole life. Most likely, so have you. It’s not my fault, it’s not your fault, that’s simply how the world works, by making us deal with one stressful situation after the other. Most of the times, stress has been a motivation for me. It makes me work faster. Too often, however, stress can be paralyzing. The easy way out is to simply do nothing, quit and take yourself out of the game. Throughout the years I’ve come up with some coping mechanisms for my stress. They helped me, and they might help you as well.
The best way to escape reality is to immerse yourself in a different reality. Whenever I feel too overwhelmed by what life is throwing at me, I always use a book as my shield. Pick an old favourite, like Harry Potter, or try reading something new. If you’re not in the mood for literature, try reading fan fiction. The beauty of fan fiction is that you can control what you are about to read, meaning that you can control the emotional state you’ll be in after your reading experience. Nora Ephron sums up the magic of reading perfectly: “Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real” (from I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman).
LISTEN TO YOUR FAVOURITE MUSIC
Music is therapy. There is a song for every mood, so when you feel that you can’t handle whatever is bringing you down, put on your headphones and blast some music. I find it very helpful to make playlists according to my many moods. I have playlists for when I’m angry, when I need to feel positive, when I need to relax, when I’m too sad to function etc. I cannot remember a time of my life without some background music. I associate songs and artists with my moods. Lately, every playlist I make has some R.E.M. and Morrissey in it. Find the music you like the most and let it take your mind off whatever might trouble you.
DON’T STRESS-EAT—BINGE-WATCH INSTEAD
Instead of worrying over your problems, trade them for a made-up reality. There is no shame in binge-watching your favourite show. My favourite shows to binge-watch are Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Recreation and The Office. I associate binge-watching with relief. For 42 minutes, I can pause all my worries and focus on Meredith Grey’s worries. For 22 minutes, my problems are put aside as Leslie Knope really wants to build park. It’s no secret that I love The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I went through a binge-watching loop of both trilogies. For two weeks I would watch both trilogies on repeat, allowing Middle-Earth to become the centre of my world while I was slowly getting back on my feet. It wasn’t the healthiest of approaches, but it helped me.
TREAT YO SELF
Seriously, TREAT. YO. SELF. Take a bath, light some scented candles, do a face mask, just treat yo self. There are no rules here. Do whatever makes you relax. The thing is, we are often being too hard on ourselves. Every once in a while, we should spoil ourselves. Buy yourself something fancy. If you’re not the material type and detest excessive consumerism, pamper yourself with an activity that will make you forget all the awfulness of the world. Which leads us to…
FIND YOURSELF A HOBBY
Find yourself a hobby and stick to it. I recently taught myself how to knit. I was going through a phase of overwhelming stress, so I had to find a way to self-medicate without taking actual medication. I don’t know why I chose knitting. It wasn’t an easy hobby at first. Many times I almost gave it up, frustrated by my inability to co-ordinate my hands. I’m glad I stuck to it though. Once I got over the initial awkward phase, I soon discovered the soothing qualities of knitting. There is something incredibly reassuring in being able to see every stitch slowly turning into a scarf. If knitting is not your cup of tea, there are many hobbies that will both distract you from the ugliness of the world, but also help you control your stress levels. Tip: nothing is impossible when there is a YouTube tutorial for it.
Dealing with stress is not easy. My way of dealing with stress is part-denial, part-distraction. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It works for me, but it might not work for others. We don’t often talk about stress, and quickly dismiss it with phrases like “I’m just tired”. It’s okay to seek professional help if you feel that you can no longer control your stress. Battling stress is exhausting, mostly because you never know who the real enemy is. It often feels as if you are being sabotaged by your own body and mind. If you feel as if you’re drowning, don’t let yourself sink. Talk to a friend, write your thoughts down, be kind to yourself. Take care of your mental health and don’t be ashamed. We all go through dark times.