Many of us probably feel some level of stress on a daily basis. For the most part, we can push through and handle ourselves. We count to ten, take a deep breath, go for a walk, or end our day with a bubble bath. These are great ways to manage stress. They can be quick and effective. Keep it up!
But, what about the seasons of overwhelm that are filled with harassing waves of stress that seem to consume our every thought and drown our days? You know the days I am talking about.
Tightness in your chest or stomach, disorganized or racing thoughts, endless demands on your time, no breaks at all, interrupted sleep–sometimes you even forget to eat!
Phases like this can be excruciatingly exhausting and extremely hard to navigate. So, what can we do?
In prolonged seasons of stress we need some long-term strategies to help us not only survive, but, hopefully, thrive and even grow.
To give myself some credibility on this topic, let me fill you in on what I have been walking through lately.
Stress in My Life
As I write this post I am exactly 34 weeks pregnant with my first child, a baby girl named Nora. So far the pregnancy has gone really well, but it is still a completely new experience filled with uncertainty and no real exact answers. Do I eat sushi or do I not? Do I continue to work out or do I not? No one has a black and white answer for pregnancy, so it can be stressful.
On top of this my husband, Lou, is in the process of changing careers. Not only is this a job switch, but it is a switch to ministry where he has to completely fundraise his salary. Fundraising a salary to support our family, yep, that is something we have never done. Completely changing careers is stressful, especially with a family to support.
Lastly, with only 6 weeks left until our due date, we decided to buy our first home. If this goes through, our closing date is November 1st. Our due date is November 22nd. That means we have exactly 21 days to clean a new home, move everything, and settle in… All while I am super pregnant and simply cannot help as much as I would normally. Plus, babies sometimes come early.
Yikes! Talk about a stressful situation.
So, to sum it up, in the next two and a half months, my husband and I will have bought a home, moved, had a baby, and switched careers. When I tell you I have NEEDED these three strategies to navigating high-stress seasons of life, I am absolutely telling the truth.
Keep in mind that I am not a doctor or mental health therapist. I am simply a 30-year-old woman trying to navigate life as best I can in the healthiest way possible. These are my top three strategies to not only get through, but to grow though, phases of prolonged stress and come out the other side feeling lighter and better prepared to continue moving forward one more day.
Strategy #1: Slow Down
Trust me, I know how impossible this sounds and feels. I am very much an achiever who is always looking for something to do, and rest can be very difficult for me. I promise you that it is possible to slow down, and it gets easier with practice. In my experience, this is a game-changer. When I take time to slow down, it sets my brain on track for calmer thoughts, more focused actions, and overall better emotional stability throughout my day. Raise your hand if that sounds amazing!
How to Slow Down to Manage Stress
How exactly do you slow down?
Create stricter time boundaries. It may not always seem like it, but you have control over your schedule. Your time is a precious resource. Your time holds tremendous value for yourself and those around you. Do not give your time away frivolously or freely, especially during seasons of high-stress.
This does not mean you are not available to help others, complete your work, or take your kids to baseball practice. What it means is that you are consciously deciding to set limits to the amount of time you are giving out versus the amount of time you are giving to yourself. I am sure you have heard the phrase, “you cannot pour out of an empty cup.” It is true! If you do not take time to fill yourself first, then you will be completely spent by lunch. And, news flash, you still have half the day left!
Set time aside in the morning and the evening for yourself. You might have to start in small increments and build up, but I recommend a minimum of 30 minutes in the morning and evening. Remember this is not about “fitting in” these bits of time. This is about scheduling yourself as a priority and making it a necessity within your day to slow down.
Slow down and think about what you want to, not what the world tells you to.
Slow down to breathe. Pay attention to how it feels.
Slow down to take a break from noise and screens.
Here are my morning and evening routines as an example. Note that I still use my time efficiently, but with the intention of slowing down.
Morning Routine Example
Wake up and start the coffee pot. While it is brewing, I help myself out by starting to get ready for my day with simple tasks that do not take too long. I use the restroom, put in my contacts, brush my hair, pick out my outfit for the day, and, if there is time, I get dressed. But when the coffee pot beeps I stop.
I go pour a cup with my favorite creamer (this changes by season, but right now it is Pumpkin Pie Spice), sit on my couch, and get my Bible out. I sit down and read scripture, or think, or journal. My 30 minutes starts when I sit. Not before.
Starting my day in The Word is the most assuring and empowering thing. God guides our steps. He has good things planned for us. He will not abandon us. God gives us strength when we have none. When I start my day with Him, my heart and head and body are set firm on a foundation that cannot by shaken. With a power like that, I can get through any day. But, days are hard, so I need to hear this every morning.
Evening Routine Example
This varies greatly based on my day and what we have planned. But my hard set rule is my time boundary.
A minimum of 30 minutes before bed I turn off all screens. No phone, no TV, no computer. I set your phone on “do not disturb.” (You can program it to allow only specific calls to come through with volume, which allows you to be reached if there was an emergency.) Aside from that, I am not receiving rings, bings, or pings of any notification. My options are endless as long as that rule is followed.
This time is intended for a slow down. My favorite two options are taking a bath with instrumental music playing, or sitting in bed to read or journal. If this sounds like it would be very difficult for you at first, find some ways that make this time extra special.
For example, when I get into bed to read I use one of my favorite decorative pillows. When I choose to take a bath, I use salts or bubbles. When I journal, I try to use a fun colored pen. These simple touches bring me a little bit of sweet happiness that makes these actions extra special to me.
The Bible on Slowing Down
God reminds us to slow down!
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;Psalm 46:10-11
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Strategy #2: Talk to Someone
What is a situation that will definitely increase your stress level?
When someone gets upset with you.
On top of everything else you are dealing with, now you have a relational strain.
Come on, world! Give me a break!
Doesn’t this seem inevitable though? It always happens, but why?
Usually it is because your stress is causing higher tension from you even if you do not realize it. Stressed people tend to respond shortly, and without a happy smile. Stressed people tend to get annoyed more easily, and they tend to express said annoyance.
So, let’s help ourselves out, shall we?
Strategy #2 is to tell someone, or multiple people if necessary, how you are feeling during a stressful season of life.
To be clear, this does not mean walking around your office, telling everyone that you are stressed, and expecting them to treat you differently!
But, for the closest people in your life, this is a very effective strategy that not only benefits you, but also your loved ones.
How to Talk to a Loved One About Stress
Identify the main people with whom you interact extensively and with whom you have a loving relationship. Talk to them.
For me, this is my husband. We navigate life together, so our stresses are often the same. However, we experience and process stress completely differently. I am much more emotional than he is, and I process externally while he processes internally. Basically this means that I talk so much I get myself into trouble. Meanwhile he is not talking, so then I assume he doesn’t care. Of course that is not true, but it does stress me out. The result is that I usually end up crying to him at some point.
I have learned this solution. During times of stress, Lou and I have check-ins. They are informal and sometimes last only one minute. The first few times you have a check-in with someone, I would anticipate the conversation to last no more than ten minutes. Try not to let it go beyond this, because then emotions might start flying and you could get off topic. As check-ins continue, do not be surprised if they only need to last a few minutes. You begin to learn how to communicate well, plus your loved one is now familiar with the situation.
Tips for a Check-In
- Keep it simple.
- Come into this conversation knowing your intention.
- Express your feelings in a neutral way that claims accountability.
- Provide some simple ways that your loved one can help.
This type of check-in accomplishes three things.
First, you have openly shared that you are experiencing stressful emotions. You are admitting that it might be hard not to react at times in a heightened way, so you are trying to take accountability right from the start.
Second, this prepares the other person just in case you slip and have a salty moment. It helps them be ready not to react in surprise and anger, but instead with grace. It also may help them to feel included and loved.
Third, these check-ins give you the freedom to apologize without embarrassment or shame. You are human, so you might slip up, but your loved one knows it was not intentional. In fact, they know that you are trying not to react that way, so your response will hopefully be met with understanding. The two of you love each other, so ultimately, you want great things for each of you, and for your relationship.
Check-In Example #1
Here is an example of something I would say to a close friend that I haven’t had a ton of check-ins with.
Me: Hey, as you know I have been going through a lot of transitions right now and truthfully, I am feeling some heavy stress from all of it. I feel overwhelmed and am finding myself agitated frequently. I wanted to check-in with you, because you are someone that I trust, and I know you always want to help me. Please know that I genuinely care about you, and I appreciate our conversations. Obviously I hope this will not happen, but in case I ever respond in a hasty way that seems negative, I am sorry in advance. With everything going on, sometimes my emotions get the best of me, but I do not want to do that to you. If you are willing, I would really appreciate your help. Would it be possible for you to text me daily over the next two weeks, just to say hi or send me a word of encouragement? It would help keep me motivated and truly make me feel supported. Having your regular assurance brings a lot of peace.
Check-In Example #2
Here is an example of something I might say to Lou who I have had many check-ins with:
Me: Hey, I know we are both really feeling the stress right now. We always try to extend grace to each other, but let’s make the extra effort right now to extend grace for any misspoken words or actions. It would really help my stress levels this week if, before you go to bed, you could check the sink to make sure there are no dishes left. It truly helps my mornings start on a better foot when the kitchen is clean. Thank you! What is one way I can help you this week?
Strategy #3: Identify What You Can and Cannot Control
The third way to manage high-stress seasons in life is to identify what you can control.
This strategy works the fastest to reduce stress. However–it may be the hardest.
Don’t be intimidated!
Everyone responds differently, but for me, this strategy can be difficult. Luckily, with practice this gets much easier. Once you learn to implement the first two strategies into the third, you will be golden!
It’s important to identify what you can actually control. These are the mini aspects of every situation that you have actual power to affect. Dedicate your time and your brain power on these things.
Most of us feel high stress when there are situations in our lives that we cannot solve easily, quickly, or completely on our own. These situations can be especially stressful if you are working towards a specific outcome or goal. All of these situations have aspects that we can control and aspects that we cannot control.
Take time to identify the aspects on both sides. Make an actual list. Next, focus on the tasks you can complete. Doing this allows you to actively participate in the completion of your goal. You are doing it! You are working towards your goal, doing everything in your power to set yourself up for the most ideal outcome.
Beyond this, you cannot affect what is outside of your control. So, look back at your list. What aspects do you not have the ability to change, no matter how much thought and effort you contribute? Do not spend your time here! Say to yourself, “That is out of my control.”
Then, refocus your thoughts on what you can do. At some point you will reach the place where you realize that you have done all you can. This gives you the freedom to move your thoughts to a new situation or to some relaxation. Woohoo!
Let’s look at the example of my home-buying experience to give some tangible ways of how this might look.
The Stress of Buying a Home
Initially, Lou and I found a gorgeous home that was an incredible value for the listing price. We went to look at it and fell in love… But then we found out someone else had already submitted an offer that was accepted. Our realtor told us we could put in a counter-offer and hope for the best.
I barely slept that night, because I was trying to think of all the ways I could make us get this house. The next morning, I made my list.
What can I control? I can control;
- putting in an offer on the house
- continuing to look for other listings we might love
- the fact that we already have a pre-approval
What can I not control? I cannot control:
- the choices that the seller makes
- time or past decisions
- how quickly the other agent answers our questions
Most of my stressing and sleepless thoughts that night revolved around wishing I could change the timeline of events. I literally spent time wondering if I could just somehow do this–talk about sleep deprived! I do not have a time machine. Next, my brain sprinted off trying to figure out how I could change the seller’s mind. Again, not in my control.
Creating this list allowed me to look plainly at my situation. It allowed me to recognize that I was doing all I could to make the situation as favorable as possible in my direction. Then, it allowed me to identify and to let go of the things I could not control. That is the key right there.
Let go of the things you cannot control.
This creates space in your mind for what is actually worth your time and energy. Give yourself a mantra to repeat when you start thinking about what you cannot control. Mine is, “Lizzy, you cannot do anything about that. Move on.” And then I do. Even if 30 seconds later I am thinking about that same thing again. I repeat the mantra and move on. It gets easier. I promise.
The Bible on Worrying and Letting Go
God does not want us to worry! I love Matthew 6:25-34 for this reminder. Here are just two of these verses.
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?Matthew 6:26-27
Final Thoughts on Stress Management
Now that you know three ways to manage high-stress seasons of life, how do you apply these to your life?
Start with Strategy #3. Make your list of what you can and cannot control. A great time to reflect on this list is during your morning routine (part of Strategy #1). Take time each morning to recognize what you can and cannot control. Dismiss what you cannot, and accept what you can. Understand that you have an entire day to work on those things. Then allow yourself quiet time to think, read, journal, and get in The Word. Get in the right head space for the day ahead.
At night, take time to recognize what steps in your day you took to work towards your goal. Applaud yourself for those accomplishments, and give yourself grace for what you have left to do tomorrow. Reflect on the fact that you moved forward. Let the rest go.
Finally, Strategy #2. Implementing Strategy #2 means that you invite some loved ones to join you in this journey. They are there to help you and support you. Talk to them. Share your overwhelm and your accomplishments. Do it together, because life was not meant to be lived alone.
Bible Verses to Remember in Stressful Seasons
I want to share two final Bible verses to help you in stressful seasons of life. The first is from Proverbs.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.Proverbs 3:5
The second Bible verse is from Jeremiah.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:11-13
I hope these Bible verses combined with these three strategies will help you manage stressful seasons of life. How do you navigate high-stress seasons of life? Share your advice in the comments!