Handling stress: which one are you?

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Handling stress is one of the most difficult tasks when it comes to adulting – you have uni, work, a social life to maintain, maybe go to the gym and get your life together. Ultimately with more work, comes more stress – and it’s easy for us to sweep it under the carpet to worry about later, ‘cause we simply don’t have time for it.

I’m going to give you two metaphorical scenarios, and I want you to tell me which one fits you best.

Scenario one:

You’re struggling with inner conflict and turmoil. This [insert your negative emotion, rumination, anxiety, etc. here] regularly takes hold of your internal state. Externally, you might look cool, calm, and collected, perhaps even wearing a nice new professional outfit!

But internally, it’s the equivalent of sprinting desperately on a concrete track. You’ve got no water, your body is screaming at you to stop, and it’s scorching hot out. But stress monsters like ‘anxiety’ and ‘shame’ (or name them what you want) are chasing you. And you’re worried that if you stop, these monsters will consume you. What’s more, someone promised you that you’d find the necessary ammo to fight them on the next lap.

So, you keep running in loops, rarely giving yourself time to catch your breath – let alone settle in for a relaxing stretch or water break, which ultimately results in burnout.

Scenario two:

You’ve got some stress and conflict in your life. However, your internal state is the equivalent of taking a calm, casual stroll. You’re walking through a nice park, appreciating the scenery around as you sip from an ever-full water bottle.

Occasionally, a stress monster pops up in the brush. But instead of running away, you have the time, energy, and confidence to chat with the monster about what needs to be done. The conversation might get tense, but you’ll still walk away from it relatively unscathed. You’ll also be able to step right back into your relaxed, casual stroll.

When you’re faced with stress or inner conflict, which scenario sounds most familiar to you?

Are you the person sprinting circles in your mind, desperate to outrun the stress monsters and chase down an ever-elusive fix? Or are you the person taking a walk, ready and willing to face your stress because you trust you can move past it?

I’m sure all of you, at some point, have experienced both scenarios. The trouble is a lot of us get stuck in scenario one – and we revisit this sprinting, exhaustive state over and over again. So often, that we don’t even know what it’s like not to be sprinting or exhausted.

What’s the solution?

Before you get all out-of-sorts that I’ll lead you down a path of unrealistic expectations and self-discipline – take a breath. What most people skip when learning to manage stress – is discovering the source of their stress and how it makes them feel, this is where self-awareness comes into the picture.

Self-awareness is crucial for choice and control – it allows you to step back from your situation and view it objectively. When practiced regularly, you’re more likely to stay conscious of how your circumstances impact your daily routine – and make effective and lasting changes. Try out these questions below:

 A self-awareness activity

  1. How often do you experience inner conflict? Inner conflict means different things to different people. Learning to label when you feel conflicted is the first step. Perhaps you’re unsure of a decision, regret a choice, or feel vulnerable in your relationships. All of these shame and anxiety-fueled emotional states are inner conflicts.
  2. How do you feel when experiencing inner conflict? Step one: identify when you feel inner conflict. Step two? Identify how it makes you feel. Most of us have regular patterns or physical reactions to inner conflict. What are yours?
  3. When do you experience the longest moments of inner peace? Inner peace is not a permanent state that, once you reach it, you’re done. It’s also not a five-minute moment. To feel inner peace about something, you must feel truly calm and open to the events happening in your life. When do you feel this?

If you’re on the lookout to managing your stress, The Wellbeing Team at the University offers resources. Take a look at the Mental Health & Wellbeing website or check out these 10 Tips to Stress Less at University.

Sarah Cupitt

Sarah Cupitt (pronounced like Que-Pitt) is an ambitious university student, journalist and writer interested in…

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