Dealing with Stress

Lately I’ve been feeling like stress is at an all-time high. With the stressors of modern life combined with everything going on in the world, it takes a miracle some days to even get out of bed. A little bit of stress is good motivation to get moving (can anyone say deadlines?) But too much stress can send you on a downward spiral.

Stress can wreak havoc on your body, causing lowered immune systems, tension
headaches, stomach upset, and can also cause relapses on bad habits and emotional dysregulation. And the longer you’re under stress, the worse those things get, leading to more severe health issues, including mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

As a counselor, I see the impact of stress first-hand, and it’s not pretty, which is why I try to manage mine before it gets out of control. Thankfully, I can use the same stuff I teach my clients in my own life. And, I’d like to share some ideas with you to help reduce your own stress.

Here are some ideas to manage that ever-increasing stress:

1. Take a break. Whether it’s a vacation or a five-minute potty break, allow yourself to get away from whatever’s stressing you out for a few minutes. The tricky part is getting away from it in your mind.

2. Think about something else. Anything else. It doesn’t have to be anything meaningful. You can literally count the tiles on the ceiling and multiply them by the lamps, etc. or name all of the cereals you can think of from A to Z. Putting your mind somewhere else for a moment can give you enough of a mental break

3. Practice mindfulness.

4. Spend time with friends and family. Hey, there are people out there who love you! Granted, sometimes they are the very ones who are causing you stress, but a lot of times spending quality time with them, doing something positive, can reduce both of your stress levels enough to improve your relationship. Play a board game, catch a movie, go for a walk together, cook a meal together. Really being together purposefully, no matter how simple of a thing we’re doing, can dramatically increase that feeling of connectivity.

5. Relax. Start by noticing your breath. I always tell my clients that if breathing weren’t automatic, we’d be passed out half the time. We don’t think about breathing, so therefore, just taking a moment to notice how the sound of your breath as it passes through your nose and mouth, how air is cooler as you breathe in and warmer as you breathe out, the movement of your stomach and chest as you inhale and exhale. That, in itself, will slow down your breathing, which, in turn, slows your heart rate and relaxes your body. You can intentionally breathe out for six and in for four, if that helps. Or, my personal favorite, combat breathing, where you breath in through your nose for a few seconds, hold it, and then breathe out long and slow through your mouth like blowing through a straw. Relaxing your body by getting a massage, or tightening and relaxing your muscle groups from head to toe, or taking a warm bath or shower are also ways to chill out.

6. Do something fun. Enjoy yourself. Even if you think, you have too much to do to relax or enjoy yourself, still do it for a little while. It’s like a car, if you keep driving it but don’t stop to put gas or oil in it, it’s only gonna take you so far. So think of fun and relaxation as the oil and gas of your car. Put a little bit of it in your life every day, whether it’s watching your favorite shows, doing a crossword puzzle, writing a silly story or poem, having game night with friends, trying out a new recipe or restaurant, playing sports, or any other activity you enjoy. You’ll notice the difference in your mood (as will others!), and you’ll even be more productive at the stuff you were doing before you had fun.

7. Be creative. Sometimes there are things that we need to do something about and we’re not sure where to start. Getting ideas down on paper or just getting our feelings out of our heads, either through writing them down on paper, playing an instrument, or drawing, can really help you through that stressful situation.

8. Turn off everything electronic. Unplug, as they say. Sometimes stress is coming from overstimulation. Turn off the news. Pull yourself away from the endless stream of Facebook or Twitter. Get your face away from your phone. Go outside. Smell a flower, feel the grass, listen to the birds, watch the leaves sway in the breeze, taste the air. Use all your five senses to experience the world around you.

9. Reach out to people. Sometimes stress gets so high, that we need to ask for help. Don’t be embarrassed. Everyone needs help sometimes. It’s better to get help than to wait until things are so bad that you end up hurting yourself or others. There is plenty of help out there. You can start by asking the pastor of your church; he/she will be happy to speak with you and if it is outside his/her area of expertise, he/she will know of resources in the area.

10. Pray. This should be number one on the list but it usually ends up being the last thing we do. God is always there for us, listening, loving. Reach out to Him and rest in His arms. Lay your burdens at His feet, and He will carry you through those stressful times.

*April is National Stress Awareness Month.


Allison K. García is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a passion for writing. Latina at heart, Allison has absorbed the love and culture of her friends, family, and hermanos en Cristo and has used her experiences to cast a glimpse into the journey of undocumented Christians.

Flash Fiction: A Dream by Toni Shiloh

martin-luther-king-jr-2028448_640Penny stared down at her patent leather Mary Jane shoes. They were shined up bright, gleaming blacker than the pavement. Her white socks rose above her ankles. Mama had used bleach to make sure they would gleam in the sunlight. Her blue-and-white plaid dress was starched, fanning out at the knees. Even though it wasn’t Sunday, she had her best outfit on.

Mama said she had to look nice because they were going to hear Doctor King speak. She wasn’t so sure how he could be a doctor and a king. Mama had laughed when she asked her. Said his name was King and he was a doctor.

He had to be a very special doctor. Whenever he spoke, all the grownups would gather around the television afraid to miss one single word. She didn’t know anything could be better than cartoons. Her brother Johnny called her stupid and said lots of things were better than cartoons.

Mama said to pay him no mind because teenagers were odd, whatever that meant.

“Penny! Johnny! Time to leave.”

Penny took one last look at her outfit and walked out of her room. Johnny came out at the same time. He had on a tie. She giggled.

“What’s so funny?”

“You look like Daddy.”

He puffed up his chest. “That’s cuz I’m a man. You don’t no nothing.”

“Johnny, that’s no way to talk to your sister.”

Johnny frowned at Daddy’s words. I gave him a hug. Johnny called me a daddy’s girl. He always said it mean like, but I don’t know why. He was my daddy and I was a girl. Why wouldn’t I be his?

We walked down the sidewalk. Lots of people were out, all dressed up like we were. Daddy smiled at Mama happy we were all going to see Doctor King. Daddy said history was being made and one day, we’d be proud to say we heard him speak. Johnny smiled at Daddy, like he knew something I didn’t. Sometimes I wished I was older.

When we got there I was surprised to see how many people were there. I thought it would be a lot of people from out neighborhood, but it looked like the whole wide world came outside that day. We weren’t really close but Daddy said Doctor King would use a microphone.

The principal used that on assembly days. Finally, something I understood. Daddy put me on his shoulders so I could see. I stuck my tongue out at Johnny. He was too big to sit on Daddy’s shoulders and kept jumping up trying to see. He stuck his tongue out right back. I covered my mouth, trying to hide my giggle.

There was silence and then I heard him speak. I would know his voice anywhere. Like I said, the grownups were always listening to him on the television. But there was something different in his voice today. It rose up and down, kind of like the swing does when you’re high up and low down.

I leaned forward, gripping Daddy’s head. I wanted to get closer. Hear what he had to say. He was talking about freedoms. About all of us being friends. I nodded and noticed everyone else doing the same. They were probably tired of getting spit on like me. Some of those white kids sure were mean. It was the only time Johnny was nice to me and he would even defend me.

I wonder if his dream came true, would I be able to go anywhere I want. Sometimes I wished we could sit closer to the screen in the movie theater. Daddy always said we had to sit up top.

His speech seemed to last awhile, but everyone clapped and cheered when it was over. I even saw some white people there. They must be the nice ones. When we got home, Daddy and Mama couldn’t stop smiling. Everyone seemed so happy. I knew Doctor King was a special kind of doctor.

***

doctormartinlutherkingjr“Grandma, why are you crying?”

Penny looked down at her granddaughter. “Doctor King was a special man, Penelope. I got to see him when I was around your age.”

“He was a real person? Why they make him into a statue?”

Penny looked at the white marble statue of Doctor King. Faces of all ethnicities snapped photos of the monument in their nation’s capital. She looked at the granddaughter named after her. “Well, Penelope, he was a great man. Wanted all people to have the same freedoms. Get the same education regardless of their color.”

“Ohhh,” she intoned. “We have lots of kids in my class that are different colors, Grandma. Is that what you mean?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

She stared at the statue once more. Daddy always told her they witnessed history. Funny how clear things became once you hit a certain age. Never in a million years would she have imagined having a Black man in the White House and a statue of Doctor King in the same city. Guess some dreams come true.


toniToni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

She spends her days hanging out with her husband and their two boys. She is a member of ACFW and the president of the Virginia chapter. You can find her on her website.