How to master (extreme) Stress

Having moved house soon 15 times during 25 years of my life – 7 of the moves being across countries – I’ve become an expert at mastering stressful situations. The following things have helped me deal with situations of extreme stress – by no means am I a doctor; consider these tips that may or may not help you in similar situations.

What triggers stress? – Stress is triggered by hormones. Different situations and environments increase the amount of cortisol our body produces. This effect was carefully established by nature to make our bodies react better to dangerous situations. However, in today’s busy society stress isn’t only triggered by life-threats but also by situations that make us feel insecure, under pressure, lonely…the list of stress-triggering feelings is endless.

Uncertainty – Personally, my worst trigger for stress is uncertainty. It go through all kinds of possible (and impossible) scenarios in my head, ending up in a never-ending spiral of angst. Of course the easiest way to release stress in this case is to achieve certainty. An example is the fear of failing an exam. By studying harder and getting thoroughly prepared on time, you will not only increase the chances of passing but also actively increase the certainty of passing.

Unpredictable Situations – But what can you do when you don’t have the means to gain certainty on your own? Moving house (especially across borders) is a good example for this. A lot of paper work is involved, finding house in a foreign country, getting rid of housing where you are living now, leaving friends and family, switching jobs or studies, understanding the new country’s system and culture and – in many cases – not being able to speak its language fluently yet. On top of this the actual transport has to be organized, options have to be evaluated and the budget planned.

List it! – The first time I moved from Germany to Sweden, I planned little, freaked out a lot and in the end got more or less lucky with most things figuring themselves out. The second time I didn’t take those chances. After spending nights worrying about the unclear, I started listing things that I wanted to get done or gain certainty about. After working through most of the paperwork I could do in advance and making clear schedules for the paperwork to come, I felt much better. Being an expert in packing, I decided to not worry about that until a few weeks prior to the move. However, to budget transport we needed to know approximately how much stuff we would bring. In order to plan this better, I started making lists of what to keep and what to part with. Some of the things we decided to give away I put on ebay (check out my last post). We measured out the furniture we would bring – this is not only good for transport, but also to get a clear overview of how to arrange everything in the new home which we (welcome to the struggles of moving across countries!) wouldn’t see until the day we actually moved in.

Goodnight, sleep tight –I stress the most right before going to bed when I recap the past day and predict the coming day in my head. The closer to the scary situation, the harder it is to get a good night’s sleep. There’s not ultimate solution for this, but the following things have helped me: I go through the lists to remind myself that things are planned. I go for a short walk around the area to catch some air. I distract myself with a good book and put my computer and phone far away – that way I can’t be tempted to be caught up in a cycle of googling worries and scenarios for hours. Besides, staying away from technology before bedtime will generally help you to rest easier.

Positive Distraction – I’m by no means a fan of ignoring problems or avoiding stress completely, but I do believe that some types of distraction can benefit you in nerve-racking times. The most important form of distraction for me is exercise. Though a situation can be emotionally exhausting and you may feel tired constantly, it’s still imported to reach a point of physical exhaustion. Going for a run or doing strength workouts will not only distract you for an hour, but it will also help decrease your cortisol levels, help you concentrate and in general reach a better body/mind balance. I usually set specific goals for a stress-period like “I want to run 20km” or “I want to do 50 push-ups”. If it’s a reachable goal, it helps you stay confident when getting closer.

That being said, here are some more small changes you can make to improve your resistance towards stress:

  • Reduce caffeine intake (bye, tripple-espresso!)
  • Increase vitamin intake (more fruits, more sunshine)
  • Try out some basic yoga or meditation (breath!)
  • Plan clear breaks from your routine (short trips, meeting friends)
  • Talk . Tell you friends and family about your worries. You’ll be surprised how much another person’s perspective can put things into perspective.
  • Do something creative every now and then (painting, writing, singing)

Good luck with whatever stressy situation you’re going through right now – try out some of the things and you’ll manage just fine!




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