This month we have been focusing on values-based living and how it can vastly improve your life. This week, I want to talk about stress.

Lately there have been a lot of changes in my life. We all go through them. Life is cyclical and each cycle has its own pressures and stresses. We have new freedoms, and new problems. We struggle with the progression of life and its responsibilities and losses.

Coping Mechanisms

Most of us cope with stress in stereotypical ways- stress eating, over exercising, binge watching Netflix, mass avoidance, alcohol, shopping etc. These are known as coping mechanisms. Basically, they are strategies we employ to make ourselves feel better.

The problem is the tools we choose usually add to our stress because they are done mindlessly. Thus we are left with a giant credit card bill or a hangover, and no closer to resolving our stress.

If we manage our stress using values, we can use these coping mechanisms mindfully to actually process our feelings rather than avoiding them (more about that later).

Cultivating awareness

The problem with stress is that it is sneaky. Often, we are knee deep in coping before we even notice there is a problem. If we don’t notice there is an issue, we cannot deploy our values. 

For example, today I found myself buying loaf pans. Clearly something I absolutely required in my life. 10 minutes later I was in my car crying about the real problem.

The point is that we naturally go back to those easy coping mechanisms. Rather than beating ourselves up, we can use them as sign posts that something is wrong and we need to help ourselves.

Where values come in

So you’re thinking, okay Alison, why do I care about your loaf pans? An excellent question!

Stress is tricky. It is easy to live as our ‘best selves’ when things are easy. But when life gets hard, it is a lot less simple. The loaf pans matter because they were a sign of stress. However, in purchasing them I was also going against my value of minimalism and waste reduction.

This is the issue with poor coping mechanisms. Not only do they come with their own problems; they are very often contrary to where we are trying to go. Thus, we end up feeling like crap on multiple levels. 

This is where values can come in to guide us.

The tool
  1. Notice you are dealing with stress (use your poor coping mechanisms as a hint!)
  2. Have compassion for whatever you did before you noticed what was going on. Those cookies or shoes don’t need to add to your suffering.
  3. Consider the situation and how to best manage it. Decide which values should guide your behavior. Remember, the goal is to make yourself proud- no one else gets to decide what that looks like.
  4. Make a plan to meet the values you have listed.

Lets go through an example of what this looks like.

What is the situation?

Currently, I am dealing with family health problems.

What mechanisms have you been using to cope?

I have been using shopping and beer as a means to cope. See those damn loaf pans again. Overall, about $40. So probably not the end of the world.

Who do I actually want to be in this situation?

I want to be supportive of the person who is ill and my other loved ones. I want to honor my own feelings and suffering, and take time if I need it to grieve what is going on. Further, I want to consider what is important. If hard conversations need to happen, I want to be brave enough to do what is needed. 

What steps can I take to honor this?

In making the above list, I can see that the only value I haven’t fulfilled is self-care- which is likely why beer and shopping stepped into save the day. To meet this need, I am going to take an evening to process my emotions via journaling, a movie and some cheese.

Simple & difficult

As you can see, this process is relatively simple. It is the awareness and execution that are challenging. The point here it to be mindful in your coping, and to use your values to guide your behavior in stressful times. 

Be compassionate. It takes time. There will also be instances when you simply need to pout and feel sorry for yourself. It isn’t possible to be strong and on the straight and narrow all the time. That is 100% okay (that’s why cheese is on the self care list 😉 ).