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If you’re anything like me, you oftentimes find yourself kicking yourself in the rear for how you reacted to a stressful situation. When I get stressed I tend to lash out on the nearest bystander- not a good look for someone who is trying to #slay motherhood as my actions can sometimes undercut my goals of rewiring my brain to remain calm, cool, and collected in the face of stress. My response is usually irrational because when I am triggered by an activating event, it leads to an escalation of thoughts aka ‘racing thoughts’. Sometimes the event is huge and a stressful reaction is warranted (example: house on fire, traumatic injury, etc) and sometimes we are already on the verge of a meltdown that the slightest activating event (crying over spilt milk) could trigger that emotional explosion.
Stress Cycle= Activating Event –> Escalation of Thoughts –> Reaction to Stress
I want you to do an inventory of the activating events that you have experienced in the last few weeks. How did you respond to that event? Was your reaction justified or was your reaction irrational? Where I find difficulty is the escalation of thoughts portion of the cycle of handling stress– this is where I have to really live in the moment and calm my thoughts down manually because throughout my life I have operated on this very reactive-to-stress programming that I picked up when I was a child. What is the cycle of handling stress? Well I like to think of it as an activating event happens, which leads to thoughts, and those thoughts illicit a form of reaction. Whether that reaction is irrational or rational is completely up to how you manage your thoughts, your personality, and your ability to think rational in times of great stress.
Tip 1- Become aware of activating event as well as the escalation of thoughts that follow aka live in the moment! Don’t think about the future or the past, just this very second. Only you can choose how to respond from here…Acknowledging that you’re having an issue (about to have an irrational response) is the first step in overcoming it right?
Tip 2- Slow those thoughts down and think rationally by asking yourself some questions…. Are you in danger? Are you going to be ok? Are you about to react to stress in a way that contradicts your goals? Take some deep breaths and count to 10 before you respond. It may seem ridiculous, but I promise you this activity is extremely beneficial for those trying to get control of their stress response.
Tip 3- Check your internal dialogue…. Are you projecting a negative outcome? Oftentimes we do this without realizing it and it can really set the tone for the event. Example- ‘I can’t bring my kid to the store because she acts a fool’…. Well more than likely, the second she is out of line it is going to trigger a high stress response. Change those negative projections into positive expectations!
Tip 4- Walk Away! Walk away from the situation that is stressing you out and take a time out from it. This will allow you to think clearer and have a more rational response after you have had some time away from the situation to think about it. There have been times that my kids were stressing me out so bad that I have had to run to my room and lock the door so I could hurl myself onto my bed and have a good cry. This allows me to reset and come out of the room with a different demeanor than when I entered it. Walking away when stressed can be absolutely critical in terms of saving the day from a bad mood!
Tip 5- Self-Care! It can be very difficult to add a self-care routine on top of the many demands of motherhood, but it is critical for mental health maintenance. Personally, when I find myself having a stressful day or my mood has turned foul because of a stressful situation, I do at least one method of self-care. Usually, I will make sure I hit the gym that day because exercise releases endorphins and it helps alleviate stress, however, if you can’t make it to the gym that day, doing something such as reading a book, taking a bath, having a glass of wine, or even eating your favorite fast food can be a reminder that sometimes you got to do something that will make you happy in that moment! I know a crunchwrap supreme has the ability to turn my frown upside down (I know fast food isn’t the healthiest way to implement self-care, but damnit sometimes a bitch needs a burger!) What are some versions of self-care that you can do to help you turn your mood around?
Tip 6- Sleep on it. This can be particularly true for when a relationship with someone is stressing you out or upsetting you. I am guilty of responding in a way that I regret later on, so my rule of thumb is to sleep on it and respond the next day after I have had time to really process the situation. This prevents me from saying things I regret which has happened quite a lot in my past. If the situation doesn’t need an immediate reaction, sleep on it!
Just today I was at the grocery store with my 6 year old who was home from school not feeling well. She magically felt better at the grocery store and was asking for everything in sight, kept getting in and out of the cart, and was simply starting to really annoy me. Combine that seemingly small annoyance with a super crowded grocery store with someone who doesn’t do well in crowds and we have a recipe for a stress-aster. I felt my thoughts begin to race in response to the activating event (combination of daughter needing something every two seconds with crowded store). The only way out of this imminent panic-stress-shit show that was about to ensue was to become aware of my racing thoughts. I stopped my cart off to the side, gave my daughter a stern and final warning, and then I took a minute or two of deep breathes and slowed my thoughts down. You see, when I start to get stressed, my escalation of thoughts is so severe that I can’t even focus my eyes on a single object. So, when I sense the activating event, I will force myself to focus on one object and take steady breaths as I slow my thoughts down and force myself to have a more rational response to the activating event. After I slowed my brain down and set my daughter straight for the tenth time, I felt much calmer and was able to get out of the store without the stress of the experience setting off a bad mood for the rest of the day.
Do you ever find yourself in a bad mood for the rest of the day because of one activating event? This was me to a T. For example, if both kids were whiney and difficult to get out of the door in the morning to get to school on time, this frazzled-before-8 am situation would set the tone for my entire day. The rest of the day I would be irritable, irrational, and simply in a bad mood. This is no way to live my friends, I promise. I was finding myself in these situations multiple times per week whether the activating event was morning routine-turned-shit-show, awful southern California traffic, an argument with my husband, or whatever the situation was- I found myself falling into the trap of irrational responses to activating events that impacted my mood and set the tone for the rest of the day. I truly had to start implementing these tips into my daily life if I was ever going to overcome my reactions to stress as it was something I really disliked about my behavior.
I am not writing this because I am completely free of irrational responses or have mastered the skill of calming my brain down when I am stressed out, I still struggle with this everyday. I believe, however, that overtime, maintaining control over the escalation of thoughts that occur after an activating event is the only way to eventually have more rational and calm reactions to stress become habitual. Your responses to stress are a learned, habitual response, so it is safe to say that it is 100% possible to learn a new way to manage and respond to stress and to have it become habitual and replace old patterns of behavior.
Working on yourself is sooo hot right now and you can start right now by trying to get your automatic thinking and reactions in check. Do an inventory of your negative reactions to stress and think about how you can implement these tips into your life. What activating events illicit an irrational response from you? I really want you to take an inventory of your responses to stress. Are there situations where you handle stress well? In what type of situations do you tend to overreact or have an irrational response to? I know these tips have personally been a lifesaver in my own life and I truly use them constantly to help prevent stressful experiences from ruining my day!