Stress Management – Part 2

Stress Management – Part 2

Here are a few ways to cope with the stress in the moment so that you feel better and can then respond and deal with the stressor. These are distraction methods. There is a difference between distraction and avoidance. With avoidance, you distract yourself with the (usually unconscious) hope that if you ignore what you are feeling it will go away. Distractions skills are better because they allow you to calm down so that you can deal with whatever is stressing you when you are better able to deal with your emotions.

  1. Distract yourself with something you like doing!
    Think of the things you like to do e.g., talk to a friend, exercise, stretch your muscles in some kind of exercise, play a game, sleep, cook something, find something fun to do like watch/read memes, watch a funny movie, create something. There are things you like to do that cost money and things you like that are cheaper or free. If money is the stressor, then focus on what costs less or is free. If this seems hard, think of the things you liked to do as a child and start from there. You may not be able to roll in the mud/skid down a slope/climb a mango tree anymore but perhaps you can sit outside somewhere and watch the birds, sky or anything else in your environment
  2. Distract yourself by thinking of someone else
    • Do something for someone else
      Call the people in your life and see if they need help with something or just go visit. You do not have to give them the details about why you are calling in. You can say you want to check-in or that you are bored. Find a needy person and find a way to help them, with money, food, or your time. If you can, join a club or organization in your community that has activities to help people. 
    • People watch
      Find somewhere to sit and just watch the people walking by. Pay attention to the things they are doing; the way they are with the people they meet or are moving with. Pay attention to the details. Look at their clothes, their hairstyles. Count and contrast things. How many people walk by wearing your favorite color? 
    • Think of someone specific you care about
      Keep a picture of someone you care deeply about near you. It can be your significant other, a family member, or a friend. It can also be someone you admire like Barack and/or Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk etc. Make it the background on your phone or keep a copy in your wallet or bag. Look at this picture when you are feeling down. Imagine you are having a conversation with this person at that moment. It has to be a healing conversation that brings you peace.
  3. Distract your thoughts
    We all have that one person whom we feel knows us best and we love them for it. Sometimes this is the same person who is the most frustrating person on earth as well. Your mind is like that. It helps us every day, but it can also be difficult to control the thoughts that come up in our day. Trying to force your mind NOT to think about something usually makes you think about it even more. So, what can you do? Distract your mind by thinking about something else like:

    • Remember an event in your past that made you happy. Take the time to build the memory. Who were you with? What did you do? What happened? Put as many details as you can. 
    • Imagine you could go into the past or the future and change events. Take the time to go into this. How would you go about it? What would you do? What would people say? Can you make it a little funny?
    • Imagine your wildest dream coming true. Picture it completely. What is it? Who enjoys it with you? What is happening? What happens afterwards. 
    • Count. Count anything. Remember the point is to take your focus away from what is overwhelming you. Count your breaths. Take big slow breaths and count how long between a breath it takes or count how many breaths it takes for you to feel relaxed. Count something in your environment, cars, branches on a tree. To distract yourself, do one of the multiplication tables and see how far you can go. Or choose a number like 7 or 13 and start subtracting from 100
  4. LEAVE.
    Sometimes you are in a painful situation. It is going to be very difficult to think of a healthy solution when you are feeling overwhelmed and pushed. If you can, put some distance between yourself and the situation and come back when you feel better able to manage it. Not everyone can always leave a difficult situation so do not feel bad if you cannot. 

Everyone is different— some relaxation skills work well for some people, and others for other people. There are likely some methods that you already use to relax. Think about exercises, practices, or activities you use to relax regularly, list them and continue to use them when you need them. For example, listening to music, taking a shower, dancing, sleeping, meditation, doing yoga, taking walks, deep breathing, quiet time etc

None of the above is hard to do. Most of the time, the challenge is that it is hard for us to remember to use the exercises/skills in times when we need them. The best way to avoid this is to self-soothe and find pleasurable activities that you can do every day. Set a time to distract your mind and self-soothe. Most importantly find relaxation strategies that work for YOU. Choose things you enjoy. That way, remembering in a time of stress will become natural.

Zenah Nantumbwe

BA Industrial and Organisational Psychology (Mak); MSc Clinical Psychology (Mak)
Wellness Psychological Services

Yvonne Zabu

BA Psychology (Nelson Mandela University); HonSocSci Psychology (UCT); MSc Clinical Psychology (Mak)
Wellness Psychological Services

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