Life is already stressful. Most of us feel that we’re already tapped out on stress. But in real life, stressful events keep coming at us. How can one person handle so much stress?!! This post explores how to calm yourself down when a stressful situation happens, even when your stress plate is already full.
Below is the podcast version of this article. The podcast explains things so much better than a blog post. I invite you to listen and also hear some examples and enjoy some laughs! You can subscribe to the Podcast by opening your favorite podcast app and typing “Balanced Working Moms” into the search. Enjoy!
Free Printable – Essential Oils for Stress Relief
Below is a free printable that includes diffuser recipes you can get for stress relief. To access the printable and receive the password, click here.
My Stressful Event
I was inspired to do this blog post when a stressful event occurred in my life. Like most Moms, my stress level is already sky-high. When you add a stressful event on top of an already stressed life, frankly, it’s hard to deal with.
My stressful event was supposed to be a happy one.
We were fostering a dog for the first time in our lives. We were so excited! The dog was a rescue from a hurricane. We were told he was a 3-year-old Lab mix and he worked in a correctional facility. Yes, he did have heartworm, but they told us that would make him even more suited to our family since he’d spend his time resting and being chill. I was like a little kid with my excitement. My kids were bouncing off the walls with their excitement.
But within the day, we noticed things that didn’t add up. The dog was baring his teeth at us. He couldn’t seem to settle down. Something seemed off. I called the foster coordinator and she didn’t get back to me.
By the next day, things seemed even more off. When I finally reached the coordinator, she told me that the place they got the dog from lied. He wasn’t 3. He was a puppy with heartworm. She told us they were lied to since it’s very hard to handle puppies with heartworm since the puppies want to PLAY but they can’t since it would be dangerous for them. Because of this, the rescue organization doesn’t accept puppies for fostering, so they were given a fake age so they’d take him. However, she assured me everything would be fine and I should keep trying.
But things weren’t going well. Our lab was getting antsy. He was growling at us. I was scared.
My Stress Level
It became very apparent as a first-time foster family, we didn’t have the skills to take care of this dog. We needed him to go to a family without kids who knew what they were doing.
But my kids and my husband loved this dog.
When I finally called and arranged for a new foster family, they were devastated. Although they understood we couldn’t take care of him (at this point, everyone in the family was scared, too), they still loved him.
The emotions in the family were raw.
And my stress level, which is already very high (especially during COVID), went through the roof.
Physical Symptoms of Stress
When we go through a stressful situation, our bodies react.
Let’s explore what you may be feeling physically when you go through an acute stressful situation
- Palpitations, i.e. a pounding heart
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty Focusing
Mental/Emotional Symptoms of Stress
There are also mental and Emotional symptoms of stress. You may be:
- In a bad mood
- Ruminating (replaying what happened)
- Beating yourself up
Turn it Off
The symptoms described are when you’re in fight or flight and you’re sympathetic nervous system as been triggered. You’d need this if you’re running from a tiger. But in real life, you’re not actually fleeing a tiger (even though it feels like it!).
When I was stressed over the dog situation, I didn’t react skillfully. Instead, I:
- Ate oreos
- Locked myself in my room
- Couldn’t sleep
- Couldn’t focus
This was because I wasn’t turning off my sympathetic nervous system. And that’s okay. That happens. This is real life.
Other times, I do handle things better. For example, after I got a new roof put on, during the next rain there were such huge leaks that we literally needed buckets to gather the water. However, this time, I calmed my stress symptoms by doing the following:
- Called the Roofer
- Listened to Calming Music
What’s the Difference?
The difference is that with the roofer, I turned off my fight or flight.
The goal is to get yourself out of your sympathetic nervous system and back into your parasympathetic nervous system.
One of the best ways to do this is by using breathing techniques.
I know this may sound trite or too-easy. But trust me, I used the second technique to have TWO unmedicated births. Breathing is simple, but it shouldn’t be under-rated due to its simplicity. It really works.
Technique #1: Breathe Out For Longer
I love this technique since you can do it anywhere. Even in public! This breathing method can be used if you’re triggered in meetings, too! It’s so simple.
To do this breathing method:
- Close your eyes (if you’re not in public or driving)
- Breathe in for a count of 4
- Breathe out for a count of 6
- Continue for as long as you like
Again, don’t let the simplicity of this technique fool you. It’s incredibly powerful and can literally be used at any time, in any situation. Keep this tool in your back pocket. You never know when it’ll come in handy.
Technique #2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
This technique takes more time than the previous technique. In this technique, you intentionally relax each part of your body.
I like to do this technique in bed, but you can do it anywhere.
To do this breathing method:
- Lay down (optional but highly recommended)
- Concentrate on your breathing and start relaxing
- Progressively relax your body.
- You have a choice of either tensing each body part, or simply focus on relaxing each body part
- Start at either your head or your feet. I like to change it up each time so it stays fresh. In this example, we’ll start with your feet.
- If tensing your body, tense your feet for a few second. Scrunch your toes and make them as tense as possible. Let go of the tension (it’ll feel so great!) and tell yourself something like “My feet are relaxing. My feet are relaxed.” Breathe full deep breathes as you do this, almost like you’re breathing into your feet.
- If you don’t choose to tense your body, breathe deep full breathes while you do this technique. Picture your feet relaxing. And tell yourself “My feet are relaxing. My feet are relaxed.”
- Continue going up your body.
- When you get to your face, pay special attention. Many people hold a lot of tension in their face, including their jaw. Spend the time really relax your face.
- When you’re done, tense your whole body (if you like, you can do this even if you weren’t tensing each body part). Let the tension go and breathe in and out for a few deep breaths.
Get Yourself Out of Flight or Fight
The key to reducing your stress level when a stressful event happens is to get yourself out of fight-or-flight. Turn on your parasympathetic nervous system so you can reduce the physical and emotional or mental symptoms of being in acute stress.
I know life is always throwing stressful events our way. It’s not possible to always eliminate stress. But by practicing breathing exercises and doing other things to reduce your stress levels, you can learn the process of handling stressful episodes much better. It takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become in the future.