What to do when you're stressed out
I could tell you to go and spend time with friends, go treat yourself to some nice food, go play a video game, buy something, watch a movie or some other bullshit like that, but that’s avoiding the problem and I think we all know it.
You’re not going to find anything outside of you that is going to solve your problem. The answer lies within, and anything else is a distraction.
Personally when I get stressed out it’s usually hard to isolate why. Something just feels off and it makes me anxious and confused, but it isn’t immediately obvious what. And so for that reason I have a bad habit to push it aside and let it build up until it hits a point when it’s finally intolerable and I snap.
Usually what follows is in a fit I go out to the middle of nowhere, sit by myself, and tear myself apart asking difficult questions that I don’t know the answer to. (Once I bailed from work at 2pm and sat on a headland looking out into the ocean for like 5 hours. I’m surprised nobody called the police thinking I was going to commit suicide.)
“Why do I feel like this?”
“What’s even wrong?”
“What am I doing with my life?
“Who am I?”
“What do I even want?”
It’s a tough process, but this is where the magic happens.
All the questions that I’ve been avoiding for the last however many weeks or months and have been leading to my fucking breakdown. I’m finally forced to face them, and because of that I finally get to the bottom of what’s going on and what I need to do to fix my life.
Since then I’ve realized that you don’t need to wait until you burst into a ball of flames to ask those questions and correct your course. But it takes a bit of awareness on your part to know when you need it.
It seems to me that you want to look for something along the lines of feeling closed off or alienated from yourself, or of feeling constantly busy or stretched too thin. And the moment you catch a glimpse of that, instead of trying to push through it you need to step the fuck back and give yourself some space.
That could mean a couple of things; for me it means walking to a park and sitting there with absolutely no intention other than to breathe. It could also mean sitting on my couch and listening to music (or Alan Watts — his words are music to my ears).
The moment I do that, and genuinely let myself relax and stop trying to be productive for once, the answers come. With a clear head I can finally figure out what’s wrong, I can see what I need to do about it, and then I can go and change my behavior appropriately to fix it.
I think it’s important to note that this rarely happens in a single afternoon. Sometimes I’m so fucked up that this can take days or weeks of soul searching to finally realize how much I was bullshitting myself. And then even when I do finally fix it that’s not the end, because this is a cycle.
Sorting your shit out once doesn’t mean you’ve sorted your shit out forever. The world is a chaotic and complex place and will push you around like a leaf in the wind. You can’t control the shit that happens to you, but you can control how you react to it, and I think the more you do it the better you get.
Deep down you know what you want and what’s best for you, but over time that voice gets covered with layers of bullshit from the outside. Every time you give yourself the space to reconnect with that voice it brings your subconscious behavioural midpoint closer to harmony with reality, and the changes will stick for longer and longer until eventually perhaps you’ll never get stressed out again.
So I think the bottom line here is to take time to breathe. Make a habit of doing things of absolutely no material purpose or goal, but just to let your mind still itself.
It’s difficult to do if you’re a productivity crazed workaholic like I am (you might want to learn how to stop guilting yourself), but have the foresight to see that giving yourself this space is a strategic long term decision. You’ll be a better, more productive and happier person because of it, and that’s good for you as well as everybody around you.