For the past few months, my husband and I have been looking to purchase a home. As any of you who’ve been there before knows, the home buying process is exciting, terrifying, and every gradation of emotion in between. In short, it’s stressful! As a psychologist, it’s important to point out that there are two ways in which we interpret life stress, and this interpretation is incredibly important in terms of the impact which the life stressor has on us, both physically and psychologically. In general, we call positive stressors that we believe we can cope with EUstress, and negatively perceived stressors, DIstress. The problem here is that sometimes, our brains don’t get the message that what’s happening to us is actually a positive thing. Check out the Holmes and Rahe Life Stress and Illness Inventory to see how even positive life events can increase our chances of becoming sick. So, how do you keep positive stressors from turning into distress? Read on to find out!
- Manage your unrealistic expectations: You’ve been looking forward to this vacation all year, with every detail painstakingly planned. Or perhaps it’s your wedding day, which you’ve dreamed about since you were a child. All of that build up and excitement can have a down side – massively unrealistic expectations. When we expect a trip, or a wedding, or anything to be 100% perfect, 100% how we imagined it, we’re setting ourselves up to experience a lot of distress when invariably, things don’t go according to plan. The best way to work around this pitfall? Manage those expectations of perfection now, and stress less about that delayed flight or drunk wedding guest later.
- Routine, routine, routine: When faced with exciting life events, whether it’s the purchase of a new home, a wedding, or starting a new job, we sometimes forget that it’s important to manage the more mundane parts of our lives as well. Missing meals, overindulging, pulling all nighters, and/or skipping the gym can wreck havoc on our bodies and minds, which will amplify the impact of current life stress. Attending to your regular eating, sleeping, and exercise schedule will help your body and mind manage the exciting road ahead!
- Learn to reinterpret your body’s signals: Your heart is pounding, there’s a fluttering sensation in your stomach; you’re feeling anxious, right? Well, perhaps. The same physical sensations that often accompany anxiety are also activated when we’re feeling particularly excited about something. So the next time your heart pounds with anticipation, check in with yourself, maybe what you’re actually feeling is excitement!
- Challenge those negative automatic thoughts: I just know my new neighbors are going to be horrible. I’m so clumsy, I’m going to trip and fall on my way down the aisle. I was an idiot to think I could handle all of this new responsibility, I should just go back to my old job before I’m found out. Sound familiar? All of these thoughts are examples of fortune telling, a common negative automatic thought, also known as a cognitive distortion. Do you have actual, factual evidence that something horrible is going to happen? If not, remind yourself of the more realistic possibilities. The outcome is not likely to be horrible or amazing, it’s typically somewhere in between.
- Learn to be in the now: It’s easy to become so wrapped up in anticipating a positive event that we lose focus on the meaningful, day to day events of our lives. Are you so consumed with wedding planning that you’re not enjoying the moments in the here and now when you’re with your partner? Are you so worried about failing at a job you haven’t even started yet that it’s spoiling the time off you took in between gigs? Check out these resources from the UCSD Center for Mindfulness to learn how to be more present.
Any additional ideas for managing stress? Feel free to share below!