In today’s economy, stress caused by financial hardship may affect one’s health negatively: insomnia, poor diet, lethargy, even depression can strike.
If you’re facing this situation, due to a recent layoff or other life event that blindsided you, you might be identifying with Edgar Allen’s Poe’s narrator in his story, The Pit and the Pendulum.
In the tale, the reader learns that the narrator is strapped to a table underneath a pendulum that swings. The pendulum has a blade and as it slowly descends toward the narrator’s heart, you can sense his fear, helplessness, and emotional turmoil. At the very last second, he is able to break free from the strap and escape the pendulum’s swing, but he isn’t out of the woods yet.
There are more challenges for the narrator, trapped in his dark prison. The prison walls heat up and begin to close in on him. The reader predicts the narrator will surely fall and meet with death. Then, suddenly, a mysterious person latches onto him and prevents his fall. There is a happy ending after all.
Like the narrator in Poe’s story, if you’ve lost a job and are struggling to find work it can feel like you’re trapped in a prison. Waiting for the pendulum to swing in your favor takes perseverance and it’s easy to become discouraged and disheartened. The process of waiting to find employment may be slow and painful.
So how do people stop their prison walls from closing in?
According to the experts, there are things you can do to combat stress during challenging life situations. Not every stress-buster will work for every person, but the list provides some excellent strategies that might help someone who is feeling overwhelmed by day-to-day stress.
Some ideas to cope include:
1. Spend more time outdoors—sunlight is good for you!
Sally Augustin, Ph.D, is a practicing environmental psychologist who studies person-centered design and sensory science. In her article, Psychological Return on Investment – Daylight and Wood, she reports:
“From a psychological perspective, anything you can do to get more daylight into a space is a good investment. If that daylight comes with a nature view, so much the better, but even if it doesn’t, make sure to let the sun stream in. It will boost your mood and your mental performance. Sunlight is a great stress buster.”
2. Take a vacation or find time to “unplug.”
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In her article, The importance of vacations to our physical and mental health—Why Presidents (and all of us) need vacations, she writes:
“Chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury. When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident. Your sleep will suffer, you won’t digest your food as well, and even the genetic material in the cells of your body may start to become altered in a bad way. Mentally, not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions. You’ll also be less fun to be with, causing you to become more isolated, lonely, and depressed.”
She advises to take time off, change your surroundings, or just unplug for a weekend, to reduce stress.
3. Add herbs or Vitamin C to your diet.
In an article published in Psychology Today, it’s reported that vitamin C, ginseng, licorice, and other herbs are proven to be natural “stress-busters.”
4. Try diaphragmatic breathing.
Kate F. Hays, Ph. D., is a psychologist whose practice in Toronto, The Performing Edge, focuses on sport and performance psychology. She wrote an article in May of 2011 called The Mind-Body Edge: The Hands Have It—It’s a stomach cramp; it’s a heart attack…it’s “just” stress!, in which she described learning breathing exercises to reduce stress. To read more…
5. Select stress-buster snacks.
Have a carbohydrate drink, a baked potato (skip the bacon), or try Twizzlers; these are some of the snacks suggested. To read more…
6. Reflect; become mindful.
Brad Waters, a social worker and integrative wellness professional based in Chicago, wrote a great article called The Paradox of Mindfulness. In it, he says:
“We can certainly think about ourselves and our futures mindfully. Just like we can watch TV mindfully and work very hard mindfully. We just have to set our intention and our time to doing just that. When it feels like an exercise we are ready to dive into. We can ask ourselves powerful questions about our identities and our purpose and do so mindfully—doing it right here and right now without worrying/predicting tomorrow or what more important thing we should be doing now.”
It’s a daily exercise where we ask ourselves deep questions. Waters adds:
“Questions like: What is my connection to our world? How can I serve? Who am I, beyond the labels I’ve given myself? When we stop at asking ourselves the self-ish questions—”What do I want to be when I grow up and how much money can I make?”—we condition ourselves to identify with things and attachments that are fleeting. The questions need to shift to How can I be rather than What can I be. We ask the questions and then consciously create a space and stillness for those answers to arise. This kind of mindful self-exploration is a way to very much tune into what we authentically want for ourselves, our families, and our resource of time. The process of understanding ourselves on a deeper level is actually about the honoring of our lives and our connections. Clearing the clutter and making more space for what’s real and meaningful.”
7. Keep a journal or write poetry.
There is something to be said for emotional writing. It’s cathartic. It’s a way to make sense of a world beyond our control. Reader’s Digest has a great article on the topic. Writing poetry might also release bottled-up emotion. It worked for me the other day when I wrote this poem, The Blues.
8. Take up yoga.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Yoga’s series of postures—some with names from nature—and controlled breathing exercises are a popular means of stress management and relaxation. Today, yoga classes teaching the art of breathing, meditation and posing are offered nearly everywhere—from trendy health clubs in big cities to community education classes in small towns to hospitals and clinics.”
In the article Spirituality and stress relief: Make the connection, the Mayo Clinic reported that spirituality has many benefits for stress relief and it can help you feel a sense of purpose, connect to the world, release control, expand your support network, and lead a healthier life.
Exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits; it pumps up your endorphins, it’s meditation in motion, and it improves your mood.
11. Join a support group or reach out to friends.
Many groups offer practical advice on ways to cope with and combat stress. The Mayo Clinic has a great page on how to locate a support group and all of the benefits from joining.
The Mayo Clinic website also has a list of stress relievers and links with helpful information on ways to feel better, including:
Again, not every stress tool will help every person. It’s like French cooking; a little of this, a little of that, and eventually you will discover the best combination that works for you.
Don’t allow yourself to feel like Poe’s narrator, strapped to a board and waiting for the pendulum’s blade to drop…Take measures to prevent that “helpless” feeling and become proactive while waiting for your “ticket out of jail.”
CEO coach Dr. Eric Allenbaugh has said, “Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us—and those around us—more effectively. Look for the learning.”
The pendulum will have to swing eventually, but while you wait, you can learn effective ways to manage stress.