Stress. It's an icky word isn't it? Just hearing the word makes your heart beats that little bit faster. Your temperature might increase slightly. Or maybe your mind starts to go into overdrive with to-do lists and worries. It really is a major issue in our society today. It affects a great number of us, and when not managed well, it can lead to major health issues. Needless to say, a change is needed and fast.
April is National Stress Awareness Month, and stress in long-distance relationships is normal, so before we dive in, let’s take a deep breath and relax.
For those of us in long-distance relationships, stress seems to be part of the gig. From those tearful goodbyes to the rushing to airports and train stations to catch connections to the frustrations of communicating by any means other than face to face, we come up against our fair share of challenges. And these challenges, well, they often can result in high blood pressure, moments of anxiety and that most awful of all words: doubt.
And what’s more, in this go-faster society of Instagram perfection and size 0 models, it is just so easy to feel insignificant or not good enough on a day-to-day basis, regardless of your relationship status. The stress is associated with the need to be earning more and working longer hours, to be healthier, skinnier, smarter, more sociable. It is hard to escape the pressure sometimes.
But before we get all worked up here, let’s try to keep this in perspective. Because the truth is, stress actually isn't all bad. In fact, we need a little of it to just get out of bed each day. Stress helps us to honor our responsibilities, to turn up to work on time, to motivate ourselves to exercise and live healthily, to set and achieve goals.
There is a wonderful quote by William Butler Yeats who says, “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure, nor this thing or that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
Stress, when managed and understood, allows us to grow. It provides the challenge and the motivation to improve ourselves and let ourselves rise up. It fills us with a fire to achieve more, to do more, to be more.
The challenge for us, in this modern world, with the added obstacles of a long-distance relationship, is to find our balance. We must find that point where the stress motivates us but does not overwhelm us.
As a yoga teacher and occupational therapist, I work with a lot of clients who experience very high levels of stress and anxiety. And do you know what I have learned? Stress can be very well managed using some simple, effective strategies, incorporated into our every day.
It is entirely possible to get to a point where you feel calm and in control, motivated, inspired and adequately challenged.
Here are a few common scenarios that raise our stress levels and how to turn it around.
The What-if Scenario
Stress comes when we let our monkey minds get carried away and create what-if stories in our heads.
Long-distance girls, you know this one: You are on your way to the airport or train station, desperate to get to the other side and be with your loved one, and the traffic is bad. You begin to check the clock. You start making calculations. You are getting nervous now, and soon that nervousness is going to increase to full-blown freakout. We have all been there. Your mind starts to whirl, and you think of every awful scenario as to why you are going to miss that plane. You start to think of how much it is going to cost you to buy a new ticket. And of how mad your boyfriend is going to be. And that you are stupid for not planning better. Within a matter of moments, every scenario under the sun has crossed your stressed-out mind. And there’s still a very good chance that you might actually make it on time with no problems.
Now, let’s get this straight: Within a matter of mere moments, your mind went from calm and collected to palms sweating crazy all because of potential what-if situations that may never come true? Ready for the fix?
- Smile at your crazy mind. Acknowledge that it got a little out of control there for a second.
- Imagine your mind and its thoughts as separate to you, and tell it, “Oh, here you go with your 99 problems. Only one possibility can come true, and I’ll deal with it when I get to it.”
- Stay present, and acknowledge that at this point, right here, right now, everything is OK. Know that your feet are on solid ground and that you are capable of handling any situation that arises.
The Constantly Connected Scenario
Hands up: Who never leaves the house without their phone charger for fear of their mobile phone dying? How many times a day are you checking email, Facebook, Instagram or pinning like a crazy woman on Pinterest when you have a spare five minutes?
The truth is we are practically surgically attached to our mobiles! And I hate to break it to you, but this high level of connectivity is doing you incredible harm. We are receiving constant information through the bings and flashes on our phones and tablets, raising our cortisol and adrenaline levels to dangerous levels, i.e the hormones that contribute to stress! Our bodies don't know how to relax anymore. They feel constantly attacked by these alerts.
Being in a long-distance relationship can seem to exacerbate this situation even further as we want to be reachable for our partners at all times, to share life with them as it occurs. We live our lives through our screens, at all times aware of the screen lighting up with new information.
The fix? Incorporate a power-down hour every day. Preferably, make this the hour before bedtime to allow your brain to wind down and to process all the new learning you have taken on board during the day. Also, if you can start the day with at least 15 to 20 minutes without your phone or Internet, you will allow for your body to wake up fully prior to being plied with new information. Detaching from your devices is liberating and essential to good mental health.
The Dreaming of the Future Scenario
We are often racing through our days inpatient for Friday night, summertime and vacation without much consideration for the present moment. We can be so desperate to see our loved ones that we count down the days and wish them away so as to be together sooner. We dream constantly of that wonderful day where we will be living together, meanwhile missing all the beauty that is going on around us right now.
This projecting into the future is not helping our feelings of stress. In fact, by not acknowledging our present moment and constantly living into the future, our days can feel unfulfilled, and we can really feel split between the two worlds we are living in. You may feel this overwhelming sense of not fitting in anywhere.
The answer to dealing with this scenario is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a wonderful practice that has come out of Buddhism where one learns to regard the present moment, and appreciate it fully, without judgment or criticism.
The beauty of mindfulness is that you can learn to appreciate the here and now and really enjoy where you are. I promise the time is going to pass anyway, so you will be with your lover soon enough. It is just that in the process, you will enjoy the little things, like the food you are eating, the beauty that surrounds you, the people you share this time with. Those feelings of stress and anxiety will subside when the present moment becomes your focus.
The Big City Life Scenario
I don't know your reasons for living apart from your loved one, but I am sure one of the most common reasons for long-distance relationships has to do with your work life. Most of us rely on a big city to do our jobs and afford to live. And with life in the city comes a whole plethora of stressors, such as commuting, high-pressure work environments, challenging relationships between colleagues or clients, taxes, bills, and difficult living arrangements. Not many of us have the privilege of living on the beach growing organic coconuts or on a rural retreat in the mountains somewhere and able to do our jobs, too.
Unfortunately, with city living comes many stressors in our day-to-day life that raise our blood pressure and increase our heart rate. We work longer hours than ever before. The pressure to perform is high. Our environments are increasingly fake (think halogen lights and air-conditioning.) Sadly, our bodies and our brains were not designed for these types of environments. Our bodies can't help but react with a stress response.
The fix: Well, we can't pack up and move to the beach, so instead let’s acknowledge the aspects of life that cause stress and brainstorm ways of making them more pleasant.
Do you have a long commute? Try a guided meditation or listen to your favorite soothing music. Spend time writing a blog or letters to family and friends. Productively use this lost time to do something that makes you feel good.
Do you work in an office building that is completely artificial? Bring a plant to work and care for it daily. Leave the building at lunch time to get some sunshine, fresh air and exercise. Have an inspiring natural desktop background. Open the windows if you can.
Do you live in a tiny apartment? Plan hiking and camping weekends with friends to get a dose of nature. Consult feng shui books to make your room as comfortable and Zen as possible. Buy yourself flowers regularly or light a beautiful candle each morning instead of turning on the light. Design your space to reflect how you want to feel.
Remember you are the architect for your own happiness. Make each day a blessing, and the rest will take care of itself. I’d love to hear your tips for managing stress in everyday life. Did the above scenarios resonate for you?