I started writing this post at a time of immense frustration. Even though I’m much healthier now, I still battle with a body that doesn’t always work the way I want or need it to. In this community, I’m sure I’m not alone in this frustration. In an effort to turn this frustration into an opportunity to be positive, I thought it would be helpful to remind myself about the basics of self-care.*
For a discussion on the importance of self-care for living gluten-free, please read Part One.
Your coping strategy includes all the ways in which you manage stress once you experience it—it works in combination with your prevention strategy and comes into play when stress gets out of control. It includes activities that are intended to restore wellness and decrease stress—these activities may vary according to the types of stress you may be experiencing.
Identify Your Stress
Identifying the different types of stress you experience is generally the most difficult aspect of creating your coping strategy. Most people could list activities that make them feel more relaxed or more joyful, but the key factor for creating an effective coping strategy is matching the stress with the activity that is most likely to efficiently and emphatically obliterate that stress.
I have identified three main types of stress I experience—anxiety, physical stress, and mental exhaustion. If I’m lucky, I just experience one at time, but sometimes they gang up on me. Over time, I have learned to differentiate between these types of stress based on how I am feeling. When I am anxious, I usually feel restless or agitated and have racing thoughts. When I am physically stressed (like when I am glutened) I feel extraordinarily hungry and sleepy, can no longer concentrate even on basic tasks, and get tension headaches. When I am mentally exhausted, I often feel overwhelmed, tired (but not sleepy), and emotionally paralyzed.
By examining the symptoms you experience when you feel stressed, you may be able to uncover patterns that will assist you in pinpointing the main types of stress you feel.
Conquer Your Stress
Once you have identified the types of stress you feel, you can begin to design your coping strategy. When my computer is acting funky, my first step is always to reboot. That’s what your coping strategy should be—your reboot button. It should include simple but specific “go-to’s” that help you feel like your best self.
If you’re not sure where to begin, think about the last time you felt like a failure or depressed or overwhelmed—what did you (or could you) do to feel better? Then, experiment. See what works and what doesn’t—make note of those activities that consistently help you feel better. Over time, you will most likely identify patterns in what activities help most when you feel a particular kind of stress.
For example, I have learned that I need to do something productive when I feel anxious. Productive activities (for me) include working, trying something new (a new recipe or type of workout), and cleaning.
Likewise, I need to rest when I am physically exhausted or have been glutened. For me, there is no substitution for sleep and quiet time, especially if I am healing from being glutened.
Lastly, I need rejuvenation when I am mentally exhausted. These are the activities that let you Treat. Yo. Self. I always start with taking a shower—it’s very simple but almost always makes me feel better. Yoga, reading, taking a walk, and listening to an engaging podcast also help me feel rejuvenated.
If I am experiencing some combination of stress, I will usually start with sleep and move on to rejuvenating and/or productive activities.
It is important to note that your coping strategy does not need to be anything formal—unless that would be helpful for you. I keep my coping strategy fairly simple so that I can use it as often as necessary. If something in my strategy stops working, I try something new. The specifics are fluid, but the concept remains the same. Match the activity to the stress and you will have the best possible shot at effectively managing your stress.
*Yes, it helped.