I’m pretty sure I was born stressed out. When I was a kid I was able quell my worries by making sure to turn in all of my homework assignments on time and quickly resolving any fights I got into with friends. But as I got older and began facing somewhat more serious challenges, dealing with the stress and anxiety that came along with those things became more difficult.
Your 20s are defined by change and transition: new apartments, new cities, new jobs, new financial responsibilities, new friends, new loves — and lots of new things to stress about. Although I can’t pretend to be an expert on eliminating these worries from your life, I have realized a few things over the last half a decade.
“Just breathe” really is a helpful suggestion. When dealing with a pile-on of stressful situations, I’ve found that going back to slightly New-Agey basics actually helps. When I feel overwhelmed by my list of “to dos,” I’ve started putting both of my feet on the floor, closing my eyes and breathing in and out for 10 seconds. Something that simple can reset your body chemistry and let you look at your day with a rational mind — instead of spiraling into a meltdown because you are physically unable.
Some stress is actually positive. I truly don’t believe that I’d get through a day at work without a healthy level of anxiety. Sometimes you need a looming deadline or an upcoming date to motivate you to use your time and energy wisely. After I finished college a semester early, I was lucky enough to have the financial support of my parents for a couple of months while i was looking for a job. I had a lot of extra time to do yoga, go to museums, see friends and relax. But honestly, without a major stressor like school or work propelling me forward, I was pretty miserable. I’ve found that being a bit stressed out in a structured way actually makes me happier person.
It’s important to acknowledge those things that unnecessarily stress you out. Some worries simply aren’t worth the energy they consume. And during your 20s, those silly stressors become more clear. In the last few years, I’ve decided to let go of my stress about things like styling my hair on a daily basis, perpetually running 5-10 minutes late, being the shortest person in the room when I wear flats and not cooking as much as I’d like to.
It’s also important to acknowledge that you don’t have control over everything. While some stressors are worth ditching because they’re silly, others aren’t worth worrying about because you simply have zero control over them. After several people closely connected to me passed away a few years ago, I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to visualize my own final moments, which nearly always sent me straight into a panic. Eventually I realized that some things are better left unthought about — especially those realities that are going to occur whether or not you waste time being afraid of them. I’ve since applied this lesson to other, less existential worries, like whether or not someone will text me back or the stress of being forced to move apartments a few months earlier than intended.
Learn to let go. Often stressful things pile up to the point where you feel as though there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. (In fact I feel this way nearly every day.) First of all, accept that you can’t do everything all of the time. Second, pick a few things that need to happen and focus on those. Not answering every email right away or waiting to finish a work assignment that’s less pressing or skipping out on those after-work drinks once in awhile is not the end of the world. Accept that adult life means prioritizing more carefully than you used to.
You need to schedule in “me time.” Whether that means finding a therapist who is covered under your health insurance plan to speak with on a weekly basis or just carving out an hour now and then to go to a yoga class, having some mental health breaks built into your week is important and necessary. Unless you treat these things as vital parts of your life, you won’t follow through with them. And it’s so important that you do. Setting aside one night a week to go to therapy for the past two years has given me the ability to handle emotional challenges and stressors in a productive way that I genuinely couldn’t before. But I had to get myself there first.
“De-stressing” doesn’t mean that stress is going to disappear. Here at HuffPost we talk about stress and how to reduce it a lot, which is awesome. But I found myself feeling guilty that despite working in an office that values stressing less, I was still stressed. It’s important to be kind to yourself when it comes to your mental health — and to realize that dealing with stress is an ongoing process. There’s no one right solution and feeling stressed about the fact that you’re feeling stressed really helps nothing.
Most importantly, remember to enjoy. I know that there are a million and one stressful things I have yet to encounter — after all, I’m only in my 20s. But I anticipate being able to deal with these future worries by constantly reminding myself to enjoy the little things, like leaving work 30 minutes early or walking around Washington Square Park during a sunset or experiencing the heart flip that comes along with a really excellent first date. In life, the good far outweighs the bad. I’d rather not waste too much time stressing.
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