How Can We Manage Stress?

Water drenching me.

That is what I woke up to about five years ago, when I was still learning the ropes in Scouting. I was on a campout at Weyerhaeuser Woods with my troop. I was the senior patrol leader at the time, even though I was very young.

During the campout, it never stopped raining – something we had prepared for but weren’t excited about. When we set up the rain fly over our tent, a couple of the knots were faulty and it wasn’t angled enough. Throughout the night, it slowly compounded gallons of water suspended over our tent by some poor taut-line hitches. 

Around midnight, the tension became too much. The whole tarp collapsed on the tent, breaking one of the poles, flooding the tent, and scaring the four boys who had been soundly sleeping just moments before – including myself. 

In that moment, half-suffocated by a wet tent, soaked with water, and panicking, I felt extreme amounts of stress. I’m sure all of us have felt this stress at some point. Stress so overwhelming that it can be hard to move forward; stress that persists into the aftermath of an event; stress that stays in your neck muscles, lingering in knots and tightness; stress that suffocates like a wet tent.

So how can we cope with this stress? How can we overcome?

First, we must distinguish two different kinds of stress: mental and physical. Mental stress is what keeps you up at night. It’s the kind of stress you get before a big test, hovering in the back of your mind. Physical stress is the kind of stress that stays in your shoulders and neck, the kind of stress you get massages for. The two kinds of stress can be dealt with in different ways.

For mental stress, mindset is everything. The best way to deal with mental stress is to acknowledge that stress is the body’s way to prepare. When you’re startled awake at midnight with a tent falling on you, you need to act quickly. Your body prepares you for this with stress: stress is to heighten your performance. When you know you have a job interview coming up, your brain prepares you with stress.

Just by addressing that stress is normal causes you to feel less negative side effects. When I have a math test and I can feel myself getting stressed, I remind myself that this will help me get a better grade. Ever since I made this perspective switch, I have felt myself being more productive and less stressed.

For physical stress, relaxation is key. Not just napping, reading, or playing video games, but full relaxation. How do you fully relax? One great way is a body scan.

A body scan is when you focus on every limb individually, and relax each one respectively. You start at your feet, and work your way up. As you go through, think of everything that limb has done. When you focus on your feet, think of all the walking you’ve done. Then, let go of all of that and just relax. Pay special attention to your back, neck, and shoulders. These areas are more prone to harboring tension. Think of every shrug, every stressful event, and every argument. Then let them go, along with all the tension.

By relaxing your whole body, you let go of all the physical stress you’ve been accumulating. Stress builds up like water in a faulty rain-fly, and if you don’t release it, it will come crashing down when you don’t expect it. By acknowledging that stress is there for a reason, you can remove its negative connotation. Both of these strategies help greatly when dealing with stress.

That night when the tent collapsed, I felt very stressed. But when I finally got back to sleep, when I finally had a moment of rest, I felt amazing. I was able to let go of what happened, accept that it was in the past, and fall asleep again. I was able to relax and move on, realizing that my stress had prepared me for that moment.

Not only was I highly stressed that night – within an hour I was highly relaxed.

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