Managing & Mastering Stress
Everyone has stress in their lives. Finances, career or job issues, health, and of course our personal relationships can all contribute to our feelings of stress. Those struggling with bullying and harassment often have additional stresses and fears that can make the most basic day-to-day activities difficult. Whether you are trying to work with authorities to end attacks, documenting the attacks for court, human resources, or an employment tribunal, trying to work with internet platforms to remove harassing and bullying photos or content, or are just at the beginning stages of dealing with online hate, the realities of being a victim of any sort of abuse can be debilitating.
But, there are tips and tricks that you can use to regain control over your life and minimize stress.
Eat the Frog First…but Only One Helping.
Mark Twain famously said, “if it’s your job to eat the frog, its best to eat it first thing in the morning.” This essentially means that if you have an unwanted or unpleasant task that you must do, it’s a good idea to get it out of the way as soon as possible. For victims of abuse, that frog may include documenting harassment, requesting the removal of content, and/or working with the authorities. All of these things can be very stressful.
Of course, many of us deal with stress and unpleasant tasks through procrastination. But unlike promising yourself that you will clean the garage next week or start that diet in the morning, procrastination when it comes to dealing with harassment, bullying, and stalking can cause significant and long lasting problems including further damage your emotional and physical well-being, damage to your reputation or your business, and compromising your physical safety.
On the other side of the coin, it can be easy to become obsessed with the abuse. It is really common for people attacked online to feel the need to continually check to see if there are any new abuses or threatening posts or pictures or if reported content has been removed. Those dealing with work place abuse or even physical stalking may become hypersensitive to their surroundings, constantly looking out for the abuser or checking and rechecking security measures. These types of obsessive behaviors can eat up hours, even days, making the abuse your entire life focus. That’s not healthy either.
At one time or another, I have fallen into both categories, trying desperately to avoid dealing with the abuse in hopes that it would go away, followed by becoming fixated on the abuse. Ultimately, the best way to deal with the situation is to deal with it. For me, that has meant setting the timer and allowing myself one hour, first thing in the morning, during the work week, to report abuse, send removal request, and document harassment for the authorities. When the hour is up, I stop. On Saturday and Sunday, I take a break from frog eating and focus on myself and my family. That frog will still be there on Monday, and I know that I will deal with it.
Limiting myself to one hour allows me to focus, but not obsess. It gets the crap out of the way first thing so that it doesn’t hang over my head all day. It also helps me to feel more in control, as I know that I have chipped away at the problem and am one step closer to putting the POS in jail. Even in areas where the law hasn’t caught up to the crime, document, document, document, the laws are changing.
Get Some Exercise
After eating my daily frog, I talk a walk. It helps me to refocus. I read many years ago that if you have a bad dream, you should change positions in bed, move from laying on your left side to your right or shifting from your side to your back. Something about changing positions resets your mind, gets you out of that negative, bad dream path, and frees you to go back to a peaceful sleep. Taking a walk after dealing with something upsetting or unpleasant works the same way. It helps you get out of that fearful, humiliating, distressing mindset and allows you to start your day fresh.
Eliminate Extra Stress from Your Surroundings
I had a client several years ago, (lets call her Beth) who had a very toxic relationship with her mother. The mother had been physically and emotionally abusive to Beth as a child and still held a great deal of power over her, calling her several times a day with abuse and demeaning comments. The pattern had been going on since Beth had been in college and she was simply unable to break it alone. Divorced, unhappy, and in her mid-40’s Beth knew that her 70 year old mother was not going to change or even acknowledge the abuse. She knew that it was down to her to make a change.
Beth made some terrific strides in changing her communication style by accepting fewer and fewer calls, and terminating calls when they became abusive. But, she still reported that she felt this overwhelming sadness and anxiety.
Beth lived a few blocks away from me on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and we ran into each other one Saturday morning as I was heading over to Orwashers to grab some donuts. She invited me over to her apartment and when I walked through the door, I understood why she felt so miserable. Beth was funny and gregarious and colorful. The apartment was dark, ominous, and stuffy. It was filled with heavy, 70’s Spanish style furniture pieces, too large for the space, dark velvet curtains, and lots of photos in heavy dark frames.
Upon questioning, Beth explained that this furniture was in her house when she was growing up. When her Mom moved into a smaller home after her husband died and Beth went to college, her Mom demanded that the furniture not go to waste and Beth had been living with it since. The photos were pictures that her Mom had sent her over the years that reminded her of an unhappy childhood. She was essentially living in a museum of her childhood miseries. No wonder she felt so depressed. Once she started talking about it, it clicked for her. She donated that furniture to a Veterans organization, packed the old pictures into a box and stuck it in the top of her closet, and bought herself new furniture to her taste, for the first time in her life. The transformation was amazing.
I am not suggesting that you need new furniture or a complete remodel, but if there are aspects of your surroundings that are causing you stress, fix them. Pack away upsetting photos, add some color, get some plants, add some artwork that makes you feel happy, remove the stress from your surroundings so that you have a space to recharge and feel safe and emotionally secure.
Practice Self Care
Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is a key aspect of controlling stress. When you are being abused, it can be very easy to self-medicate with food, alcohol, or drugs, or to try to make yourself socially invisible. Victims of harassment and hate often gain weight, stop taking care of their appearance, and avoid any type of social interaction. This creates a vicious cycle. You feel bad about yourself which results in your not taking care of your appearance, which results in you avoiding friends, which results in your feeling bad about yourself, etc. etc. Don’t fall into that trap.
I also recommend carving out some “me time” to do whatever makes you feel less stress. My kids are grown, so I have the luxury of taking a long, bubble bath with sweet almond oil, a glass of champagne, and some 70s R&B playing in the background, every now and then. Sometimes, I take a long drive and sing along, loudly, to the classic rock station. Whether gardening, working on your hobby, or just sitting on your porch watching the world go by relaxes you, make sure that you incorporate that into your schedule. When someone is beating you down, it is all the more important to build yourself up.
Help Someone Else
One of the best ways that I know to eliminate stress from your life and help you regain your own feeling of self-worth and purpose, is to help others. I know it seems counter-productive, surrounding yourself with people who are depressed and abused doesn’t seem like a great idea when you yourself are feeling depressed and abused, but it really does wonders.
First, helping others in destress helps you to focus on other people’s problems and that frees you from the grip, even temporarily, from your own. Helping people makes you feel good. It’s nice to be able to do something meaningful for others. And, helping others allows you to put your own situation into perspective. No matter how bad you have it, there are people out there who have it worse. Find a charity that does work that interests you and donate your time. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t help you emotionally, but volunteering your time and energy, especially in your own community, does.
Becoming a great manager of your own stress is one of the bests gifts that you can give yourself. It helps keep you present and positive in your own life and in the lives of your family and friends. It is also an important step in wrestling back control over your life from the abuser. And while no one can eliminate stress completely, compartmentalizing your stress, dealing with it on a schedule, and surrounding yourself with a positive atmosphere and outlook goes a long way to controlling your stress.