We, humans, tend to do shortsighted things and not so good for us in the long run, so it's easy to end up in a vicious circle.
Here are some scientifically proven rights and wrongs when coping with stress.
When we are in stressful situations we are not in a place where we can explore, read up or choose between a wide range of behaviors. A shortlist may come in handy when an impulse to do something that might be bad for us comes up so that we know what to do instead. Et voilá, here it is.
- Skip lunch (or breakfast or dinner)
- Cancel social plans
- Skip exercise
- Put in extra hours at work
- Check work emails in evenings/weekend
- Make endless to do-lists
- Skip breaks
- Cry alone
- Say yes to extra tasks
- Check phone/social media
- Start the day with smaller tasks
- Work until bedtime
- Jump between tasks, being scattered
- Stressing out on things outside our control
- Keep or start regular meal routines
- Prioritize social activity
- Make sure to exercise regularly
- Be extra careful with not working overtime
- Set clear boundaries between work and free time
- Prioritize important tasks, let the others go
- Take a real break (10-15 mins) every hour
- Ask for help
- Say no to extra tasks
- One thing at a time
- Set the phone and computer in focus mode
- Start the day with the most important task
- Have a wind-down period (≈2h) before bedtime
- Take ten deep breaths and try to re-focus
- Make a list of what we can and cannot control
And remember that we tend to do the not-so-good-for-us-things for a reason: they are often reinforced in the short run. A feeling of doing the right thing, a tiny decrease in anxiety, hope that it will make us more productive, a short actual rise in the feeling of control, or something else.
The list of actions that can be helpful in the long run often requires a larger effort here and now – which is why our brains prefer not to do them. So when we're in a process of trying to change behaviors, every progress – no matter how tiny– is an important step. And every time we repeat an old habit is an opportunity to learn and maybe create the possibility of catching ourselves earlier in the process next time.
As real persons, we never experience something the same way as others. We have our own history, our own set of genes, our own experiences, fears, and joys. But on a general level, we are still very much alike. Our bodies and brains evolved in the same way from the same ancestors. At the same time diversity between humans is one of the key features that made us so successful in conquering this planet. So, when you read the list above, everything may not apply to you because science operates on group-level associations.