We love to say this: “I need to (fill in the blank). It will help me de-stress.”
Usually, we fill that blank with some kind of guilty pleasure: shopping, overeating, drinking, binge-watching television, Facebook stalking, Pinterest scrolling, and more.
Last Thursday, I wrote a post about why we need real hobbies and not just side-hustles, but I don’t want the conversation to end there.
When asked how to eliminate stress, many people will tell you to do any number of the activities listed above. Why do we think that stress is something an indulgent activity can eliminate– like an eraser on a misspelled word?
We’ve somehow been fooled into thinking that a momentary pleasure can lift burdens off of our shoulders, as though any intentional action would fail to actually address the problem.
It’s what I call the “treat yourself” mentality.
All of us face stress: we’re up against deadlines, our loved ones are in pain, our to-do lists are endless. This is life– you and I either have struggled, are currently struggling, or will struggle in the future.
It’s strange that our antidote to deal with the challenges of the human condition is to indulge in stuff that’s not really good for us.
The biggest problem with this mindset is that these activities usually bring us more stress in the end. More stuff means more organizing. Over-eating means feeling worse about our bodies. Stalking on social media or following celebrity gossip can only make us feel less inspired by our own circumstances. Rants and ultimatums only increase the number of things we wish we never said.
It’s time to understand the “treat yourself” mentality for what it really is. Indulging is not a sustainable solution for real stress. Here’s what I’m committing to avoid when I feel stressed:
10 Things You Should Never Do To De-Stress
1) Shop for new clothes or accessories.
Retail therapy does not work! That rush of excitement from a new purchase fades quickly, and is just another dent in your budget.
2) Rant publicly (on the Internet, especially).
If your tendency is to write a saga for the world to see, slow down. The safest decision is to keep those thoughts from ending up on paper, in an email, or even said aloud. They’re likely not the best representation of you, nor do you mean them 100%.
3) Eat more than you need, or go out when you should stay in.
Eating is comfort, isn’t it? Make your favorite meal or beverage, but be careful not to overeat in an effort to soothe your mind.
4) Read celebrity gossip or anything else that harms someone’s reputation.
What is it about our fascination with someone else’s dirty laundry? Does it really make us feel better? Quite the contrary– gossip appeals to our propensity to envy or judge others, neither of which are good for our stress levels.
5) Make unrealistic travel plans.
Any other runaways out there? This is my guilty pleasure: I surf the web for airline deals and accommodations when my day isn’t going well. These travels are unrealistic for my schedule and budget, so I only end up more upset that life isn’t going the way I want it to.
6) Binge-watch TV shows.
We might feel great (or simply entranced) during the show, but after it’s over we have to face that stress again. On top of the initial stressor, we now know that we wasted hours re-watching something that probably was not worth our time.
7) Get drunk.
We all know this doesn’t really work, but somehow it’s a socially acceptable option. If spending quality time with friends is what this really means for you, then consider an activity that doesn’t involve becoming intoxicated and waking up to a huge headache the next day.
8) Declare ultimatums you don’t mean.
Always and never are seldom true. You’ve likely heard that adage, but it’s hard to really delete those words from our speech or our thoughts. Remember that the emotion of the moment doesn’t have to dictate the way you live the rest of your life.
9) Check or calculate stats, earnings, grades, and balances.
Checking up on our numbers– whatever they may be– is not the way to deal with stress. Numbers are numbers, but their apparent significance is usually heightened when our emotions are already volatile. Leave the reality check for another day.
10) Be reckless.
Our culture appears to be under the impression that a little freedom and a little craziness will help us loosen up. The truth is, however, that real stress doesn’t go away after a reckless decision is made. In fact, recklessness often increases stress; our sense of right and wrong is not so easily moved. Spare yourself the regret and don’t fall into the reckless trap.
What to do instead…
1) Make a plan.
Monitoring your stress level is important. If something needs to be done in relation to your stress, then make a real plan of execution and stick to it.
2) Find areas of your life to simplify.
Remove stress from your life that you can so that you can deal with the things that are immovable. Related: 10 Simple-Living Tips For Millennials.
3) Speak up for yourself– respectfully and wisely.
Instead of crumbling under the pressure, ask for help or negotiate a change. Do this in a dignified manner that you won’t regret later.
4) Get your creative juices flowing.
Creativity is a gift we have as humans: the possibilities are endless. Finding a creative outlet can do wonders for your stress level; just make sure it’s a hobby and not a side-hustle.
5) Spend quality time with someone you love.
Date nights with friends, significants and spouses are the best way to get back in touch with your values and sense of self.
6) Explore the root of your stress with a friend or therapist.
As the wife of a future psychologist, I can’t leave this out. Stress can have serious ramifications on our daily lives, and sometimes we need some help figuring out what to do. Find someone you trust who can help you sort through it.
The bottom line: indulgent activities often heighten stress.
The next time you feel overwhelmed with stress, don’t succumb to “treat yourself” mentality. Instead, do what is actually good for you– something that can help lift that burden from your shoulders in the long-run.