Coping with stress

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So, the last week was stressful AF. I had to travel to Bologna for some conferences, and afterwards, B and I had to stay there for another week to find a flat, since we will be moving there in August.

Finding the perfect flat is very hard; finding one with limited resources even more so. We spent almost every day searching for different flat ads, going to endless agencies, making agreements, collecting documents and trying to find a solution. Bologna is not an easy place to find a flat in general; it is packed with students that are also looking for flats, which can be quite expensive.

Seven days later, we’ve made a choice, we found a great flat (still have to sign the contract though – fingers crossed it all turns out okay), and we can finally breathe normally.

An Erasmus Mundus masters degree is an amazing experience; you meet a lot of people, you learn a lot about different cultures, and just as much about yourself; but boy-oh-boy, it is just as stressful. This week was filled with stress – not knowing how things are going to turn out, where we will live; when you are in that state of stress, you start loosing the grip of reality and can’t even see that no matter what, things will turn out okay somehow.

So today I want to talk about stress. It is everywhere and in everyone around us; people today are stressed almost all the time for different reasons. I have been suffering from anxiety for several years now; sometimes my stress is imaginary, sometimes justified, but no matter its source, it comes back to torture me way too often.

But how do we get away from it? How do we break the circle of stress? We cannot change the situation that gives us stress (or we can do that rarely). If we cannot change our circumstances, what can we change? Well, for all these years that I’ve been fighting my battle with anxiety, I’ve learned we can indeed change the way we see it.

This is not easy. I’m still not perfect in it, I still get very stressed sometimes. But my perception of stress has changed. The biggest mistake I was making was trying to ignore it. Stress doesn’t go away when we simply ignore it. But it does lose a bit of its power when we acknowledge it. When we accept that it is there, then we can do something about it. There are many ways to cope with stress that you can find online; I tried many, and kept several that worked well for me.

Firstly, don’t keep it inside you. Not talking about it only makes it worse; you wouldn’t believe how many times I started imagining terrible things (and being perfectly convinced that just because I’m thinking it, it must be real), and when I told them someone out loud or even just written them in my journal, I realised just how silly they are. The truth is that our thoughts are just that – thoughts. They aren’t real. It is something that is happening inside our heads. Make sure to remember that, because the more aware we are that thinking about something doesn’t necessarily make it real, the less power it has over us. I like to tell these things to my sister, because she just tells me: “It’s bullshit”, and then I start realising that it could be just bullshit. You can always stop for a moment and ask yourself, is this bullshit? In most cases, the answer will be YES.

One of the ways to make sure stress is happening less in your life in general is by meditating. I’ve started meditating a year ago, and I can just now fully appreciate its benefits. My body was so stressed, that it was tense most of the time; and it was just after my therapist asked me if I even notice just how much tense my body is that I realised that she was right. Meditation isn’t a magical cure; but it can really help. Your body will relax, and it is much more difficult to get stressed in the first place when your body feels relaxed. Plus, finding a moment of silence, of being turned solely towards yourself, your inside, teaches you how to be in the moment, not worrying about things that aren’t there just yet. The good thing is that you can learn how to meditate easily; there are many free guided meditations apps or Youtube videos.

Meditation brings me to another technique, and that is mindfulness. Being mindful means to be fully present in the given moment. To pay attention to what is happening right now instead of thinking about the future or the past. We worry because we are thinking of the future; so if we focus on the present moment, it can help us get away from the stress of the future. Even though we cannot stop ourselves from thinking about the future, the simple act of trying, of focusing on what’s happening right now, will help us. The truth is that no thinking about the future will make sure the future is the way we want it to be. So the best thing we can do is to stop ourselves when we notice that our thoughts are turned too much towards worrying about the future. We take a deep breath, we turn around and see what’s happening around us. Hang out with people, try some delicious food, have a stroll in the park. Try to do those things even if you don’t feel like it. Noticing things that aren’t related to your source of stress will make you realise that even though you are currently in this state, it is not forever; that too will pass. And the more we repeat that to ourselves, the more stress goes away. So, in order to do as I preach, I went for a little sightseeing, some delicious gelato and a photo session. And in those moments at least, stress was completely gone.

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