Many people ask me if their ways of coping with stress are normal.

Many high achievers wonder if their methods of coping with stress is normal. After I listen to all of the data, I always, say, “yup, that’s normal…not fun, but normal.” If there is one question that has marked my professional life, regardless of specialty, it is a variation on “Is this normal?” For high achievers, the question always carries a hint of self-judgment…”I should be handling this better.” “Why do I feel so scattered?” Emotions, and ways to cope with them are especially frustrating because there isn’t a clear roadmap to problem-solving them.

Overwhelmed, emotionally overloaded, and energetically depleted.

You have been kicking ass–managing businesses (or waiting to manage them), trying to lead well, engaging with frustrating work dynamics, or simply trying not to kill your spouses. COVID. George Floyd. Election. Housing Crisis. Economic spins. Not enough employees. Downsizing. Upsizing. Right-sizing.

Many of you have asked me about intermittent lulls in energy and motivation. The questions have basically been every variation on “Should I be handling this better?” “Is something wrong with me?” “Is there a bigger picture problem that I’m missing?” “Why don’t I feel like doing anything?” “Why is this groundhog day?” “Am I the only one?”

Here’s the thing- layered stress wears away everyone’s psyche, like the annoying drip of water that shouldn’t drive you insane, but it does.

Coping with stress usually feels like a roller coaster

Analytical high achievers often think through their emotions and believe they are coping well, then one day wonder why they don’t feel like getting out of bed.

Some stressors aren’t an annoying drip of water; rather, they’re the kind that turns our worlds upside down. When we experience extreme stressors, there tends to be a sequence of adrenaline, transition, acceptance, exhaustion, and lethargy. Overall we land on a roller coaster of feeling fine one day and wanting to play video games the next.

During the worst of COVID-19, one of my clients shared her version of coping:

 Coronacoaster:   noun: The ups and downs of a pandemic. One day you’re loving your bubble, going for long walks, baking cakes, and puttering in the gardens, and the next, you’re crying, drinking gin for breakfast, eating party rings, and missing people you don’t even like.

While life has moved on since 2020, our responses to tragedy, trauma, or just a long period of suck remain the same. Some days, we feel like we have a grip on things, and other days we want to give up. In fact, the funniest presents I bought for clients were coasters that say, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve thought more about running away as an adult than I ever did as a child.” (copyright Co-edikit)

Wellness activities become critical instead of optional when coping with stress

When life is moving fast, it’s easy to take shortcuts around our foundational wellness practices. We think we can catch up on sleep or get some exercise another time. During stress, wellness practices such as exercise, meditation/prayer, nutrition, and fun can be the deciding factors between moving through the stress optimally or staying stuck in a quagmire of yuck for the next year. If you prefer business metaphors over emotional wellness terms, think of it this way. A healthy cash flow is nice to have in a bull market, but that buffer becomes the difference between stability and bankruptcy during a recession.

So just in case you are struggling with how to cope right now, this is what I want you to do:

1. Anticipate that energy waves will happen. In psychology, we have this sense of micro-traumas, complex trauma, and chronic stress. What it means, in layman’s terms, is that “it all adds up.” If you find yourself throwing a little tantrum, it doesn’t mean you are crazy. You’re just tired. You might go up and down for a while until things even out. I know it’s frustrating and unpleasant, but it is normal.

2. You’re normal. Without exaggeration, I’ve had the same question/conversation about handling stress many, many times in my career. During the worst parts of COVID-19, I had the conversation 10-15 times per week. When you are already stressed, try to cut yourself some slack and call yourself normal, instead of thinking that there is a pretty roadmap of coping that you are missing.

3. Make sure to give yourself structure and keep your foundational health practices solid.

a. exercise, probiotics, nutritional strategies

b. journaling gratitude, wins

c. spiritual practices re meditation, prayer

c. figuring out something each day/week to look forward to

d. keeping a basic routine

e. quarantining yourself from negative people

The above are always part of optimal functioning, but they are really important to buffering you from stress.

4. Caution on the news.

Figure out the amount that you want to know. Don’t watch personal stories, especially if you are highly empathetic. Try to get the information from printed headlines.

5. Figure out where you have control and how you can make a difference.

Then kick ass on that and give yourself grace along the way.