Connecticut Voice

Your LGBTQ+ Voice

Stress Happens

Group of business workers screaming to stressed partner at the office.

Here are some ideas on how to deal it

As queer people, we already deal with greater levels of existential stress, as do other minority groups in the US, and it’s well documented how stress related to discrimination is bad for our health. According to the American Heart Association, this stress raises blood pressure, increases our likelihood of cardiac events, is linked with higher rates of substance abuse, and difficulty finding medical providers that understand our specific needs can be challenging. Not to mention the everyday stresses of being a human being experiencing break ups, job stress, and sick family members. That’s a lot, and yet we’re still out here making art, making change, and caring for each other!

So, what happens when our stress levels hit the fan? What happens when they’re continually approaching the fan? How about when we experience stress on a regular basis relating to our queerness, and our intersectionality concerning other public identities like race, gender, and physical ability?

Now more than ever, investing in our own health and well-being as queer people is a revolutionary act! As Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Although Lorde is credited with coining the phrase “self-care,” she’s sick of hearing it, too! Instead, I invite you to visit your Self. Sense into that part of your Self that helped you awaken to your queerness. That source energy is like a skeleton key that you can use to unlock the rest of your life. It can help you explore what behaviors align to your unique needs and wants, which have a positive/negative impact on you during times of stress, and what you need to experience on a regular basis to feel nourished, rejuvenated, and relaxed while you unplug from life’s demands.

A good place to start understanding our own unique stress responses is to identify what actually happens when you experience stress. Research shows that we fall back on our habits during stressful times. So, while our conscious mind is distracted by dealing with the source of our stress, our unconscious is keeping us on task with our most consistent habits. As Wendy Wood points out in her book, Good Habits/Bad Habits, “That’s good news for us…that your habits and those parts of you that you’ve set toward your long-term goals will continue.”

This might instill more stress in some of you! No need; all we have to do is find ourselves in the present moment with compassion—compassion for the fact that being human is hard. It’s messy, and it’s also ruthlessly beautiful. When we can check in with what we need and understand and view our behaviors as trying to solve a problem (Ugh, stress!), then we can be more flexible from a nervous system standpoint and allow for small changes. That’s the first step, exploring and moving towards what feels good and what behaviors are aligned with our deeper Selves and which ones are not. Here are a few strategies to noodle on. See what works for you:

Practice presence with what’s happening now. Sense into emotions, feelings, and thoughts that are prompting you to act. Once we can slow down the process of our automatic habits, we can see the connections to things like our thoughts and resulting behaviors. Knowing that being in your body might not feel safe for everyone, focus on what feels good. For many people breathing is an accessible and profound resource for practicing presence.

Set/hold boundaries. Put time limits on media, technology, and even people that add to your stress/anxiety.

Recover as hard as you stress. Schedule your recovery practices as you would work appointments and obligations. Stress is accumulative, and so is recovery. Daily practice even five minutes a day will help you build momentum for any habits you’re trying to develop like movement, breathing, meditation, baths, reading, etc.

Compassion is freeing. Bringing compassion to anything we find in our current lives helps free us from identifying with it as inherent or inevitable. Want to make a change? Start first with allowing yourself to be right where you are, muck and all! And watch how much easier it is to let go.

–Meghan Crutchley