Managing stress is a daily necessity. The ways we choose to do so, however, can either strengthen or harm our well-being. Too often, we numb ourselves for stress relief. There’s a much better way to handle stress: pursuing wonder.
Numbing ourselves against the stress we experience can make us feel better temporarily. However, numbing behaviors only offer brief escapes from stress – and they can significantly harm our well-being. Looking for the wonder around us helps us experience awe, which is linked to a myriad of well-being benefits.
These are 5 common numbing behaviors for dealing with stress:
Substance abuse: People often use alcohol or other drugs to try to escape from stress.
Comfort food: Eating comfort food such as pizza and ice cream is another popular way for people to numb themselves in response to stress.
Screen time: People numb themselves by staring at screens – binge-watching television shows, scrolling through social media, playing video games, and more.
Pornography: A staggering amount of people turn to porn rather than healthy relationships to relieve stress through sexual gratification.
Busyness: Even though overworking increases stress, keeping busy can distract people from the uncomfortable feelings that stress triggers. They can avoid feeling stress by numbly moving from one activity to the next.
The stress of going through the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated those numbing behaviors. Alcohol and junk food sales are soaring as people eat and drink for comfort rather than nutrition. Daily screen time has increased for both adults and children. Pornography use boomed online during lockdowns. Finally, for those of us who still have jobs, the workday has expanded to be an average of 3 hours longer than before.
When we numb ourselves, we limit our ability to perceive the wonder around us. We need to use our senses to notice and appreciate wonder in our daily lives – from the sight a glorious sunset to the sound of music that motivates us to dance.
We must stop numbing ourselves to be able to experience wonder. Awe-inspiring experiences are possible anytime and anywhere, but we can’t discover them if we’re numb. We need to wake up our emotions and senses to enjoy the wonder around us.
How are you managing the stress in your life right now? Here’s how to stop numbing yourself against stress and start sensing wonder:
Cut numbing behaviors out of your lifestyle. Reflect on how you’re currently numbing yourself for stress relief. Confess whatever unhealthy behaviors or addictions you’re struggling with, and commit to stopping them for one month. Then change your lifestyle to eliminate the unhealthy behaviors you want to stop. For example, if you’re trying to break a habit of eating junk food when you’re stressed, throw out all the unhealthy snacks you have at home and buy healthy replacements at the grocery store. Or, if you’ve committed to cut your screen time, set all your electronic devices to turn off after you’ve reached your daily limit, and use the extra time to enjoy nature – such as by searching for awe on a wonder walk.
Build your strength through support. Ask several caring, trustworthy friends or family members for encouragement and accountability along the way. If you’re dealing with an addiction, arrange for professional counseling, treatment, and any other help you need to break free of it. Plan to pray, meditate, and talk with your loved ones regularly to keep your soul strong. Make sure you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat nutritiously to keep your body strong.
Choose mindful behaviors instead of numbing behaviors when you feel stressed. Practice mindfulness when you feel the urge to numb yourself against stress. Mindfulness (focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings) can help you experience your emotions without being controlled by them. Mindfulness practices can be as simple as focusing on your breathing. Plan specific practices to use in the moment whenever stressful feelings hit, so you can redirect your mind and let the stress pass over you like a wave.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Rather than denying or suppressing your feelings, choose to experience them fully. Emotions are gifts that send us valuable messages about ourselves and the world around us. It’s easy to appreciate positive emotions like peace and joy, but negative emotions like sadness and anger can also teach us important lessons. Getting in tune with your emotions throughout each day will help you notice and appreciate the excitement of wonder around you.
The less we numb ourselves, the more sensitive we can become to wonder. As we enjoy wonder regularly, we gain a greater perspective on stressful situations that empowers us to transcend them.