Challenge: Staying Mindful Under Stress

Angry businesswoman ready to hit an alarm clockI believe that the single hardest challenge in today’s (work) life is staying mindful under stress.  It’s certainly a big challenge for me because I’m not very good at dealing with stress.

During a stressful period I typically drop my self care routines for a while.

I stop eating regular meals, exercising, meditating, sleeping enough and doing my Feldenkrais lessons. I eat crap food (as long as it’s easily digestible and I don’t need to cook it myself, it’s ok), consume Pepsi Max, tea and candy.

When things get back to normal I’m usually completely pooped out. Not to mention the fact that I’m mad at myself for skipping exercise.

I’m not only dead tired but my upper traps are like a piece of concrete and I may sport a migraine. Not to mention unwashed dishes piling up in my kitchenette or the fact that I usually skip my normal grooming routines. It’s not unheard of for me to get out with the last day’s make up still on – you can always fix that with some powder and cotton tips, yes? 🙂

Yet I believe it shouldn’t be too hard to maintain some of your habits. What prevents me from taking a couple of quick walks outside even if I’m busy? I think it’s partly because under stress it’s really hard to be mindful of your body’s messages.


My last stressful period took place a few weeks ago. After that I’ve thought a lot about why it’s so difficult to take care of yourself under stress. Are stress and self care really mutually incompatible? I’d like to think that they aren’t.

My theory is that stress distorts your thinking. When you’re stressed out, you (erroneously) think you’re in real danger, so you focus on doing anything to avoid the feared consequence.

So you’ll believe it when your mind tells you don’t have any time for self care. You can’t really take a 5-minute break from work, can you?  Perhaps you also believe you need to spend 100% of your waking hours working – or at least mulling over the problem even if nothing comes out of it (that seems to happen to me a lot..)

But I have started to think that there has to be a better way to deal with stressful life situations.

It should be possible to stick to at least some kind of stripped-down self care routine even when you’re highly stressed. Then I wouldn’t need days to recover from stressful periods, and I wouldn’t feel like a truck had  just driven over me.

Surely that is possible in practice?


Do you have any tips for maintaining good habits under stress?


  1. I’ve been pondering on whether I drop the self-care or whether I get overly indulgent. If I’m stressed I tend to tell myself I NEED a treat. I tell myself I don’t HAVE to exercise or focus on food etc.. and I treat myself gently. Which is a good thing – to an extent. Cos I realise I’m actually not treating myself well really if I’m letting myself do lots of unhealthy things (so my self-care does disappear!).


  2. Satu says:

    Hi Deb! That is a good question to ask. What bothers me most about letting the self care slip is tjhe fact that I end up feeling like s*it. That is simply not fun.

    Of course it’s pretty useless to self-flagellate afterward if you indeed let your self care drop.

    And I think that the perception that I don’t have any time for self care is usually an illusion too: I don’t gain anything by not taking breaks from work or by not exercising. It might be different if I was in a line of work where minutes or seconds might actually matter. But I’m not.

  3. Marion says:

    Hi Satu! Well, I think ritual, or habit, is very important. I found that being self-employed was very stressful for me until I started making rituals to make each day more controlled and normal. I get washed and dressed at a certain time each day. Makeup and hair curling happen according to schedule. Exercise is done the same time each week. Eating happens during certain hours of the day. All of this adds needed structure to my uneven life. Without these rituals, I would be up and down like you describe.

    I think it also helps that my teen kids would comment if I was not looking good. But anyone can simply imagine a person evaluating a situation, “What would [person’s name] think of this situation?” And that person would kick my butt into the bathroom for an hour of beauty routine.

    I think it also helps to have to dress up for clients coming in, dress up for meetings and school events, look good at gym, and just be embarrassed in general if I look too terrible in front of super neat neighbors.

    🙂 Marion

  4. I wish I had tips…and will be all ears to see what others do. Serious stress tends to snowball, and everything becomes a bigger deal and more dramatic than it needs to be. And then every aspect of life suffers. Have a great day Satu.

  5. In my opinion, you’d have to come up with a plan of action before you get into your stressful phases. Trying to find ways to deal with it when you are stressed just adds more stress on top (as in, I know I’m stressed, I should be doing something about it). It’s like trying to strengthen the damn after the flood is there.

    • Satu says:

      You’re right!! Having a plan is a very good idea. I think I’ve managed to become a bit more stress resilient recently, but there is still lots of room for improvement (the last insight I got is to not get sucked into panic mentality). I don’t know why I haven’t ever thought about it before, but consciously planning for times of stress is very good idea! 🙂

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