There are many ways to handle stress, but few of them actually handle it. Most are distractions, and while those too serve a purpose – they allow your subconscious to gnaw at the problem – it is in moments of clarity that stress truly vanishes.
That clarity is brought on by reflection, and it rarely helps to reflect while inebriated. “Write drunk, edit sober” may have worked for Hemingway’s novels, but to decide whether you should switch jobs, break up, or have children? You might want to have your head on straight for those.
Reflection, too, can happen in many ways, and you need only one that works for you, although more glasses through which you can see properly don’t hurt. Some problems you might want to talk through with friends, others you’ll want a more distanced professional’s eye on.
Regular, individual reflection, however, can be a habit that acts like a valve: Every time you sit down to journal, you let out some steam. Relief becomes routine. I cannot recommend this enough.
For one, you’ll get better at reflecting. You can’t summon master thinking skills right when your child gets expelled from school. You’ll already need to have them. For another, it provides reassurance that relief is always coming. Even if shit hits the fan in a big way, you’ll know some reprieve lies ahead, and you’ll be familiar enough with the feeling of a big wave of it washing over you that you’ll trust the wave will eventually come, as it always does – especially given you’ll keep reflecting.
Reflection differs from coping in that coping keeps you in place, whereas reflection inches you forward. Sometimes, the difference is so tiny we can barely notice it, and in those times, it’s easy to choose more coping instead of more reflection.
Once you get too comfortable with taking painkillers after banging your head against the wall, however, painkillers will be the only solution you know. You’ll no longer see the small cracks forming in the wall, and you’ll become a keeper of your obstacle rather than its destroyer.
There’s a reason what we see on the surface of water is called “reflection:” Reflection makes us adaptable. Like water, we can use it to flow around obstacles, to slip right through them, or even crush them with sheer force if we have to.
And what happens when water is done? It rests. No matter whether it slowly crawls to a stop at the edge of the beach or finds perfect stillness in a glass, once water has adapted to its surroundings, it finds relief – and so will we if we choose to wield the power of reflection.