I’m about to break! These last few weeks have been tough. I am juggling far too many responsibilities and creative projects than I’d like or should and as a result, I’m putting too much pressure on myself to make it all work. The level of stress has gotten to a point it’s honestly a wonder I’ve been able to publish this post.
Why so serious?
I have signed up for a We Create course to dig a little (a whole lot) deeper into the crazy and wonderful world of blogging. In the short few weeks since the class began, I have learned heaps of information on plugins and apps and all things tech that a person, such as myself, wouldn’t normally know about. Clearly, I made the right choice in enrolling in the program. Learning is great, but finding the time in between eating and sleeping, working out, and going to my day job, has been difficult. Nevermind social engagements and, oh yeah, all that packing I need to be doing.
Yes. I have decided to move out of my midtown Toronto apartment after living here for nearly seven years (the longest amount of time I have lived ANYWHERE). The boxes and packing materials be everywhere!
With so much going on, it feels a little insane in my head right now. So insane, in fact, that I have Ian Holm repeatedly reciting one of his Bilbo Baggins lines in my head (LOTR fans, this is for you):
Simply put, I’m stressed. I’m stressed with the everyday information overload. I’m stressed with trying to keep the creativity flowing enough to write (hard to do when you are, you got it, stressed). I’m stressed with trying to get myself to work on time (it’s not happening) because pulling myself away from moments of focused creativity is incredibly difficult. All of this stress I put on myself is compounded by the unsettling sight of all the boxes and packing supplies strewn about my place (not to mention the occasional stubbed toes from said boxes).
And to boot, I have a roommate who has been quite passive aggressive about my whole moving ordeal. Not cool.*
So what do you do to manage the crazy, when, if you’re anything like me, find it incredibly difficult to pull yourself away from all the things you just have to get done? When the to-do list keeps growing and that dang light at the end of the proverbial tunnel remains a mere speck in the distance? When you’re mind starts to wander and takes you down dark paths of make-believe conversations with people (ahem, roommates)?
Simple. You stop it.
Ha! If only it were that easy. Or maybe Bob Newhart’s character is on to something…
What is stress and where does it come from?
Stress isn’t entirely a bad thing. Its existence most likely contributed to keeping our species alive (cavemen were really stressed out, but for good reason—ever see a saber-toothed tiger?), it’s just that now in modern life we aren’t entirely stressed in the same way. We know what berries aren’t poisonous (and super lucky for us, grocery stores don’t sell them) and if you’re reading this blog, likely you aren’t in a situation where you have to worry about being attacked/bitten/stung/eaten by some kind of predatory animal. Stress is primarily a physical response to keep us safe.
The internet tells me when stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ (and sometimes ‘freeze’) mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action (saber-toothed tigers!). This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions like digestion (the need to go to the bathroom when you’re running away from a tiger, just won’t do).
This cocktail of hormones and chemicals have kept and continue to keep us safe. They allow us to respond to a potentially deadly situation like (tigers!) avoiding getting hit by a car as an obvious modern-day example.
BUT, the stress I’m referring to is a modern-day one generated by my present living and life circumstances and doesn’t exactly serve a purpose. Unless the purpose is to age me and keep me in a brittle state of high strung-ness.
According to stress.org, when blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimized leading to an inability to ‘think straight’ which is my life right now. Being kept in a state of stress for long periods can be detrimental to our health (signs of ageing!). The results of having elevated cortisol levels can be an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels and a decrease in libido. And nobody wants that.
What is to be done?
Because stress is often learned (hello parents) it is important to first understand how we react to it if we react at all, and then deal with the bastard accordingly. A little bit of stress isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it is depending on how we handle the stress itself. So handle it well and go forth and prosper.
While falling down an internetting hole, I came across Lifehack.org’s article on 10 Ways to Change the Way You Deal with Stress. Author, Asli Omur, breaks down what we can do to manage the stress we have in our lives in order to find our inner peace. Below is my take on Asli’s list:
1. Don’t react to your stress, but respond to it
Being reactive is quick and easy and is likely your go-to type of response. But responding to a stressor is being aware of the stress and how it makes you feel. In order to respond authentically to such stress, check in with what’s going on internally.
I grew up in an explosive environment: verbal insults were yelled in spittled rage a-plenty and as an adult, I have made the choice to steer clear of certain family members. I understand how a lot of their reactiveness was a result of stress, but I believe it doesn’t have to be that way. I also agree wholeheartedly that hurting others while you deal with your stress is not an effective way to heal yourself. I was recently in a situation where rage was percolating beneath the surface of my being—I hadn’t experienced such visceral anger in a very long time, if ever. It was looking for an outlet, a release, and had someone been near me I may have gone up in flames. Instead, I immediately went outside to walk and listen to the spring birds chirp.
2. See the big picture, not just the ‘particulars’
Seeing the big picture allows you to determine the kind of result you hope the situation will lead to. Make positive choices and welcome the benefits.
3. Accept the things we cannot change and know thy stress
Stress kills. According to this study, stress can lead to a 43 percent increased risk of death if you view it as negatively impacting your health. If you understand and don’t perceive the effects of your stress as negative, then you don’t have to worry about an early death. Intense, right? Know the difference between the good kind of stress and the bad, as well as focus on trying to change the things you can, letting go of trying to change the things you can’t.
4. Find your peace and practice mindfulness
Lately, finding my peace and practicing being mindful varies between taking a bubble bath, doing a yoga routine, or meditating. Not gonna lie, I’ve done all three in one evening because I bloody well wanted to, and likely needed to. It’s possible you already have a practice, if not, find one and cultivate it and watch your stress levels decrease.
The hardest part of committing to the “me” time—the time you take for yourself, and I mean, really take for yourself—the time you take to unplug from the phone, the computer, and altogether sensory and information overload and invest in you and ‘quiet’, is the act of doing. What’s that saying? “Just DO it”? Do it. Begin a practice of mindfulness.
Play a sport, dance, paint, listen/play music, exercise, breath. Heck, even eating well and focusing on nothing but eating that beautiful healthy meal is a form of mindful practice.
5. Say goodbye to past behaviours
Practicing being mindful will help to understand the stress and allow space to shift or change the way in which you deal with the stress. What was once your way of coping with stress, doesn’t necessarily mean it was ‘a healthy or successful choice’. Remember, how we deal with stress is learned and because it is learned, it can be unlearned.
6. Say no to drugs
Drugs and alcohol never solved anything and abusing them may result in added stress (who knows where those trips will take you, maybe all the way to jail and that would be stressful).
7. + 8. Ignoring stress isn’t a good policy
The stress will always be there and pretending that it isn’t isn’t going to stop it from existing.
In truth, the longer you ignore and avoid dealing with your stress, the longer you avoid finding your peace.
9. Goals and lists = feelings of accomplishment
This is my jam. Making a list of things that need to get done, etc., helps to manage the stress and leads to an increase in self-esteem. There is great satisfaction in crossing items off of a list. If you follow the parameters you set out for yourself, and truly stick to them, the reward is great. Not only do you (hopefully) start knocking some of your items off your to-do list, but you feel accomplished which leads to a boost in self-esteem. It’s important to be fair and to provide balanced timelines, etc., ones that you can manage. AND if you cannot, because you are human, be kind to yourself first and readjust accordingly. The list is to take away the stress and not add to it.
10. Find your support crew
It’s taken me a long time to understand what I need to support myself in stressful situations and it usually involves reaching out to a friend or family member. I’ve learned it’s okay to be vulnerable with these people because the aftermath is that I don’t feel so isolated and alone and as a result, I am less stressed.
Find your people.
You can’t entirely ‘stop’ being stressed, but you can improve the way you deal with it.
Finding peace, one step at a time.
*To be fair, relationships are co-created: I’m no innocent.