“If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” ~ Kris Carr
Lately I’ve been thinking about stress. I am willing to admit that a little bit of stress is more than just normal, it can actually benefit us. “Say what?” You may be thinking right now. “But I keep hearing about how stress is bad for me. It’s bad for my health. It’s bad for my mind. Bad, bad bad.” Well, that can be true, but think about it: A little bit of stress can also motivate us to meet that deadline, right?
But how do you all handle not just the “meet a deadline stress”, but the “I just want to pull the covers over my head kind of stress?” I myself, not so well (it usually results in me calling my Mom crying). Trying to juggle multiple tasks all at the same time can definitely make me want to just hibernate. Or snap at my loved ones.
What I tend to say to myself is this: If you aren’t going in for a doctor’s appointment or a scan, and you feel OK physically, then you have nothing to complain about. The reality? How can I never, ever get upset or stressed or angry or anxious about other things going on in my life? It’s just not human to ask that of myself (I know this intellectually). And while gratitude is an amazingly helpful practice to having a healthier and happier life, it is also “normal” to sometimes feel overwhelmed, which in turn can make you cranky, throw off your sleep, and make you want to reach for a cheeseburger.
Within the last couple of weeks, I have had at least 6 cases at work of either suicidal students, employees, or management consults to discuss somebody that was potentially in crisis. As you can imagine, there is a tremendous amount of energy that goes into trying to help people in such dire situations, and by the end of the work day lately, I’ve just been exhausted. On top of all of these tough cases, I also have my “regular” cases of people looking for counseling for other reasons (depression, anxiety, holiday stress/family issues, financial issues, drug addiction, you name it), managers or supervisors calling to consult, gathering resources for clients, going to meetings, etc. And if I get caught on, say a management consult where the HR director wants to read me every.single.email.exchange between two employees so that I can help her to best think about her next move to help her employees, and it’s almost 5pm, well then it’s my job to of course to stay late and take care of it.
But throw that in with trying to eat healthy at every meal, our blender breaking, getting a match from the Cancer Hope Network where I volunteer, beginning the process of planning a fundraising event for the spring, exercising 5 days a week, trying to keep up with what my friends are doing (I don’t like feeling out of the loop with any of you), our oil running out, cooking for a luncheon at my house with friends, and well… Pull the covers over my head time.
I know that you’ve all felt the same way! I know, because you tell me. Your boss is a mess. Your kid has the flu. Your husband is working around the clock. We all have stress. But my question is: Can we be handling it better? I’m not sure that I know the answer, but I can think of a few things that I myself can potentially be doing to pick myself up from not just the stress of life, but also from the winter blues as well. Do any of these resonate with you as well?
1) Break things down into pieces. When I think about the next month, about how short-staffed we are at work, about how sometimes things get really busy right before the holidays, about the traffic lately and how I have plans every single weekend (albeit, awesome plans, and I’m grateful and excited about that), I just want to crawl into bed and see ya on Jan 1st! That’s if I look at the next month + on my calendar. If I just look at today, I need to finish some online Chanukkah shopping, publish this blog, eat dinner, get my laundry out of the dryer, and everything else is gravy. It’s easy to look ahead, but let’s just look at today. After all, today is all that we really have to do anything anyway.
2) Keep up with moving your body– somehow, someway. I know that a lot of you with kids don’t really have the time to be doing these things, let alone every day. My biggest challenge right now isn’t mentally, actually, but physically getting myself downstairs to my arc trainer to work out. I find mentally that it’s really where I want to be, I almost crave it now that I’ve started doing it so often. Mentally I’m in my workout gear and watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother while working out, but physically? Physically, all I really want is to get into my PJ’s and plop down on the couch. It’s so cold out and always dark by the time I leave work these days. So I try to do the best that I can. I work out when possible, so that on the days when I literally just can’t do it, I don’t beat myself up about it (well, that’s the goal anyway). Is there anything that you can do to move your body? Is 10 minutes better than nothing? Does even stretching while you’re watching TV help? Apps like Daily Yoga (free) or even Office Yoga (for .99 cents) can help you to make the most of your limited time.
3) Meditate– or do something else that speaks to you that is calming, relieves anxiety, and feels grounding. #self-care! Lately I’ve been finding it hard to meditate at night because when SHL comes home, we have such little time together that all I want to do is just hang out with him, so I’ve begun practicing sometimes even during my lunch break. This feels like a good use of my time, because I could usually use a little bit of “calming down” during the day, in between the tough calls. Perhaps pick just one thing that speaks to you, like taking a warm shower, doing 5 minutes of yoga stretching, putting a warm compress on your neck or back, or calling me to bitch about your day!
4) Eat well. This is a challenge, especially at this time of year with all of the holiday parties. It requires a lot of planning and thinking ahead, something that I struggle with a lot, and perhaps you do too. (I’m the kind of girl who can go to the grocery store 4 days a week because I can only think about the next 2 meals coming up, and no farther than that!). Plus our blender broke! So the beating that I’ve been giving myself for not having my smoothies has not been fun. (*By the time this blog went to print we had replaced it, yay!). But instead of tearing myself down for not having green smoothies right now, perhaps I can remember that I am still eating well, fueling my body enough hopefully with other goodies like veggies, beans, nuts and seeds, to be able to handle what the day throws at me. I didn’t eat what I had planned on eating today at brunch with friends (the buffet really threw me for a loop), but I also said no to ice cream last night coming back from plans in the city. It’s always a give and take with what your body needs versus what your body wants (and what your mind wants/needs). And if I know that I have a work holiday party this week, maybe I’ll go easy on other outings the weekend before.
Pick one—realistic—thing that you think could help your stress levels to decrease, even just a little bit, and try to implement it. We all have to start somewhere, and thinking that it’s not “good enough” unless we do it all is just self-defeating (been there, done that).
3) See the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon I’ll have 6 days off in a row for the holiday– the most since last July. I can recharge my batteries. I don’t have to see my office or look at my phone or set an alarm! Woohoo! What’s your light? Your kid will feel better. Your boss will stop tweaking out (eventually). You’ll get a good night’s sleep. You’ll talk to a friend. You’ll have 10 minutes for a walk or a bath or some retail therapy. Give out good energy to the universe, and it will give it back to you.
4) Have an outlet. I swear peeps, if I didn’t have this bog to spill the beans to, I don’t know what I would do. Poor SHL gets the brunt of it, of course, but sometimes, you just need another sacred place to be able to say: Hey World, I love you, but I am stressed! Journal, talk to a friend, go see a therapist, call a family member for support. Isolating is normal when we get the winter blues or feel stressed/overwhelmed, but don’t isolate for too long.
5) Go easy on yourself. Having said all of the above, there are going to be days when you just can’t.do.any.of.these.things. This is perhaps what I struggle with the most. I tell my friends to be kind and gentle with themselves, especially during challenging or overly tiring times, but then I turn around and have words with myself because I didn’t do x,y, or z. And is it just me, or does winter = carbs? I wish that there was a way to turn mac ‘n cheese into the nutritious goodness of a bowl of kale, don’t you? Is anybody working on that yet? Mac ‘n cheese flavored kale…. Mmmmm!
I want to hibernate this winter like I do every year, but g-d willing, I also want to feel glorious and energized when the spring rolls around– ready to take on the universe in the sunshine! And guess what? I had a bite of dessert today at brunch with friends and didn’t work out. So I’m breathing… Because I just told you to be kind to yourself, right? Maybe I should take my own advice.