This summer has been stressful for me. I’ve taken on a lot, in addition to trying to keep up with regular blog posts (thank goodness for the ability to schedule posts in advance), I’ve been slowly adding regular writing gigs, I’ve taken a class (Bio Psych) and completed an internship (150 hours in just over 2 months). Not to mention any other odds and ends – you know like cooking dinner, breathing, pacing.
Pacing has been interesting this summer and I’ve had to catch myself a few times from going overboard with my schedule (and a few times I didn’t catch myself). Along the way I was reminded of a few things and learned a few things that I probably should have already known (maybe I did know them and just forgot them) about handling life and reducing stress when life gets overwhelming.
10 Ways to Reduce Stress (whether it’s related to chronic illness or not)
1. Focus on one thing at a time – if there’s one thing Fibro has taken away from me (and there are many) it’s my ability to multi-task. I have to stay focused on one thing at a time or I will completely forget what I was doing. My boss on my internship made the comment about halfway through the summer that he had figured out how I work, that I work in chunks. I knew how he’d come to this conclusion and he confirmed it – it’s because he’ll get a mass of emails from me during a short block of time, then not hear anything else till the next day. I can’t let myself lose focus, even so much as jumping over to Facebook to look for a specific event or post can get derailed in a heartbeat; if I so much as look at a single post I’ll forget why I went there in the first place.
2. Don’t worry about controlling what you can’t control – I’ve talked about this before. I have a problem – Hi my name is Julie and I can be a control freak. If there’s one thing I know though, it’s that there is more in life that can’t be controlled than can be. Sometimes, for me, trying to control everything comes in the form of trying to be everywhere. I don’t want to miss out, I don’t want to miss information, I don’t want to miss fun. But, the truth is I can’t be everywhere or involved in everything that is going on and I don’t need be. I just need to handle what is mine and leave the rest to everyone else.
3. Stop trying to change people – I think we are all guilty of this and it’s a terrible source of stress. Sometimes my natural inclination to want to help people kicks into overdrive when I encounter stupid, but I’ve had to learn (and I’m still learning) that it’s not worth it. It just adds stress to my life and I’m much better off to just smile and walk away. So, now when I meet someone who goes off their need to prove how dumb they are I do just that, I smile, say “nice to have met you” and walk away, hoping that the next person I meet will be much more pleasant to converse with. You can’t change people, or how they think. You can’t convince them to believe anything other than what they already believe. So, don’t stress out over trying.
4. Relax in the fresh air – When my anxiety is really high I have found that the best place for me to be is outside. If I can get outside and sit in my nice comfy recliner or lay on my hammock and read for a bit, or listen to some music it will calm me so much faster than anything else. I don’t know how many times early this summer that I found myself wanting to go outside and not listening to my body tell me that’s where I needed to be. Once I got out there and relaxed I felt so much better. Sometime a short walk can help as well, but as often as not it’s just a matter of being outside, even for just a few minutes.
5. Be Mindful – I don’t do long mindfulness sessions, I just can’t seem to get into it. The truth is I can’t seem to make myself take the time to really focus on being mindful for more than a few minutes at a time. But, a few minutes at a time spread through the day can really add up. Taking just a few minutes to stop and think about how I’m doing, what is my body telling me? Taking a few moments to just breath can make all the difference in wearing myself out or getting through the day.
6. Check in with my schedule – This summer has really reminded me how important it is to not overload my schedule or my to do list. It’s so easy for me to add new tasks to my to do list and not even think about the reality of getting it all done. I’ll think it’s no big deal because if I don’t get it all done I can just move some things to another day. But, the truth is that just having those things on my list or my schedule adds stress to my day. My brain doesn’t really process it as things that I can do that day if I get to them, it looks at that list and sees things that I NEED to get done. So, it’s important for me to make sure that I really look at my schedule and know that’s realistic. Rather than waiting till the end of the day and move the uncompleted tasks, I need to look at it the night before and determine if I can realistically complete the list or if I need to reschedule tasks.
7. Stay Positive – When I get overwhelmed and stressed out I’m more likely to start thinking negative. Instead of thinking that there was too much on my to do list I’ll think that I’m not good enough for not having completed it. I worry about whether or not I did things well enough or whether others will be happy with my performance (even when I know there’s no reason for them not to be). It’s during times of stress that it’s even more important for me to focus on the positive. I love my task list for this reason because I get to see all the things I’ve done and checked off (you can see I have a love/hate relationship with my task list). But, task list or not I have to find ways to avoid falling into the negative mindset that stress can pull me into, the “I can’t get it all done”, the “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not doing enough” trap. It’s funny how the more I’m doing the more I worry that I’m not doing enough. So, I have to remember to ask myself are the thoughts going through my head true. Could I really have done anything differently? If the answer is yes, then that’s fine I need to remember that I can do it differently next time, but it does me no good to worry about what’s already done.
8. Stop comparing myself to others – There are others who can do way more than I can without even thinking about it, let alone stressing over it. They can work 12 hours a day and not be worn out (I can barely be awake 12 hours a day). In the end it doesn’t matter what others can do, it only matters that I do the best I can with the time I have. I don’t have to work 60 hours a week to feel accomplished, or even to accomplish the things i need to do. I just need to focus, and to stay focused. It doesn’t matter what others can do, that others can do something better than I can, that their blog has more traffic, that they get more paid writing gigs, or that they are going on to finish a master’s degree. All that matters is what I’m doing and that I’m doing it the best I can.
9. Be Thankful for what is – There is much in my life to be thankful for. My health isn’t perfect but it could be much worse. My stomach gets pissed when I eat way too many things, but there is still a good bit that I can eat without problems. I don’t make as much money as I’d like but I am earning an income. I’m not going to grad school, but I’ll be finished with my undergrad in 6 months! I have a wonderfully supportive family despite all of my setbacks. When I can focus on these positives and be thankful for them it’s a lot harder to be stressed out about the negatives that exist in my life.
10. Say No – I’ve been back and forth on this one so many times in the last five years. I get to a point where I’m doing a little better and I start saying “yes” again only to find myself saying “yes” too much. As I say yes more, I get asked to do more and then I end up in this never-ending cycle that simply is my #1 cause of stress. I am still trying to learn that even if I don’t say “No” outright I have to at least say “let me check my schedule” or “let me get back to you” rather than simply saying yes. It’s so much easier to come back with a “no” later when I put off answering than it is to change my answer to a “no” after I’ve said “yes”.
I’ve got one semester of school left, one more semester of trying to juggle too many hats. It seems that each week that goes by I pick up new hats, and I’m so glad that this semester should be a fairly light one (compared to past semesters). I’m doing my best not to pick up any new jobs between now and December, which means remembering to say “no” when asked to do things, but I’m looking forward to January when school will be done and I can focus on work, on making a living, and being useful with the skills I have, without stressing myself out.