Stress and anxiety are two things that I try to avoid, but I can’t always. Sometimes I just get anxious for no reason, or I start thinking about all that I need to do and I stress myself out. I try to stay focused on the present moment but it doesn’t always work.
About 20 years ago I had one of my first non-retail job. I was hired to create websites, a skill I’d taught myself. I wasn’t the best at it but I knew the basics and I was open to learning more. I took the job in hopes of learning much more. Unfortunately, I got relegated to a corner, organizing stock images, while another person did all the design work. I was bored. I ended up spending more of my time on that job reading through TV show synopses than I did working. Not long after I started working there I started getting sick whenever I ate. I’d get nauseated and eventually I reached the point where the only foods I could manage were crackers and an occasional chicken sandwich. I lost a good bit of weight in a short time. After several visits to the doctor with no answers the doctor suggested that I was just stressed or anxious. I gave his suggestion some thought and couldn’t think why I would be stressed, I had the easiest job on the planet. Bored, definitely, but stressed? Evidently, so. I gave my notice and went back to retail and started creating websites on the side (working for myself). My stomach problems went away.
These days I know there are a handful of things that will really stress me out, so I try to avoid them. And, now that chronic illness is part of my life avoiding those things that stress me are even more important because stress leads to an increase in my other symptoms, and can potentially result in a flare.
In order to avoid stress, I try to avoid think about:
Things I can’t control – There is so much in life that I can’t control. I can get caught up in all of that and I will end up stressed in a heartbeat. I won’t be able to eat or sleep, but what’s the point? I can’t control those things. I can’t control who gets elected as president or what he does. I can’t even control whether or not my husband gets upset over whatever, but I can control my reactions to my husband. I can control how much news I watch. When it comes to politics, I try to balance my need to stay informed with my need to stay sane. I can’t get caught up in every little thing. Instead I need to focus on things within my sphere of influence. I can control how I treat others, I can control what food I put in my body, I can control my stress level by picking and choosing my battles.
Mistakes I’ve made – I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my past. I’ve made wrong choices, I’ve done the wrong thing. I could focus on all those bad choices and whatever bad results they may have lead me to (did doing X result in my chronic illness?) but I choose not to focus on those things. When I do think about past mistakes I try to reframe them and remember that without whatever choices I’ve made in life and whatever I’ve done, I would not be where I am today and have the good things I have today. We can’t undo the bad without undoing the good as well. So, why spend time worrying about past mistakes when there’s so much life to live now and so many more opportunities to make the right choices?
Things I fear – I know a few people that always seem to think the sky is falling. They focus on the things they fear could happen. It’s easy to get caught up in that and it seems lately more and more people only see the negative. These days when I think about things I fear I try to focus on how I can overcome that fear. What can I do to no longer have that fear rather than to avoid the thing I fear. The sky isn’t falling. That pain in my toe does not mean I’m going to need it amputated, a bad day does not mean I’m going to have a bad week. I can’t focus on the fears, I have to stay focused on hope.
Things that Overwhelm Me – This is probably the hardest one to avoid thinking about. Some days I just am so overwhelmed. I look at all I have going on and I think there’s no way I can do this. Some days I may be right (I’ve probably put too much on my to do list that day). Recently as I was planning this upcoming surgery I looked at my schedule and freaked out. I was looking at all I would need to do over the course of the coming couple of months and with the surgery rescheduled everything fell together. How could I possibly accomplish everything I needed to do. I began to feel overwhelmed but then I remembered that It’s OK to ask for help… so I did. And, the response calmed me. Sometimes we are overwhelmed just because we assume we have to do it all. Sometimes we don’t.
Avoiding thinking about things that stress me out simply makes my life easier. It’s not about burying my head in the sand – I refuse to do that. But, there is a balance, a point where we can stay informed and be aware, without allowing life to overwhelm us. There’s a point where we can get things done because we ask for help without feeling like we are worthless. Life doesn’t have to overwhelm us, but it will if we don’t find balance not only in what we do but in what we think.