The past three weeks have been a life lesson for me in contending with new levels of stress. The economy, many friends without jobs and the state of all of our hard-earning savings is enough to give us all sleepless nights, but the challenge of a serious medical situation for my mother, followed by surgery and a stint in the ICU for my father, finally pushed my stress levels into new territory.
I don’t presume to have the answers, but I thought I’d share some of the “in the trenches” thoughts while in the midst of these medical adventures.
More importantly, I think this is a good opportunity for KIT List folks to share their best tips on managing stress so that we can all benefit from the collective wisdom in our wonderful community. And if you don’t have stress — let us know your secret!
1. Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to lean on your friends and family. They will come through in ways that will touch and amaze you. It’s true that you don’t have to do it alone. Having others share the workload, help with caregiving or other tasks will help you through the long haul. Friends also have excellent ideas and resources to offer since many have been through the same situation you’re facing (death, illness, joblessness, etc.). Many of us mistakenly think we’ve got to be strong all of the time, and that we’d sooner help someone else than ask for help. But the incredible thing is that people truly love to help each other, and that being willing to be on the receiving end is allowing the generosity and kindness to flow…and grow. My friend Ginny was sick herself, yet she dropped off homemade soup, along with her warm wishes, for my folks. That meant the world to me.
2. Have a Good Cry…or a Good Yell
Yes, even the brawniest men out there can benefit from the emotional release. Tears carry toxins out of our systems, and even the strongest of us need to let down and feel the full impact of the emotions going on. When you can’t work up any tears, I endorse a healthy yell, or more, by yourself (the car is a quiet place so you don’t scare the neighbors. But don’t do it when you’re behind another driver — your facial expressions may scare the hell out of them!). There’s something really gratifying about giving your lungs a chance to belt it out.
3. Lean into Your Faith
I’m ashamed to admit to being a lot better at praying when the pressure is on. But what has impressed me most is the number of people who have added their prayers and encouragement, and calls came from unexpected places. Don’t discount the power of the “jungle drums” as people spread the word about the need for prayers and support. My family and I definitely felt the protection and the lightening of the load by the combined efforts of so many. Being part of a community — a church, a club, your neighborhood or a group of friends — can have a tremendous impact on your wellbeing. Volunteering is another way to get your mind off of your own worries. It can give you important perspective when you see the challenges others are facing, while giving you a chance to add your talents to solving a social problem or need. Plus, it gets you out of the house!
4. Rest Up and Recharge Your Batteries
I hear that the best thing to do under stress is to eat well and exercise. I haven’t done either this last month, and have to admit to savoring a guilty endorphin rush from an old-fashioned doughnut from Stanford Hospital’s cafeteria. But if you can’t get in a gym workout, just taking a walk to get fresh air and take a break from the trouble is worth it. Also, the power of sleep can’t be discounted. My new motto is, “What a difference a day makes.” Sometimes just having a chance to rest gives you a whole new perspective on a situation. And sometimes the situation can change dramatically for the better in just a day. You never know when something incredible is just around the corner, if you can only just hold on!
5. Don’t Watch (or Read) the News
Uncle! Enough negativity already. We already know the bad stuff, and it can be overwhelming to hear the volume of horrible news. I’m limiting how much I pay attention to the news and I’m focusing instead on what I can do to make things better for my friends, my family and myself. The media’s focus is often on what’s wrong with the world since that attracts more readers and viewers. It can give the false perception that the world is falling apart. We’ve been through many tough times before, even far worse ones, and we have the courage and the talent and the resources to overcome these circumstances. Take a look at old headlines over the past 60 years and you’ll see that we’ve been through a lot and came out better and stronger as a result. Life flourishes in spite of (or because of) hardship.
6. Focus on What IS Working
Tonight, when I was feeling so overwhelmed, I purposely stopped and tried to reframe what I felt was bad news. Instead, I decided to mentally list all the good things that happened, or looking at what I was grateful for (things could have been worse). We’ve all heard about keeping a Gratitude Journal, and I have to admit to being pretty infrequent with my entries. But just taking the time tonight to think about what was going right, and what I have to be grateful for helped to tilt the balance from “half empty” to “half full.”
7. Do Just One Thing
My head is often swirling with the thousand things I could or should be doing. I often feel besieged and bedeviled by my endless To Do List. That alone is stressful enough. I’m trying to “do just one thing” instead. Sometimes just getting started on one thing gets the momentum going and I can tackle other things afterward. This helps break the log jam of inertia by making some progress on one thing. Our world is so focused on productivity that we’ve multitasked ourselves into being less productive. Multitasking has become a relentless taskmaster, and studies show that we are actually much more productive when we focus on one task at a time.
8. Make ‘Em Laugh
See a funny movie or do something that gives you joy. I passed over more meaningful (but depressing) storylines to see “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” tonight for some much-needed laughs. After a full day after the release from the hospital for my Dad, and meetings with the physical therapist, visiting nurse, and family meetings, a friend was a willing accomplice to get away at the movies. If you have a passion or hobby, make sure you give yourself some time to pursue it. Whether it’s hiking, biking or puttering around the garden (my personal favorite), you’ll find yourself energized and recharged after losing yourself in something else for a while. Most of us can’t run away to a tropical island, but a mini-getaway with a day trip to the beach, the wine country or something else in your area you haven’t explored yet has amazing ways of renewing you. I’ve found just spending even a few hours at the beach blows out the cobwebs in my brain, and the expansive horizon and the changing surf can make a world of difference.
This is not the complete list of stress busters, so use the Comments section for this blog to share your best tips on reducing stress with the rest of the KIT List community.
Let’s see the creative ways you all use to beat stress!