Choosing Your Stress

Choosing Your Stress‘Tis early November and the holiday season is in full swing. I find that my holiday season begins in September, or birthday month around our home, and it does not end until February. October is swallowed by talk of costumes and candy. By the time November arrives, we are all exhausted from the glory and splendor the end of Daylight Saving Time and Election Day. 2015 has also gifted us with a holiday controversy before turkey day. If I so much as see the word ‘r*d’ or ‘c*p’ it makes me want to climb back into bed.
It dawned on me this morning that I needed to rely on an old trick from my advocacy days: self care.
My first six months as a domestic and sexual violence advocate was mostly spent in training. In all the manuals, staff meetings, and trainings, self care was discussed often. My case worker and social worker colleagues had a good chunk of vacation and sick time available to them because working with those in crisis is draining. It can really wear on you to hear heart breaking stories day in and day out, and the holiday season puts a particularly nasty spin on crisis. It is difficult to want to help and know that the people you encounter are experiencing the worst times of their lives, yet you can merely provide resources and a listening ear.
Life as a parent cracked this experience wide open, because life keeps moving. There are good times and bad, children to raise, friends and family to cherish and endure. There are big and little causes. Political, feminist, humanitarian, and religious movements to join. There are so many things to care about and survive in this world that we really do ourselves the worst disservice when we ignore our own well being for the sake of someone or something else.
When I begin to feel defeated, it is the first sign that I am not taking care of myself. If I am not paying attention to my own needs in some way, how can I be of service to others? Here are a few things that help me to unwind and relax during these stressful times.
I am not sure there is a level of stress that a good ol’ fashioned laugh ’til you cry moment will not cure. I find a friend or my husband and laugh about a bad joke, find a favorite comedy to watch, or YouTube something ridiculous if I am short on time. The past few years, I have found the comedy/memoir book genre to be rather life changing. (If you need any suggestions, I am more than happy to share my favorites!)
The first thing to go this time of year for many of us is sleep. I make an effort to shorten my morning routine or to skip a chore or three in the evening. It is almost always impossible to add more than 20-30 minutes to my night’s sleep, but I also remind myself to do things like take bathroom breaks, or walk slower to get the mail, or through the store. I will also park further away from stores, etc. so that I have a little more exercise and fresh air. The kids are useful in this way: they take so much time to get ready to leave the house that I remind myself to slow down and help them get ready calmly, because I cannot spend every morning in a giant ball of stress.
Reading and Writing
I’m wretched at having a spiritual routine, because I can’t seem to concentrate. I’m sort of in that season of life where there is always noise and distractions. I have been able to combat this by finding ways to read and write. Most years, I compile a list of spiritually interesting books and magazines I am interested in (shout out to GoodReads!) and then I make sure to always have something on hand. If I can squeeze in some reading time before or after meals, I also try to spend 5-10 minutes writing about what I read or journaling about an issue I am struggling to handle. As these are things I already love to do, it has become a favorite part of my day, and easy to pick up in times of stress.
Pick One Thing
I am always over-committed. This means that there is always a breaking point. So when I find myself on the floor of the pantry hysterically crying over a lost package of Pop-Tarts, I back away from the ledge. I pick one thing, or two things, or three things to just drop. Christmas decor, mopping the floor, a holiday commitment, a drop off/pick up that conflicts with another activity… take it off the list. I have found it is easier to deal with the fallout from dropping something off the list than the fallout when you try to do it all and everyone ends up miserable and tired.
Back Away from the Internet
Yes. I said it. I love, love, love the Internet and all it can do, but sometimes it just wreaks havoc on life. A social media post getting you down? stop visiting the site until it blows over or remove the poster from your feed for a little while. Get a little gadget that turns things into kittens or puppies or whatever will make you laugh. In case this ever needs to be said, never read the comments on a story. If you love the story, share it! If you did not love the story, move on. I have already removed Internet arguments from my To-Do List for the season. When I forget that I took it off the list, I will take it off again.
Choose your holiday stress wisely this year, friends!
photo credit: 325/365 Thanksgiving via photopin (license)



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