First thing in the morning, sometimes before we even open our eyes, we are consumed with a dozen responsibilities. I know my daily "to-do list" is as long as my weekly grocery list. Of course, that's not very short when you're shopping for the whole family. But, maybe your day starts a little different. Maybe your day starts out simple and gets a bit hectic just after you clock in at work. Here comes that neck cramp then, that tooth ache. You wonder just how much extra your manager will load on you today, while awaiting a call from your sister about any complication with her pregnancy, or hearing about the health of your parents. As these thoughts rumble through your brain, your body gets prepared for the fight. The nerves in your brain signal an alarm letting the rest of your body know that the war is right ahead. Your hormones ignite your heart while you immune system preps the front line to fight pathogens. Your muscles pull in more oxygen while your senses flare on high alert -- and it's not even lunch time.
Imagine the effects this could have on your body long term. Unattended, these metabolic changes could cause serious problems -- from high blood pressure to obesity and heart disease -- not to mention what stress does to one's CD4 count. We all have been told that stress could also run down cells, tissue and organs from over activity but, how we manage this is the obstacle. Especially when, on average, we juggle more than 150 uncompleted task and about 15 unaccomplished goals. When it comes to fitness, the brain is just as important as diet and exercise. Researchers in a 2001 study at Washington University found that a brain in the process of serially ticking off the upcoming day's to-do list activates a particular circuit of neurons that loops in the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands and triggers the release of hormones cortisol and adrenaline, both set the body on edge. Much like a "fight or flight" reaction, just that quickly, these changes begin to happen.
We all know how easy it is to go down the path of stress, but in order to reduce our stress we must first recognize our triggers. This past year has consumed me with all kinds of stressors. Most of which are other people's problems that I have somehow taken on as mine. And I try my best to fix them all. In the past, I would try to push myself as far as I can -- then take a short vacation somewhere. I would visit family or take my son on a little trip. What usually happens on a family trip is I will end up doing the cooking, cleaning and being the tour guide which then ends up not being much of a vacation. I say all this to shed light on the fact that I didn't have much "me time" or "self-care." I have recently been able to enjoy the benefits of both self-care and personal time. It has been truly amazing. So when I come to removing stress I think a few things need to be done.
One thing is to really assess your stressors. Review a typical week and spot what things give you high anxiety. Figure out if it's really your issue or someone else's that you have taken on. If it's not your problem, then the torch should be passed over with love, care and continued support. Now, back to you. There are three categories of stressors -- situational, internal, and conditional. Situational usually arise during morning rush hour, a pop quiz, that "we need to talk" conversation with your spouse or the unexpected meeting with the "big-wigs" at work. The internal stressor are the things you tell yourself like "I can't," "I won't get that raise because I really don't deserve it," or the fear of being laughed off the stage. Conditional is mostly what consumes me. This is when tight scheduling, or a lineup of events that keeps you in rush mode, make it your second job to start the report of what's due today. Things like running late for work while hoping to complete things so that you could rush to pick up your children from school and drop them off at practice. To step out of that, here are a few suggestions.
- Make a list a list of things that need to be done. Come up with a realistic plan of action and merge it into your current calendar with a timeline that is manageable. Look at all your stressors and duties and see if you can spread the deadlines out so that it doesn't become a frenzy to complete on the last week of the month. Set yourself up with friendly reminders and helpful people that can support you in your movement to happiness. Each week you should set some small steps that you could check off your "to do list" at the end of the week. As you check things off your list, celebrate growth and praise yourself for a job well done.
- Find alone time. Finding some personal time can be a chore on its own. But if you can work in 5 hours of actual alone time for true self-care, I'm sure you'll make time for a few more hours before the month is over. Make this alone time all about you. My first day of alone time was spent sleeping and resting in front of the TV catching up on some shows I like. Next was cleaning my home from top to bottom then clearing the energy in my space. Once that was clear I began to pamper myself. Giving myself a pedicure, a facial, and moisturizing my skin. But, this time could be spent doing whatever you want, like working on your art and catching up on a new book or even creating and starting you own business.
- Take a vacation. Not like the ones I'm used to -- like going home and spending the week taking care of everyone else so they could get a break. No running errands for mom or helping dad clean out the basement for three days of your vacation. You should be in the passenger seat. Have things brought to you on the side if the beach, like some exotic pineapple drink served inside a fresh coconut with an umbrella on the side. A vacation like that may not come cheap but, if you think outside the box you could come up with some pretty cool one-day 2-in-1 substitutes, like a work retreat or church lock-in. This could also be as simple as sending the kids out for a sleepover and take turns catering to your partner or best friend. One day is theirs and the other yours. Royal treatment all the way.
Once you've had the chance to balance this out for a month or two you should not have a problem with smiling more and enjoying what life as to offer. You'll feel more in control of your life, schedule and your future. Remember, only you know the changes you go through, not everyone will understand your struggle and that's OK. Take care of you! If you have more tips on stress management please post and let me in on a few of life's secrets.