All Articles Tagged "stress"
How much sleep do you get each night, on average?
While most of us would love to get a lot more, we are busy. We have work commitments, family and relationship responsibilities, and the duty to carve out time for ourselves to do the things we want and need to for ourselves. But as we established when talking about stress yesterday, a lack of sleep plays a big part in stressing us out, which, can in turn, up our risk for all sorts of illnesses, mental and physical. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-quarter of people in this country report occasionally not getting enough sleep. And insomnia? It’s no joke either, as 10 percent of people report experiencing it.
As annoying as it is for everyone to tell you to “get more sleep,” as though it’s the easiest thing in the world to make happen, you truly need to make your rest a priority. Not only to keep yourself healthy but to avoid hurting others as well (a lack of sleep is the reason behind many car accidents and “machinery-related crashes” each year). Not to mention that getting more sleep helps with skin issues, weight problems, overall happiness and more.
So how much sleep is optimal? Well, the sleep number hasn’t changed, despite our busy schedules doing all the changing.
“Eight hours is still the healthy amount of sleep needed to restore the body,” said Prudence Hall, MD, of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, California. “The busier a person is, the more important sleep becomes. We spend our energy during the day and restore it during sleep. Sleep is when the body detoxifies itself and the endocrine glands rebalance.”
But some of us truly can’t get to sleep. Insomnia, the sleep disorder that is characterized by problems getting sleep and staying asleep, as previously stated, is an issue for many people. For men, low testosterone is often a cause of insomnia. For women, it could be a range of things.
“Insomnia is due to three major categories: hormonal deficiencies, our thoughts and emotions, and structural physical problems, “Hall said. “The hormonal deficiencies causing insomnia are low estrogen from the birth control pill, perimenopause, and menopause. When our adrenal glands are depleted or imbalanced due to stress, insomnia is also a common symptom. Drinking alcohol at night also causes insomnia, as do many antidepressants and medications.”
And on top of menopause, your menstrual cycle can also greatly impact your sleep patterns. So when you struggle to get some sleep around the time of your period, you now know why.
“Right before a woman’s period, her estrogen levels fall causing insomnia,” Hall said. “Insomnia due to low estrogen is intensified as a woman goes into menopause. In fact, one of the classic symptoms of menopause is awakening around 2 or 3 a.m. and not being able to go back to sleep.”
And you can’t talk about sleep disorders without talking about sleep apnea. Looked at as a so-called “man’s disease,” women certainly don’t deal with it as much as men, but quite a few women have it. A recent study of 400 women among the ages of 20-70 found that a whopping 50 percent of those who took part in the research were found to have some degree of sleep apnea. Twenty percent had moderate sleep apnea while six percent had a severe form.
“Sleep apnea is one-third less common in women than men, but is still a common cause of insomnia,” Hall stated. “Low estrogen in menopause or perimenopause can lead to loss of muscle tone in the neck and soft pallet, causing sleep apnea.”
When speaking on treatment, Hall said that options for sleep apnea include “losing weight, avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking, replacing your deficient hormones with bioidentical hormones, exercise, and a C-pap machine.”
For the most part, if we’re honest, I’m sure we could all say that we stay up later than we should on a regular basis not because we’re swamped with work or personal projects, but because we choose to stay up and be entertained by whatever (or whomever) tickles our fancy. Still, in many other cases, some of us just can’t get to sleep, or get a good night’s rest, which could be a sign that you have a sleep disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a recommended treatment for such problems, and sleeping pills are another option, though there are possible side effects and risks that come with them. But whatever you do, don’t just sit back and let the hours and sleep pass you by. We assume we can live without much sleep, but really, without it, we could be slowly taking ourselves out.
Everyone says they’re stressed. But how many of us are really, really stressed to the point that it’s affecting our health, physically and mentally? Unfortunately, it’s actually more people than you would think. According to the American Institute of Stress and MastersDegreeOnline.org, 44 percent of Americans say they feel more stressed than they did five years ago, and one in five say they deal with “extreme stress.” So outside of the uncomfortable tension, they’re also battling with heart palpitations, shaking fits, and, of course, depression. And stress raises the risk of heart disease to 40 percent. The risk of stroke? Fifty percent.
What is going on?
Well, we’re doing too much for one.
“In a society that glorifies hard work and multitasking, we all are susceptible to being overworked and burned out,” said Kathleen Isaac, MPhil, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. “The danger of pushing ourselves too much is that we put ourselves at risk for adverse health conditions related to stress. In addition, we also put ourselves at risk for other mental health conditions related to stress such as depression and anxiety. We may also see a decrease in our ability to function at our best ability at work, school, etc., and this may take a toll on our work as well as our personal life.”
When we take more on our plate than we can actually handle, we are setting ourselves up to be overwhelmed to the point that it’s harmful to our well-being. And while we all often feel weary about our wealth of responsibilities, Isaac said that you know things are going too far when it starts to impact your body. A headache is one thing, but stress can manifest itself in even more debilitating ways.
“While most people are aware of increased worrying and tension headaches as indicators of stress, there are a number of physical symptoms that one can experience when stressed,” Isaac said. She cited “muscle aches or tension, stomach pain, low energy, chest pain, insomnia, frequent colds or infections and loss of sexual desire or ability” as physical effects caused by our daily anxieties. “Stress can also lead to weight gain because of increased cortisol levels, and certain behaviors associated with stress such as overeating, drinking, and poor sleep may put you at risk for conditions like hypertension and diabetes. It is, therefore, important to pay attention to your body. If you notice that you aren’t functioning as well as you used to, check in with yourself and with your doctor and seek counseling if needed.”
However, some levels of stress we can’t really control in the ways people think. Like the distress we might have to deal with at our place of work or our neighborhoods, specifically for women of color operating in places and spaces where there aren’t many who look and think like us. Different forms of discrimination pop up in minute and major ways, and they can drive people both ill and over the edge.
Isaac expounded upon this reality by confirming that racism and bigotry have long been associated with stressors faced by minority populations, as well as other physical and mental issues, both in the workplace and in everyday life.
“African Americans who experience both overt and covert discrimination (i.e. microaggressions) in their daily lives may be susceptible to higher levels of stress. The actual levels of stress will vary, however, depending on individual factors such as sensitivity to racism (how aware one is of being discriminated against) and coping style. Recently there has been some consideration of the impact that the growing visibility of racist acts in the media may have on stress levels.”
So what can we actually do about our levels of stress, aside from cranking A Tribe Called Quest’s “Stressed Out” and wearing our anguish and exhaustion as a badge of “I work hard and I’m a strong Black woman” honor? According to the CDC, it’s important that we channel our stress into healthy activities and habits, and also, be open about our feelings and issues with people who can hear us out, support us, and help us put things into perspective. That includes exercising regularly and eating better, getting as much sleep as we can, talking to loved ones, as well as a counselor, doctor or even a pastor when it all becomes too much, and most importantly, knowing when it’s time to take a break. We all need timeouts here and there from the things and people who messing with our psyche and sense of inner peace.
Granted, these things won’t end stress in your life for all time, but rather, alleviate it. Still, listening to your body and knowing when you’re bearing burdens alone that are starting to wear on you is important. The sooner we pay attention and do something about it, the better we can be to the people who rely on us, and most importantly, to ourselves.
Is it just me, or does it seem like we blame everything on stress? Sure, stress is the culprit when it comes to many of our challenges in life, but I really can’t agree with stress being the only culprit.
I do agree that our ability to manage the stress in our lives is incredibly important, and mismanaging stress can lead to a host of other issues like overeating, poor sleep, and even changes in mood to name a few. But as women, and especially as moms, we have to remember that what’s going on with our bodies and minds is not always stress-related. Sometimes there are other issues at play.
Many medical issues can mimic the symptoms of stress, and since mothers tend to be juggling a lot anyway, we do run the risk of writing something off as stress-related when we really should be visiting our physician for evaluation and possible testing.
So how do we know when it’s just stress and when it’s something deeper? The truth is, we don’t always know. That’s why we need to seek professional help so we can figure out what’s really going on. In addition to seeking the opinion of a medical professional, we must pay attention to our gut. Don’t ignore that feeling you have that tells you something is just off. Is it possible your gut is wrong? Sure, it’s possible. Is it likely, though? Not really because no one knows your body as well as you do.
Here are seven common symptoms that may be more than stress. If these symptoms are present in your life and they have been ongoing (or you just have that funny feeling that something is wrong), please seek medical help. Although I am in no position to offer medical advice, I feel pretty comfortable urging you to get help if you think something may be wrong.
It’s not uncommon for people under a great deal of stress to have sleep issues. Insomnia, oversleeping, and unrestful sleep are common complaints. However, if your sleep issues linger, you should consider the possibility that you actually have a sleep disorder or some other medical problem that may be disturbing your normal sleeping pattern.
Weight Gain or Loss
I am an emotional eater, so I know that being stressed out can lead to indulging a bit too much. But if your eating and exercise habits haven’t changed and you find that you are gaining or losing weight at a rate that’s unusual for you, seek medical attention. Several medical conditions can cause a sudden fluctuation in weight.
What busy mom isn’t tired? I know I sure am. And although being extra tired when your stress levels are high is pretty normal, feeling drained and having an overwhelming sense of fatigue may be signs that something deeper is going on. Being exhausted all the time should not be your norm.
When under a lot of stress it’s normal to get irritated easily or even feel frustrated or anxious. But when your mood swings become very evident to the ones you love, and it starts to impact your relationships, consider the possibility that it’s more than just stress. Could you be suffering from depression? Is it possibly you have an anxiety disorder? Explore all possibilities if you or the people you love feel like something may be wrong.
An upset stomach, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea can all be triggered by stress. That said, chronic stomach issues should not be ignored. There are several gastrointestinal conditions that can show these exact same symptoms. If your stomach issues are ongoing you should visit your physician.
Loss of Sexual Desire
What mom hasn’t been just too tired to have sex? But being too tired to have sex sometimes is different from never wanting to have sex because you absolutely have no interest in it at all. If you feel like you have lost your sexual desire, stress may not be the culprit. Talk to your doctor to explore other possibilities.
Frequent Colds & Infections
It is true that chronic stress can lower your immunity and make you susceptible to frequent illness, but lowered immunity can also be a sign that a larger issue is at play. If you are becoming ill far more frequently than you ever have before, consider the possibility that a vitamin deficiency or underlying condition may be causing it and seek medical attention.
Martine Foreman is a freelance writer, lifestyle blogger, speaker and coach. To follow her journey as a busy mom, wife, and honest chick from Brooklyn, NY (now living in the burbs), check her out at CandidBelle.
Ladies, if you are preparing to plan for a wedding, know this: There is no way to keep things “small.” You know why? Because your family members just won’t allow that to happen.
There are some relatives, and soon-to-be relatives, who I’m very thankful for in this whole wedding planning process. They’ve proactively offered their services, they’ve bought different items for the wedding for me without me asking them to pitch in, and they keep me sane through what is an honestly turbulent time. You don’t know how bad I just want to get to the wedding date and move on with my life already.
But then there are the relatives and loved ones who make things all the more stressful, specifically when it comes to guest lists. As Jazmine Rogers and I discussed earlier this morning, despite a determined and agreed upon guest count, there are relatives who will corner you at Sunday dinner asking if you’ll make room at a table at your reception for cousins you’re not necessarily close to. Friends who will ask if they can have a plus-one because they “should” have a new lover by the time your wedding date rolls around. Or the parent who is asking for a block of guests so that they can make a big show of your big day to friends.
What’s really going on with people?
My reception venue can hold 130 people sitting. But at this point, with all the requests and the children and the friends and friends of friends who think they’re owed an invite to the reception because they are helping out in some form for the traditional wedding my father is putting on (which takes place the day before the wedding and reception), I had to reach out to the venue’s manager to ensure we wouldn’t be charged for exceeding 130. I also had to start asking some guests if they were really serious about coming so I could know how to proceed. And considering that we want there to be enough room for people to sit, I can’t imagine a reception where one group of people is sitting and eating and having a good time, and others are left standing around and feeling like an afterthought because there was no room for them in the first place.
Who knows? Maybe when we send out invitations there will be people who decide they can’t make it, and in those cases, maybe seats will be freed up and my worries will be alleviated. Or maybe most people will RSVP and we’ll be forced to lessen our dance floor space and spend more money to come up with extra seats. The unknown of what is to come, and how my wedding day will play out, is at this point driving me bananas.
When I think of it all, I just don’t believe there’s an understanding of the importance of there being limits when it comes to families of the bride and groom. Sure, people tell you “This day is about you!” and “Don’t worry, be happy.” “This day is for your and your fiancé! Do whatever pleases you and don’t worry about anyone else!” But it’s those same people who often provide a lot of the opposition and stress. The ones who disagree with a certain style of dress that you want to wear during your reception. Who hassle you about making sure things are as convenient as possible for out-of-town guests. Who confront people close to you about wanting a role in planning so they don’t feel left out, despite you saying you don’t need any more “help.” And who want to invite their boyfriend, their childhood friend, their cousin, hairdresser and five kids because they would all just love to see you tie the knot, despite the fact that none of those people have spoken to you in Lord knows how long.
As my wedding date looms closer, there are so many loose ends to tie up. I don’t know why, but in my heart of hearts, I was hoping that the guest list would be a simple thing that we could knock out and move on from. But the reality is when you’re dealing with people who want to feel more important than you and your groom on your wedding day, things are rarely ever simple.
I think having issues gets a bad rap. Sure, the experiences that cause said afflictions usually aren’t positive and can even be traumatic. However, we all have emotional baggage and when dealt with properly it can be define our lives in a positive way.
One of the keys to my heart is having some semblance of emotional baggage. As a man I think it appeals to the part of me that is a provider and a caretaker. I like to think of the past as segues to the rest of our lives. When dealt with properly, it is a sign of maturity. It means that they are more apt with decision making, picks and chooses battles, and knows how to let go of the emotional aspects of adverse experiences all while holding onto the lesson. Most of their outlook on life and love isn’t from an ideal place. Even if virtually all of their romantic experiences have been dismaying, the mindset when it comes to love and their future is based on application. Developing a relationship isn’t based on just throwing things up against a wall and seeing what sticks because they know who they are. That is sexy to me…
Sometimes baggage can make us a little more guarded; but that is only for those who do not own it. People see it as something that they can get rid of. You can’t erase what has happened. It becomes a part of you. It is locked into you emotional memory and only can become debilitating when one has not accepted this.
Yes, it may be easier said than done; but owning one’s past-good, bad, or indifferent-is freeing but is a process. It’s an exercise. The best way that I can explain this is by giving my own transformation story. My daughter’s mother passed away from esophageal cancer. She had a very difficult time ingesting food and I would find myself buying her food from multiple places just hoping she could eat one. Being that we were poor I didn’t want to waste food so I’d eat them all. At 6’1” I had ballooned up to 255lbs.
After she passed away, I made a choice to be different. I took an old book bag and put water-filled liquor bottles into it. The bag weighed somewhere between fifty to seventy pounds. I simple wore the bag all day. It was heavy as all hell at first and very difficult to move around. It hurt my back and I could feel the burn in my legs and core as well. However, I do know that the “burn” associated with exercise is one’s muscles tearing and repairing themselves that makes them stronger. I would take my daughter Cydney for walks in her stroller a good two miles a day. Slowly but surely, I didn’t even realize the bag was on my back. It had become an extension of me and I would add more weight to it. Eventually I moved onto other exercises and experiences; but this was the catalyst to do so. I’d dropped down to 185lbs and eventually gained an extra 30lbs of muscle. I’m healthier, stronger, able to take on more weight, and I can help others do the same.
I use this metaphor because it is a parallel of how to view one’s negative experiences from past relationships. They are crushing, can be extremely burdensome, and feel like it is impossible to move on from. Make a choice and follow through with it. After grieving, moving on usually starts off with being in some kind of survival mode. That can be anything from retreating to denial or even indulging in one’s vice a little bit. Not always healthy; but sometimes in order to survive an animal has to chew a leg off to get out of a trap. You take things one day at a time. Trying to move around with this burdensome hurt can seem futile and even impossible some days. In time you won’t even notice it’s there.
By Jorian Seay
True story: I was having a day from hell. Truth is, for a couple of weeks I had been stressed to the max. The tough juggling act of being a single mom, dealing with personal issues and a demanding job were, quite frankly, killing me softly. So, one evening, after a long, trying day, I came home and tried to begin unwinding. I sat my then-10-month-old son in the middle of my living room floor with some of his favorite toys so he could entertain himself for a little while. Then, in attempt to relax, I threw off my shoes and kicked back on my couch.
This day was particularly burdensome, as I had to handle some pretty serious business. I had made mention of this to a few of my friends, one of whom e-mailed me just to see how my day had gone.
Her exact words, “So how’d everything go today?”
Innocent, right? Well, for some reason, those five words broke the levees to my emotions. Not even one second later, I burst into tears. And not just any kind of tears, oh no, these were big, huge crocodile tears!
And they kept flowing. And with time, their stream began to overtake my face. My cheeks were as red as a pepper. I was literally crying out, releasing all of the stress I had managed to bottle up for God knows how long. At this point, my son, who before then had never seen me cry, had a worried look on his face and crawled over to me. He snuggled up against me as if to let me know that everything would be ok. And, yep, you guessed it, this made me cry even harder. (Go figure!)
Normally, I am a fairly non-emotional being. I’m not a crier, I am a bottle-er, I house all of my feelings wherever they can fit inside. I don’t like to acknowledge how I am really feeling and tend to handle my business and the residual angst or stress off. But this day, my feelings caught up with me and for about 5 minutes, I let it all out.
Afterward, I felt such great relief. I let it all go and felt as if I could make it one more day. I really could juggle it all and be the best me for both my son and myself. The more I cried, the stronger I felt. And now, I am a believer in a good cry (in moderation, of course).
Crying is not a sign of weakness, as many of us ambitious, type-A women feel. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It is an acknowledgment that you, like everyone else, have a breaking point and from time-to-time could use a nice break; a woo-sah moment, if you will.
Dr. Jane Bolton summed it up pretty well in a Psychology Today article titled, “Crying for Mental Health,” she says, “Crying may be the strongest act of self-healing and self-nurturing. Tears of grief nourish the seeds of growth. The direct opposite of self-pity, healthy crying is the natural method of self-renewal.”
I have to agree with Bolton. Acknowledging your feelings, be them good, bad or in-between, is an act of self-love. Confronting your fears, your trials and even your triumphs allow you to embrace each and every experience and allows for initiation of the growing, learning and maturing processes.
We’ve all had those end-of-the-road days. As women, mothers, working people, lovers and friends, it is important for us to take the time to deal with our mental spaces and allow moments of overwhelming stress and grief to take their course. So, if you feel like crying, go ahead, girl! Let it all out. Trust me, in the end, (while you may have to sleep with cucumbers on your eyes to combat the redness and puffiness), you’ll feel a million times better (and will have the best sleep of your life)!
Jorian L. Seay resides in Chicago with her fiesty baby boy. Twitter: @thatJORIANgirl
Are you afraid of life? That is an extreme question, but it is real. With context the question would read, are you afraid of the potential of experiencing terrible things in life? Now that is real.
Bad things are always happening to people. Facts. Bad things like a cancer diagnosis, car accidents, identity theft, heart disease, drug addictions, fires, and natural disasters happen every day. This list could go on and on, but that would defeat the purpose of this article.
So, on the count of three let’s say it together, “STOP!”
Yes, that’s right. Yell it! STOP! STOP! STOP!
Now, take a deep breath and focus.
It’s time to discuss why we are yelling stop and to whom or what.
We are yelling stop to the incessant stream of bad news and negative information coming from wherever or whomever. It’s time to unplug from bad news.
It’s funny, there are about 330 million people living in these United States of America. Every morning when we open our eyes, we all move about our day living, working, loving, and moving forward to do it again. However, when we sit down for a cup of coffee, a check-in with social media, a newspaper, the television, or maybe even our own thoughts, the focus is death, drama, and destruction.
Why is that? What good does that do for anyone? All day long we interact with living and loving people, even if they are rude, but the news and the media and our thoughts rarely zone in on this fact. Instead, we make ourselves accessible to an overwhelming stream of bad news. It never shuts off.
No wonder, we are always anxious, fearful, and worried. How often do we reflect on and communicate the good news in our lives. Contrary to our minds, that are influenced by external forces, there is lots of good news.
Do you know the likelihood of an American dying is less than one percent? Yes, 99 percent of Americans live to see the following year. The Center for Disease Control reports that roughly 2.5 million Americans die each year. This is not to lessen the degree of significance in regards to those lives, but we must put things into proper perspective. We live in the wealthiest nation in the world, and we have a 99% chance of continuing to do so each year. What are we afraid of? Why are we so obsessed with being anxious, fearful, and worried?
According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18 percent of the population. But why, and what can we do about it?
Why are we always anticipating the worst when we are surrounded by the best? Yes, bad things happen sometimes. However most of us, Americans, are living, working, eating, and loving human beings more days than not.
If we are anxious, this means that we are anticipating the future based on what we know of today or yesterday. But who can predict the future? Why not just enjoy what we have today instead of stressing about tomorrow?
Here are the most common methods used to combat fear stress, anxiety, and worry according to The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation:
- Maintaining an optimistic but realistic outlook
- Facing fear (ability to confront one’s fears)
- Reliance upon own inner, moral compass
- Turning to religious or spiritual practices
- Seeking and accepting social support
- Imitation of sturdy role models
- Staying physically fit
- Staying mentally sharp
- Cognitive and emotional flexibility (finding a way to accept that which cannot be changed)
- Looking for meaning and opportunity in the midst of adversity
Conclusion: Yell “STOP” to negative information and thinking.
Instead, take care of yourself by training your mind to think positively.
This will definitely be hard at first. It is always hard to go against societal norms and/or break habits, but practicing positivity is proven to decrease our stress levels and increase our happiness.
Moms, what are your tips for handling fear and stress?
Clarissa Joan is a spiritual life coach and editor-in-chief of The Clarissa Joan Experience. She resides in Philadelphia with her husband, their two girls, and a yorkie named Ace. Clarissa is also an expert in impact investing.
If you’ve followed any of the pieces written for this “Road to the Altar” column, you already know that while a wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, the time leading up to that day is a headache. Planning ain’t for everybody. It can be a seemingly nonstop headache filled with disagreements over everything from guest count to color choices. My wedding planning situation has been like that, and I think it got so bad for my stress levels as of late that something in my head snapped.
And I had a panic attack.
It happened late last month. I’m talking a full-blown panic attack where I couldn’t catch my breath in between sobbing and thoughts of just jumping out of a window. But since I live on the second floor of a three-story walk-up, I probably would have just twisted an ankle and then looked all kinds of foolish in my sleep dress sprawled out in the middle of my quiet Brooklyn street at the crack of dawn.
Other things had also been stressing me out, leading to my “moment.” Work stuff, issues with friends, money worries, my concerns about keeping my weight down, and apartment woes, but the wedding was the base of it. And certain opinions about said wedding had me worried that I was preparing for a marriage where people’s opinions would always be in the loop. That made me very uncomfortable. And that got my mind racing. That on top of the stress of answering questions about if certain patterns were okay, how catering was going to be set up, if my father and my fiancé’s mom could have extra seats for friends, trying to come up with deposit money, and making the time to do research just became a bit too much.
So I went home for a week. I went back to Chicago, holed up in my teenage bedroom with its bright blue walls, and just slept and ate. Each day had no set plan. I was tired of planning things.
“You want to use the car? Are you going anywhere today?” my mom would ask.
“Nope, I’m probably going to call it a night,” I would say as I prepared to go to sleep at 10 p.m. after being in the house all day with the ‘rents.
Many of us take days off of work to explore the world and do things for others, but I just needed that week to explore my mind and do a little something for myself. I just needed to be around people who would listen when I wanted to open up about my stress, and if nothing else, bring me food. Lots and lots of delicious food.
When I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or watching TV with a paper towel covered in peanuts and raisins next to me (I gave up candy and sweets for Lent, so that’s been my alternative), I was reading my Bible. I was looking to find my way back to a sense of peace, a sense of joy, and maybe some happiness, which I told you not too long before my “moment” I had very little of. I restored myself by being back at home with my parents, not letting anyone else know I was in town (lest they ask me to meet up–which would be planning for something all over again), and focusing on my mental health. I had been so busy ripping and running for a wedding I didn’t even want that much anymore, that I let it take toll on my mind.
A few weeks back in NYC and I do feel much better. I struggle sometimes when I have to have “What are we gonna do about ____?” wedding conversations with my fiance, but I’ve learned to find healthy ways to deal with my stress. Including telling him that “We’ll figure it out later” before changing the topic of conversation.
I also only get to wedding planning and doing research when I absolutely feel up to it. And when I feel myself getting overwhelmed in general, I zone out and try to find clarity through my mom, who still sends messages to check in (“Hang in there!!”), and through the Word. By taking things slow and not overextending myself, I’ve actually managed to get a lot more accomplished for the wedding. Including finding and putting down the deposit for a church, finding a makeup artist, finding a new caterer, a photographer, and checking out decor ideas for inspiration with my mom and planner. I’ve also found myself getting more excited about the wedding. Whoever thought that would happen?!
But more than anything, I’m realizing more and more what matters in the grand scheme of things. My relationships–with the Man upstairs, with my future husband, with my loved ones, and with myself. And I’m hoping to do a better job of being more kind to all four–especially the latter.
“You have the same amount of time in a day as Beyoncé.”
I heard someone say this in one of the many new-age motivational speeches I ran across on YouTube. I laughed at first, thinking just how cliché it sounded. Then I got a bit offended as I thought about how inconsiderate the speaker was. Beyoncé has help I thought to myself. You know, nannies, assistants, and other paid staff. I just have me.
I was beyond stressed. I was overworked and highly underpaid as I worked a corporate job by day and grinded in between hours and at night to establish my own business. To add another item to an already full plate, I was also a grad student at the time. Not one to properly manage stress, you can only imagine what my mental and physical health was like. I was a mess, and I knew something had to be done before I came all the way undone.
Psychology Today explains stress as “simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium.” Basically, stress is something that can shake us up mentally or physically. But here’s a startling piece of information: All stress is not bad. In fact, acute stress can be good for you. Its short-term effects can get you excited about something; but when it lingers for too long, it can be a problem. Chronic stress, the feelings we have of constantly feeling swamped and overworked for long periods of time, isn’t good. But it didn’t take a carefully-crafted article by a Psychology Today writer to let me know that this type of stress could wreak havoc on my life. My failing mental and physical health had already given me the heads up. To add insult to injury, I was doing so much that not much was really getting done. This, of course, stressed me out even more.
Stress had made me even more impatient than I already was, something I’d been working on for so long. Already an individual with a low tolerance level, my inability to cope with stress had made my tolerance level drop from 1 to 0. My memory was bad because I had too many things cluttered up in my brain at one time, vying for attention.
So how did I go from constant feelings of stress and anxiety to a somewhat more productive life? While this might sound like a ‘duh’ revelation, I finally realized that stress was a choice. And though I didn’t want to be stressed, my actions suggested otherwise. I then had to decide that I no longer wished to be in a constant state of anxiety, also known as crazy, depending on you who asked about my unnerving behavior.
After making the decision that I would cope with stress better than I had been, I then needed to take inventory. In my planner full of obligations and notes, I used a sheet to begin tracking my stress habits. I had to decide what tasks I could eliminate from my load. I even had to remove the people who were a waste of my time and interfering with things that I valued more. Then I had to track my time. What was I doing with these 24 hours of the day that both Queen Bey and I had?
Eliminating projects wasn’t easy because each of them were very important to me. What I finally decided to do was simply put some on hold. I didn’t begin a project without finishing another. For someone who was creatively all over the place, this was extremely difficult. All of my projects were “my babies” and it was hard to temporarily part ways with them; but for the sake of my sanity, it had to be done.
After doing all of this and learning to say no to new projects or obligations that I simply didn’t have time for, I soon became a lot more productive. Things were getting done, and my stress levels were down. I didn’t walk around in a constant bad mood. I was actually able to enjoy the process of working, instead of waiting for some magical outcome to make me happy. I also opted out of Team No Sleep. I needed sleep, for both my physical and mental well-being. While I still don’t get nearly as much as I should, I am doing better; and I always listen to my body when it tells me it needs some TLC. When I feel myself trying to tackle more than I can really handle, I remind myself that it is no fun living a life where I always feel behind. Move stress out of the way and make way for peace of mind.
There are these moments when everything is good, you are surrounded by people that you love, your refrigerator is stocked, your bills are paid, and you are enjoying life. Then your boss requests your monthly report two weeks ahead of schedule, the baby sitter gets sick and cancels for the week, the hot water heater in your basement busts, and you discover that you cannot fit any of your winter clothes from last year. These are what I call the peaks and the valleys of life. It’s the moment your baby smiles at you with those precious eyes and simultaneously lets breakfast explode all over you and the cream lounge chair your sitting in. Who wants that perfect love story anyway?
My week began with my daughter meeting two new friends, Mr. Cold and Mrs. Fever. I’m sure this is one of many play dates they’ll all have during her lifetime, but I was undone by the situation. Thankfully, I got her fever to break within less than 24 hours. None-the-less, I was not enthused about leaving her to go to my evening classes. I planned on turning in my work and skipping out, but class greeted me with a 110 on one midterm. Yay! I decided to stick around.
The middle of our week tangoed with our daughter’s 9-month wellness appointment and my day trip to NYC for a speaking engagement. We left her wellness visit with a clean bill of health! My trip to NYC was a success business-wise, but the night ended with my cab driver accidentally driving into oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the street. Escaping by inches from a head on collision without a seatbelt, I thanked God immensely when I entered my home to the sight of my husband and baby girl peacefully sleeping.
With two amazing business calls completed, my husband not being selected for jury duty, and a surprise invite to a kids party five minutes away from our home, it was TGIF for The Middletons. Genesis looked super cute in her butterfly costume, my husband got the chance to talk beer and sports with other men, and I met another work from home mom happy to share love and war stories. It was the perfect ending to our bi-polar week. But of course my husband gets a call that his store was robbed and he must report to the scene immediately.
None of what I am describing is anything out of the ordinary for the contradictory days most people encounter throughout their existence. Life is full of peaks and valleys, and the faster you climb up the mountain the faster you encounter its depths. I use to strive for perfection, or at least what I thought perfection was. I desired a life without blemish. To me perfection represented acceptance, a state of belonging. I wanted to be perfect, because my perfection would make me feel whole, complete without lost.
Then I lost, I lost a lot, and I lost some more, and I realized that in the losing I also gained. I realized that the lost added to my character just as much as anything I gained. The lost was just as important if not more important than the gain, because it prepared me for what I was not yet ready to receive. Losing my son made me a better mother for my daughter. I know this to be true. Losing my great-grandmother made me more accepting of providence, and the death of my mother opened up my heart again.
These are extreme cases that some may not be able to relate to, but the message is clear. In order to climb the higher mountain, we have to meet it at the lowest depth. My daughter getting sick made me more appreciative of her clean bill of health during her wellness visit. Almost being injured or worse in car collision humbled my spirit to the sweet peace and fullness of joy there is to be found in our own homes with our own families. As tedious as 7-hours of unnecessary jury duty was for my husband, it positioned his absence from the wrong time at the wrong place.
There is a moon and there is a sun. There is man and there is woman. There is dirt and then there is grass. There is a baby and then there is poop. “Like love and a marriage go together like a horse and carriage.” This is perfection, wholeness, and the sweet surrender to the flow of it all. No, the valley’s are not like the peaks, but they too can be appreciated and greeted with love. If the baby cries, comfort him. If it snows, make a snowman. If your clothes don’t fit, enjoy making a vision board for your new look.
If the master of the universe saw it fit to create night and day, who are we to not be thankful that He gave us two forms of light instead of one.
Resistance to the moment is war not peace, and who really has energy for that?