What Stress Does to Me

I’ve mentioned how stressful the fall has been.  Know what happens when I get stressed?

First is my back-shoulders-neck-head. Mostly shoulders-neck-head. Tension-soreness-headaches-migraines happen to my shoulders-neck-head.  It can get bad, where I need to consciously lie on back at night (normally, I’m a side sleeper, curled into a fetal position), take too much tension headache medicine, be in a darkened quiet room, etc.

Second is my stomach.  Polite way of saying I need to run to the bathroom every two seconds.  Again, not fun, but uncontrollable, and a sure sign that something (or someone) has me stressed out.

Third, I begin to shake.  Somewhere between a shiver and a quake. Deep breaths help, but again, it’s uncontrollable.

All the while, I worry it, shake it like a rag doll in my brain.  In other words, I get a bit obsessive about whatever or whoever it is in my brain, and I can’t let go.  Probably one of the reasons, “Don’t worry about it,” sounds just as awful as nails on a chalkboard to me. It’s just not even practical, not even a realistic goal. Shut up.

Why do I know this much about how stress affects me physically? Because I was a teacher for over 17 years.  No, that was not a sarcastic answer. It’s the truth. And I’ve paid attention to my own body.

What helps alleviate some of these? Regular yoga (oops, need to get back on that wagon, too). Me-time. Deep breathing (goes along with the yoga). A massage now and then. Reading (to some extent). Being able to vent to someone about my source of stress (but not too much, because that can get me ramped up again). And a realization that This Too Shall Pass. I forget that a lot. Maybe I should get it tattooed somewhere I’ll see it all the time.

What does stress do to you? What do you do to alleviate it?

Sometimes You Just Need a Walk

So much has been new and different since our move to the South.  Right now I am dealing with a job that I used to love turning into a job that I absolutely dread going to each morning.  Suffice it to say that I am experiencing things at work that I have never encountered at a place of business, and it is mind-boggling the amount of drama, backbiting, and just plain nonsense that occurs daily.

So I have begun the job search again, and because I am who I am, I am often preoccupied with thoughts about either my job, or the desperation to get away from it way too much.  It’s soul-crushing sometimes – I turned to The Man at one point today and said, “There were a lot of things I didn’t like anymore about teaching when I left, but at least I was respected.”

This is when I am so, so thankful to have The Man in my life.  I tend to obsess about my worries, and I let them overtake me physically.  I tend to be sedentary anyway, much more so since I took my current job, and when I am stressed, my first instinct is to curl up into a ball and shut the world out, thinking, thinking, and over-thinking the problem.  The Man, however, will not let me do this.  And it makes me cranky sometimes.  “No, I do NOT want to go for a walk right now,” I think as I sulkily get my shoes on and follow him out the door.

But it helps.

It helps to be outside, with my boys, looking at the houses in the neighborhood, dreaming about what our next one will look like, making jokes, feeling the warm air, and enjoying the sunshine.  Enjoying real life, as opposed to stewing in the what-ifs.

I can rely on him to dose me with the perspective that I need to get over the toxic thought cycle.  And I’m so thankful.

sunset

Tightly Wound Today

I’m aggravated.  Today was A MONDAY at work, and the boss was aggravated, making everyone else aggravated.  And I keep spelling aggravated wrong… seriously.  It has been A. DAY.  I am so glad it is almost over.

So how do you let go when you get wound up?  It’s not fair to your family to sit and seethe all evening long.  The whole reason we work is so that we can support our families, but if we don’t also get to enjoy them, it isn’t worth it.

Here are some things that work for me:

  1. Breathe.  You think you are, but you’re not.  You are taking little tiny shallow breaths that don’t even come close to filling up your lung capacity.  Try it.  Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  Amazing how much better you feel, huh?  Our brains need oxygen, and they feel better when they are getting a good and steady supply.  Those tiny little breaths we slip into just don’t cut it.
  2. Take a moment to un-clench.  Many, many times when I do this, I can only imagine what I looked like before taking deep breaths and un-clenching – my shoulders must have been up around my ears!  No wonder I get killer  shoulder/neck/headaches…  I read somewhere to think of yourself as an unwinding spool of thread when you want to unwind – go figure!  Try it.  It works for me.
  3. Laugh.  Go back and look at the photos you’ve taken with your phone, go to a funny website that has been proven to make you laugh out loud (damnyouautocorrect or cakewrecks work for me!), or watch something light and funny like AFV (America’s Funniest Home Videos).  After you’ve been giggling for a bit, you will find yourself naturally breathing deeper and un-clenching, i.e. letting go of the stress.
  4. Treat yourself well.  Tell yourself it’s OK to be aggravated (nope, still spelled it wrong) or stressed, but that whatever’s on your mind can wait until you get back to work (or the aggravating situation).  And then eat a piece of chocolate, give yourself a mini-hand massage, or close the door and be by yourself for a few minutes (always a treat in my house!).  You work hard, and you deserve to be rewarded for it.
  5. Talk about it with your spouse or a good friend.  Getting support from the people who mean the most to you will take the sting out of your stress, I promise.  But don’t dwell on it.  Let it out, and let it go.

These are already helping me, tonight.  What works for you?  Let us know in the comments.

Yes, please...

Yes, please…

Managing My Own Anger

Yesterday was a doozy of a Monday.  I felt like Alexander in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (a favorite when I was growing up).  There was an ant in The Boy’s juice, the cable box went wonky again, a co-worker lied to our boss and threw me under the bus for a mistake that was very clearly hers and hers alone.

And mid-afternoon I get an email from The Boy’s principal saying perhaps he could start on trumpet this week because he doesn’t meet the “criteria” to play the tuba.  Yeah, that just happened.

There were no “criteria” to play the tuba even mentioned at our last meeting.  That band director is discriminating against my child.

boy with tubaLuckily, I didn’t get the email until about 3 or so, because truthfully, I couldn’t concentrate on work after that.  I was extremely preoccupied, and downright pissed off.  Heart beating rapidly, I left work right at 5, and drove to pick up The Boy, planning my evening around the big, long response I was going to write.

The Boy was in a great mood, and I faked a good mood for him, as well.  I shared the happenings with my parents and strategized about next steps with them.

When we got home, I began to type all of the phrases that had been rolling around in my head for three hours, constructing my three-page response.  And I began to shake uncontrollably.  Not with rage, but with anxiety.  I also made several trips to the bathroom, which I have had to do when stressed since my mid-thirties.  When The Man came home an hour later, we talked, and strategized some more, and I continued to write.  I spoke with The Boy’s autism teacher on the phone to gain some insight, and then I continued to write.  The Man knows that getting all of my thoughts down just right in my response was the key to my calm.  Until it was a finished draft ready to send, it would be on my mind.

And of course, I couldn’t sleep last night.  I knew it would happen, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I just roll with it, going over things yet again in my head for several hours.

My draft is now complete, and it is a killer letter.  I have a plan in place, no matter the response.  He will play the tuba, and will not be switching to anything else.  I’m still angry and anxious, but I’m managing it, thanks to my outlets: writing and planning.  The key is knowing yourself enough to know how you are going to respond to anger, both physically and mentally, and to have something accessible which calms you… A bit like our kiddos, huh?

Not for Wussies

Making a major life change is difficult.  Making several at the same time is not for wussies.

I updated you last week on how we’re doing – quite well, actually.  But not everything is sunshine and lollipops.  I’m still looking for work (not quite in panic mode yet), and I’m finding it insanely difficult to get a driver’s license in my new state.  Combine that with the normal emotions involved with major life changes, and I think getting a little blue is par for the course.

Of course, I am a worrier by nature, so I have this natural tendency to focus on the negative, and can sometimes become paralyzed by it.

I have found that the best way to combat this is to do something.  Whether it’s working on organizing a space in our new home, rewriting my resume, or just doing laundry, accomplishing something tends to keep the stress/tears/freak-out away.  It also helps to cut myself a little slack, and remember my Grandma’s great advice: “All you can do is your best.”

For now, I’m managing the worry and stress, and counting my many blessings and the many, many positives that have come with these major life changes.

Just keep swimming!

English: Regal Tang fish at Bristol Zoo, Brist...

Can I Have Another Vacation Please?

Two days back to the routine, and I’m under water.  We had a rough morning, Boy-wise, in part because I had a stressful evening, and failed to make sure he was all set for our morning routine.  Sure enough, the one pair of pants he wanted to wear today got left at dad’s, which resulted in a near-meltdown, resulting in being later than usual to school, and a second near meltdown…  I was toast before we even got to 7:30am.

And stressful things kept popping up at a maddening and unusual rate today.  Now I am finally home, and having to drown out the meowing with my iTunes (his obsession since Christmas has been cats, and even “dressing up” and acting like one)… gradually turning it up every couple of minutes as he gets louder.  Pretty soon I’ll need to put the noise cancelling headphones on…

Here Comes the SunDeep breath, think of positives:

  • I got back on the bike this morning, after being out of my workout routine for about a week and half
  • It’s really difficult to hang on to stress while listening to Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles
  • The near meltdowns of the morning didn’t bleed into The Boy’s school day
  • Tortellini soup for dinner tonight

Crazy Busy Week

Don't Worry - that's not my hairy arm! (stress by bottled_void)

Don’t Worry – that’s not my hairy arm! (stress by bottled_void)

This week is one of those where I just know I’m going to be stressed out, and after the huge meltdown this weekend, and The Man leaving, I’m rather dreading it.  I have an evaluation by my boss, multiple after school meetings that will last multiple hours, the landlord is due to come over to inspect the house to see what needed repairs there are, and I have an evening school event.  I also have to be “on call” for a nonprofit board meeting, you know, one that I backed out of because I was so busy this week…

The bright spot is a Girls’ Night Out right in the middle of the week — I just hope I can enjoy it with the rest of this going on.  And I hope the forecasted snowstorm doesn’t mess that up!

I also hope The Boy is OK with a babysitter for two nights in a row.  Usually it isn’t a problem, but after this weekend, I’m a little skittish.

All I can do is take it day by day, hour by hour, and just try to stay as calm as possible.  Oh, and remember to breathe.  And maybe stop for some sweet tea on the way to work, or pick up a magazine to read for the evening…

Anyone else a little crazy this week?

Strategy for Meltdown Recovery (For Mom!)

In the immediate aftermath of a “rough morning” (which usually includes some lost thing, screaming, blaming, slammed doors, etc…) I am shaken.  Someone will say “Good Morning!” and I can barely respond.  I will often cry in the car on the way to work, not for a specific hurt, but because it is a release from the anxiety and tension that were at sky-high levels only moments ago.

Usually, a rough morning means a crappy day, because I am distracted and upset, which leads to less focus on work, which leads to less work getting done, and so on…

English: Peanut butter cookie with a chocolate...

But today, I made a split second decision that helped me recover.  I decided to take the surface streets to work instead of the express way, and I decided to stop at a convenience store that I know carries my favorite sweet tea.  I picked up my tea and some peanut butter crackers, and happily munched and drank on my way to work.  By the time I got there, I was MUCH better off than I usually am on a rough morning.  I won’t always have the time to do this, because rough mornings often lead to being late to work, but I have found a coping strategy that works, and it makes me happy.

Busy, Busy

It’s that time of year, isn’t it?  Everyone feels it.  And mostly, we do it to ourselves.  Fill up those calendars with things to do, and then wonder why this season is so stressful.

Part of the problem in our house is that I teach band and choir, and The Boy is involved in band and choir, which makes for multiple concerts and mandatory attendance.  (Luckily, The Boy’s band concert is actually during the day, and I will miss work for this special event!  Er, I mean… not “luckily”, but, well, you know…)

Ah, The Elementary Choir Concert...

Add a birthday (and a birthday party) in the middle of all of those rehearsals and concerts, and it can be beyond hectic, especially in a single-parent household.  How do I do it?  Carefully scheduled mental health personal days, babysitters, and the mantra “this too shall pass”.  Don’t get me wrong — I love this season: the music, the neighborliness, the giving, the traditions.  The stress, though?  That, I can definitely do without.

What do you do to ensure it is a season of good cheer instead of Bah Humbug?