I read a pretty darn good analogy about stress, that I will attempt to paraphrase. It started with the question, how heavy is a glass of water? If you hold it for a minute not very heavy at all. If you hold it for an hour it starts to get quite burdensome. If you try and hold it for a day, your arm might fall off (to read the non-Nicole version click here). That water is the stressors in your life. Hold onto them for a little while and you’re okay. But the longer you try and hold them, the more difficult it becomes. And in my mind, that glass of water is one type of stress, let’s say your boss. What if you piled on top of that glass a book and a cantaloupe and a bowl. This random assortment of objects is my weird mind’s representation of other stressors in your life like your relationship, your house, money. If you keep that arm out trying to hold all those things up forever, your arm will eventually give in. And that give may be physical, mental and emotional. No bueno.
This analogy could have been written about me. One thing goes wrong or stresses me out and I behave like the fucking queen. I am like, “Wow I am a vision of patience and manners.” Two things go wrong, and I start thinking, “How the hell does the queen do this?” A handful of stressors kick in, and I lash out like a teenager who just got her phone taken away. I’m a real B-I-T-C-H. Though they may all individually be small, together and over time they collapse me. And it is not a pretty sight – for myself or for those around me. Just ask my fiancé.
So I, myself, am working now on our ALV stress management approach. I recognize that there will never be a point in life where stress doesn’t exist, so you and I need to find the tools and build the practices that help you deal with it in a healthy, non-B-I-T-C-H way. A way to let the air out of the balloon before it pops. Our approach is called CALM: call it, ask for help, laugh, meditate. I’m certainly no master at it (yet!), but I can share what has worked for me.
Call It. Sometimes this is the hardest part. Whether it’s noticing it or admitting it, it’s hard to say out loud, “I can’t handle this.” We feel like we need to just deal with it and do it all. Seems like everyone else does. So why can’t we handle all of this without exploding? Well we all get stressed out by different things, and so we can’t compare ourselves to what others do. You have to get to know your own body, your own stressors and recognize when you’re in an unhealthy situation for you and only you. I can feel when I’m tensing up. When my back starts to hurt. When I can feel my grays growing in and my wrinkles forming in my forehead. And I sure as shit don’t want to look like I’m 50 when I’m 30 so that’s usually the trigger point for me to say, “Okay, I’m overwhelmed.” But the trick is to recognize these symptoms before it gets to that point. Before you lash out on your loved ones. Before you end up in tears. Start to identify those warning signs earlier and earlier, and don’t be afraid to admit when stress is starting to take hold of you. Which leads me to the second part of our framework…
Ask for help. Get someone to hold the glass for you for a while. There ain’t nothin wrong with delegation. In fact, it’s a pretty valuable skill to develop. Can you ask a colleague to support you with something at work? Can you temporarily offload some housework on your partner? Can you say no to attending some events until things have calmed down? Prioritization is key, and no one will be mad at you for being open and honest about how you’re feeling. And guess what? The world will still go round if that housework doesn’t get done or if my fiancé folds something wrong (which is inevitable). It’s okay. I repeat. It’s okay.
Laugh. Watch a funny movie. Force yourself to smile. Laugh at yourself and your situation. Your body will immediately relax, even if for a brief moment, and it will give you the energy you need to power through. Katie, Foram and I just chatted about this because we are each doing more in one year than most people do in 5. This year alone, I have quit my job, started two businesses, bought 2 condos, sold one, planned a wedding. As much as I try to be, I can’t be great at all of it. I’m a shitty bride. I have to just laugh at that. I’m sure my place settings will be ugly AF. But I’m going to have to just laugh at that too. Though it is something so simple, it is amazing how powerful a quick laugh can be in transforming you from stressball-you back to calm-you. When the weight of life is pushing down, it is laughter that will be your support beam.
Meditate. This may sound a little “out there”, but it doesn’t need to mean that you sit legs crossed, middle finger and thumb touching. For me this just means that you do whatever you can to quiet the stressors in your mind. Take a walk. Play with your dogs. Write. Listen to music. Take a bath. Do whatever works for you to make that stress take a temporary back seat. When I do try to go for the more traditional approach, I have found that focusing on the sounds around me works for me (I learned this practice on our Ecuador retreat #signuptoday). I hear a car noise, a dog bark, my neighbor’s footsteps. I stop myself from thinking further about what any of this means. I just focus on the next sound and then the next. I stop myself from thinking about the millions of things I need to do or I need to be worried about. I just focus on the sound. This technique helps me to release the tension, reset and recharge. There are a million and one meditation techniques out there. Find one that works for you, whether it’s “out there” or not. Your mind will thank you.
You don’t need to behave like the queen all the time. I’m sure even the queen doesn’t. You just need to be able to identify when your ability to do so is being compromised by life and take note of the physical effects it is having on your body. Learn to spot them early. Try out the CALM methodology. If that doesn’t work for you try something else (we won’t be offended). What’s most important is that you keep your stress in check so you can be happy, healthy, successful and, if it matters to you, pleasant to be around. It won’t always be easy. Mastering stress is one of the most challenging things for many people to accomplish in their life. Stress can be a force to be reckoned with. But so are you. You just need the right tools.
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