Simple Steps to Handle Stress

Have you ever had a time in your life where you’d like to run away and hide in a tiny little cabin in the middle of the woods? Just to escape life, if only for a moment. I am having one of those times right now.

It seems life has handed me a series of events, some unfortunate, and some good (but still stressful). And while I used to thrive on stress, I don’t handle it very well now. My injury changed all that. Instead of taking life as it comes, it seems now that each new event requires a processing time. When I don’t get that, I kind of fall apart.

That’s what has happened lately. In one brief sweep, my husband and I have experienced: job changes, family arriving and leaving (in close succession), trips, changes in extended family and their lives, and health issues. To top it off, we have discussed the possibility of moving, doing home improvements, and a big vacation next year. I know, almost every stress imaginable, enough to send anyone over the edge.

All I can say is, right now, I’m thankful I don’t have a lot of stuff to take care of. I’m thankful for all the things I threw away and gave to the thrift store, for keeping life easy and clean. I’m thankful I haven’t accrued more than I need.

Still, even in my simple life, I have stress. And by last week, I’d had enough. I needed to find ways to let go. I began a series of stress-relieving exercises: working-out longer and harder, practicing daily yoga (I’ve done yoga for a long time, but mostly in moments of desperation, or at the most twice a week). I baked, drew, took naps (of which I failed miserably, not because I wasn’t tired, but because I have always felt guilty sleeping in the middle of the day), made extra protein smoothies, and began taking fish oil supplements.

In some ways, I felt a little better. I think it was the psychological aspect of knowing I was taking some control over my life. But the fact is, those stressors still remained.

I knew it was time for some soul-searching. I pulled out my trusty little journal, wrote down each stressor, how it affected me, and why. And I came to a realization. Most of the stressors in my life were my own fault. What a horrible confession to have to make.

Sure, there were things that couldn’t be helped, like my husband’s job. He had been in an unstable company with the threat of lay-offs. He needed a change. His new company has been around a long time, and was exactly what he was looking for.

The trips weren’t totally optional, at least not one. One was a business trip that we both attended. The other was a trip to the ocean with family, planned many months ago, and worth every bit of time and energy.

But there were stresses in my life I had control over, like family visitations. As much as I love family visits, next year I won’t let them get scheduled so close together.

And home improvements – painting, putting up hooks and blinds – those can wait. They aren’t even close to being important in my life. Moving doesn’t need to be discussed – it’s a plan for the future. Even next year’s vacation, as exciting as it might be, can wait.

When it comes to extended family, I have a bad habit of worrying about them. I guess if I don’t worry, I feel calloused. But here’s the thing, it’s their decisions, their lives. None of it affects me. I need to remember that.

Yup, all those things I had control over, and I let it affect me. But health, that’s one area that can’t usually be controlled. It’s been a rough few months, especially the last couple weeks. But the good things is, when I have less to think about, and less to do, I have the time and energy to take care of me.

Stress happens. Life happens. It always will. Here are a few things you can do to help you through a stressful time:

1. Be prepared by always taking care of yourself. Exercise, pray, meditate, drink water daily, and get plenty of rest.

2. Do something often, just for you. Whatever relaxes you and keeps you calm. Yoga, a walk in the woods, painting, reading.

3. Keep your life simple. A simple schedule. A simple home. A simple wardrobe. Simple cooking and cleaning. With less to care for, stress is easier to handle.

4. Know what’s important, and what’s not. Let go of the things that aren’t.

5. Write about it. Write about every little stress – dirty clothing on the floor, a house that needs cleaning, the illness of a close friend. Pick that one that matters.

Most of all, remember how important you are. Keep stress levels down by taking care of you.

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Stress is a Pain in the Neck (And Sometimes in the Back)

To say I don’t handle stress well is putting it mildly. I used to thrive on stress, juggling children, activities, career, all the while balancing a calendar and house atop my head. I looked for stress the way Winnie the Pooh searches for honey. The more I had, the happier I was.

But brain injuries have a way of changing a person. I can no longer handle stress. I push it away, eliminating situations I know I can’t handle. Unfortunately, sometimes the old me tries to sneak back into my life, tries to fool me into thinking I can do anything. Kind of like it did the last few weeks.

Plans and Changes
It began with summer and fall plans my husband and I were making. Things weren’t falling into place as easily as we had imagined. We had to make changes to our calendar, and leave a few things in the air. Not a big deal, if that had been all there was.

My body is tired. My mind is worn. I do not hear.

My family, both close and extended, are experiencing many changes in their lives. They are all adults, and the changes are good, but I couldn’t help but be a little worried, because, after all, they are my family.

My back twinges, my neck begins to ache. I will not listen.

My husband has seen a lot of changes in his company lately, and his job has become a bit precarious. When your spouse is stressed, so are you.

My body cries, my muscles tighten. “Sit, relax,” it says to me. I refuse.

My husband and I have designated Memorial Day weekend as “Catch-Up Weekend,” a time to complete forgotten and abandoned chores. This year, we should have gone away, if only for day. Instead, we opted to paint the office. The only place we would go would be Home Depot.

We stripped the walls of pictures, emptied closets, removed furniture. We washed walls, taped bright blue strips around the trim, and painted. Halfway through, I felt it.

Stop! Tense muscles. Pain. I close my ears.

I barely made it through the first coat. But by then, my body had rebelled. It screamed things I had never heard, shooting pains from my lower and middle back into my stomach, making it difficult to eat or breathe. My only relief was bending over or lying down.

Stop and Listen
If only I had listened the first time. If only I had paid attention when my body told me to rest.

Back pain is, well, such a pain. Back pain costs employers 7.4 billion dollars a year in missed days of work (based on ages 40-65, per www.painmed.org), it will affect about 80 percent of adults at some point in their lives (per ninds.nih.gov) and is the number one reason Americans visit a doctor (per Johns Hopkins University study – www.disabled-world.com)

Back pain can truly ruin your day, or even your life. I knew I couldn’t live with this kind of pain for long, and I knew the exact reasons for why I felt this way.

The first thing I did was lay on a heating pad, rest, and enjoy a movie, letting my mind wander away from that sometimes stressful thing called life.
Then I did something else. I thought about what I was dwelling on –family, house, unsolved vacations. I thought how I had turned a simple life into something difficult. And then I knew what I needed to do. I needed to let it go.

Let it go
*Don’t try to do so much. Some things, like painting, can wait. Some things just aren’t that important.

*Don’t try to live other’s lives. If they are happy and okay, let it go.

*Accept situations. Do what you can to change it, but if you can’t change it, learn to live with it.

*Most importantly, don’t gather stress like it’s an honor to carry around.

Remedies
We all incur stress at some point in our lives. It’s the way life is. And sometimes, when we have stress, our body rebels. If this happens to you, here are a few simple remedies I found to be helpful:

1. Heating pad. (Follow directions, don’t leave on too long, or turn on too high of a heat.)

2. Mild yoga (This is not the time for head stands or balancing on one hand.)

3. Hot shower. Or better yet, a hot bath with Epsom salts.

4. Topricin. Use like Icy Hot. (I love Topricin. It doesn’t smell like Grandma’s muscle cream, isn’t greasy, and it works.)

5. Massage. (Light massage.) With oil.

6. Rest.

7. Relax. Breathe.

8. Remember, life is simple. We just make it difficult.

9. Mostly, learn to let it go.

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