How (not) to handle stress

 

I was going to write about healthy ways to handle stress until I realized that I covered this topic a few months ago (it’s obviously on my mind), so I decided this time I’ll write what NOT to do because I’m an expert on that!

  1. Spending too much money. One of my biggest stress triggers is loneliness. I know there will be days I will be spending the whole. day. alone. It is healthy to head out and about to be among people in a public place, but it’s not a good idea to go on a shopping spree for cleaning products or office supplies (my two favorite binges besides food – see below). Coming home with stuff I don’t need only triggers financial stress and clutter stress. It would be a much better use of my time to grab my laptop and get some writing done at a café, filling my need for both creativity and human interaction. Fortunately, over-shopping is a rare problem because after all the grocery shopping I need to do, there’s hardly ever time or money left to buy more whiteout and Post-it notes. Sometimes, it feels therapeutic to seek out the very corners of a big store just to see what’s there instead of buying anything. I think of it more like a museum than a store. Hongo Killer, anyone?
  2. Eating too much of the wrong foods. Something about stress makes me reach for crackers. And then chocolate. I want them both, and in that order. The Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie bag says I deserve a cookie. But I think I deserve them all after a bad day. While being lonely makes me go shopping, being angry makes me eat like the Cookie Monster. They’re gone so fast I don’t savor or enjoy them, and I’m left with a stomachache. This is the worst kind of stress for me, because instead of dealing with my emotions productively, I end up stuffing them down with food. I feel much better on the days I sit down and write in my notebook to process those unpleasant feelings.
  3. Yelling at people. Being late is the trigger for this. Usually one of the first things people would say about me (and probably assume, since I’m both a mom and a teacher) is that I’m very patient. Easygoing. Mild-mannered. My kids would tell you otherwise on the days we are running late for anything. I am half-German and I swear there is a clock built into me. The trains must run on time. But when I yell, I end up with a headache and a guilty conscience. And surprisingly, it doesn’t help anyone to be more on time when I lose it. The cure for this is getting more prepared the night before. One of my resolutions for 2016 is to put my clothes out the night before for work instead of staring at the closet in the morning, or worse yet, trying on four things before anything feels right.
  4. Excessive Netflix. Having too much to do usually sets off this very counterproductive reaction to stress. Instead of starting the task, I shut down, crawl into bed, and watch mindless entertainment until I fall asleep. It would be much better to get at least the essential tasks done and then reward myself with some time to relax when I could enjoy it.

Well, that’s it for my true confessions this week. How many vices do you think one person can have? How about making me feel better and letting me know I’m not alone on unproductive reactions to stress?

Take care and enjoy the many blessings left in 2015!

Grete

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpgAmazon button

 

 

 

 

Planning on paper vs. electronically

Paper-Clip-Cluster-1By mid-December, I’m already reviewing the past year and preparing for the next one. Perhaps it’s because my birthday also falls at the end of the year, but for me, January is always a time of review and change.

I’m still searching for that perfect organization method that allows me to feel like I’m prioritizing correctly, remembering everything that needs to get done (laundry, dishes, groceries, paying bills), and keeping track of what I want to do (printing and framing photos, decluttering, finishing my needlepoint project I started over the summer, and much, much more).

For now, I’ve settled on a hybrid of putting every appointment and regular event into my iPhone calendar  and writing tasks on paper, divided into daily and long-term.

Some examples:

  • As soon as I make an appointment, it goes in my calendar. I don’t even let doctors give me the appointment cards because I don’t want the clutter.
  • If I need to bring something to an event, I add it to the appointment (“bring gift”.)
  • Recurring things I need to nag my kids about go in the calendar. (“Bring gym clothes.”)

I have two to-do lists: One is a little lined Post-it note pad with room for only ten items. That’s where I write (the night before) up to ten things I need to do the next day.

The other list is on regular sized paper that I keep in a manila folder of Goals. There are actually a few lists in this folder because some need to be done soon, but not tomorrow (like “get annual inspection for car”) and some are the more wishful thinking variety (like “clean the garage”).

Whenever I have space on my small to-do list (and an abundance of energy), I put one or two items from the big list onto the small list.

Every evening, I review my iPhone calendar and my paper to-do list for the next day. I look at them again in the morning. Obsessive-compulsive? Maybe. But it also puts my mind at ease that I’m not forgetting anything (and because of this system, I rarely do.)

My lcoach and friend, Cathy Colangelo, has developed a 2016 planner/calendar and her coach, Sage Grayson, gave me the idea for this post with her blog tour on planning. Please check out their offerings and feel free to comment here with your own planning ideas. I’m always looking for improvement and I learn something new every time I read a blog or a book on planning.

Take care and enjoy the many blessings left in 2015!

Grete

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpgAmazon button

 

 

 

 

 

Cathy calendar

Cathy’s 2016 “Year of Clarity” Coloring Calendar

 

I’m participating in the Edited Year Blog Party! The 2016 Edited Year Planners are your secret weapons for staying on target with your goals, appointments, projects, and to-dos in a fun and systematic way. Click here to get your planners.

2016-Edited-Year-Planners-collage-7781

 

 

Problem solved…a form of gratitude

Sometimes when I’m feeling like there’s one setback after another, it helps to reflect on what has been repaired. I keep a little glass jar in my desk at work filled with colorful paper slips of “problems solved.”
IMG_7580
My students and I enjoy this poster that I replenish a few times a week. Anyone who has a need is invited to tear one off. At least once a week, I take one too, and I write the date and why I took that request on the back.
IMG_7578
Some of them are simple, like the day I forgot my cell phone at home and worried all day that my son would get sick at school and the nurse would try to call me and not be able to reach me. Some of them are more complicated and long-term and it’s not really clear when or how they’ll be answered. Just writing it down and releasing it to the universe eases my burden.
IMG_7575
I don’t have time to keep a journal, but writing helps me work through the things that weigh on my mind. My jar of patience, hope, healing, and more reminds me that even though there are always going to be new problems, many things I worried about are already in my past.

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpgAmazon button

“Why am I so encumbered?”

My son and his friends enjoy playing online games together, and the other day I overheard him ask, “Why am I so encumbered?” What he meant was he was weighed down by the items his character was carrying, but it struck me that I’ve been encumbered too, if not by physical objects, at least by the maintenance of myself, the people in my family, and our stuff.

I have constant running to-do lists, one for work and one for home, and I realized I rarely feel a sense of accomplishment on either of them because there’s always more to do. Now that the boys have constant homework and activities, it feels like life has gotten infinitely more complicated. They are big enough to help out around the house, and they do, but there are three people’s schedules running through my head at all times and most events have to be scheduled weeks in advance to happen.

I’m working out how to enjoy my days and savor them, despite all of the parts that make me tired and sometimes weigh me down. Even though I can’t stand the idea of looking at one more list, I had to make one to remind me of all the good little routines that pull me up like helium-filled balloons. Here’s mine and I’d love your suggestions too.

  1. Every morning, I look forward to my same breakfast (coffee and raisin bread toast with peanut butter) and reading a few chapters from the Bible. That is often my only quiet time in an entire day!
  2. At least one meal where I sit down with my boys. It’s usually dinner, but even if it’s breakfast or lunch, we talk and find out what’s going on with each other.
  3. Time with my loved ones to go for walks, work on a New York Times crossword, or watch a movie. These are a few of the moments where my mind isn’t running on hyperspeed.
  4. Going to sleep at night. Usually it’s more like passing out from exhaustion, but I treasure those few minutes where I’m warm under the covers. I love my bed.
  5. Listening to RadioLab podcasts on the way to and from work. This amazing show has opened my world to so many new ideas I would have missed in my myopic little world.

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpgAmazon button

A thoughtful article about drone parenting (and you thought helicopter parenting was bad)

I just read this article by a parent who realized she was getting overly involved in her kids’ lives, especially their school work, and I shuddered when she said that often her first question to her sons after school was “What’s your homework today?”

Starting the after-school conversation with homework sounds cold and impersonal compared to “How are you?” or “How was your day?” which I always say first, but the second question I usually ask is “What’s your homework today?”

This mom said she micromanaged not because she was pushing her kids to excel, but because she realized her children were in that gray area of needing but not needing their parents so much anymore and she did not want to fail at parenting during this most critical time.

Like these parents, I could choose to look at my sons’ grades online every day if I want to (I don’t). She called this constant monitoring of her children “drone parenting,” and she gives some tips at the end of the article for how she stepped back and got back to being a more relaxed parent.

Since I’m a teacher, I sometimes feel an extra pressure for my kids to do well in school. After all, if I can’t help them stay organized, do their work on time, and get good grades, who can? I often advise parents to let their children become more independent and for kids to stop asking their parents to study with them, so I need to set the example by treating my own kids that way.

For the most part, I’m pretty hands-off when it comes to schoolwork, but every now and then I have that mini-breakdown where I fear I’m not doing enough (whatever enough is) and I start looking at my kids’ planners or their teachers’ websites to try to glean insight into what they’re doing every day in school.

I noticed I get more stressed out when I go into this mode and it doesn’t do anything helpful for my kids. Therefore, I vow not to be a drone parent!

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpgAmazon button

 

 

 

 

Hope for the discouraged

FullSizeRender (3)I will admit that I’ve been kind of discouraged with myself lately. Why can’t I have more energy, more patience, more gratefulness for all of the blessings in my life? Picking on yourself never leads to anything good, nor does comparing yourself to others. I look in the mirror and say “You could do better.”

You know what? It’s true. I could do better, but instead of putting it like that, I’d like to say “I am better today.” Not better like a competition that I have to work at, but better because I’ve lived and learned for one more day.

Before I say anything to myself, I ask whether it’s something I’d say to someone I love. I certainly wouldn’t tell a friend,

“You can’t balance everything.”

“Why are you so lazy?”

“Other people can do this; why can’t you?”

Those are the kinds of things I would never even think about someone else, so why was it okay to talk to myself that way? I’m learning to think of myself as a kind and supportive friend to a younger woman who needs my help. She needs encouragement and a pep talk and sometimes a little time off from all of her responsibilities. I let her know she is strong and she can keep going, even when she thinks it’s impossible, and that she is better today, just for being herself.

What do you need to hear from yourself today?

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpgAmazon button

 

 

 

Healthy things to do when you’re stressed

walking-349991_1280I spend a lot of time berating myself for not doing things better: not being more patient, efficient, and especially for how I tend to fall apart when I get stressed. Too much stress makes me feel like I am stuck in mud – all of a sudden, I’m tired all day, I can’t make decisions, and I start procrastinating big time. Not to mention the days I lie around and eat too much, which only increases my feelings of being bogged down.

It’s easy when I’m feeling good to think of all the ways I should handle stress; not so easy when I’m in the midst of it. So I decided I’d make a little list of positive (healthy – not drowning my troubles in margaritas) ways I can start to feel better right away. Instead of making decisions about how to handle things, I just take a quick inventory of whether I’m more mentally or physically tired and pick one from the list below. What’s on your stress relief list?

  1. Go out for a walk. This is the one that feels hardest to do sometimes, yet it has the most instantaneous effect because I’m getting away from what’s bothering me and getting my endorphins flowing. Sometimes I have to force myself to look around me rather than continue to stew over whatever’s on my mind while I walk, but walking makes everything better.
  1. Clean up the house. If I can’t go for a walk, the next best help is cleaning, which is usually the last thing I feel like doing when I’m stressed out, but again, it burns off some tension and the end result makes me feel better too.
  1. Take a nap. When I’m not productive, I layer the guilt trips onto myself like blankets on a cold winter night. But there are days I am really, really tired and truly can’t make good decisions or get anything done, and then I know it’s time for a break. Paying more attention to my body’s needs has headed off many a meltdown.
  1. Read a good book/do needlepoint/solve a puzzle. Sometimes I’m physically tired but mentally running a hundred miles an hour. These activities take my mind off things. Notice I didn’t add watching TV or movies. I’ve noticed that I tend to feel worse when I lie around watching Netflix or cruising Facebook when I’m down. Something about screen time pulls me deeper into the abyss.
  1. Consult with my higher power. To borrow from Alcoholics Anonymous, it helps to “let go and let God.” The times I feel most stressed are when I think I have to do it all myself, know it all myself, take care of it all myself. Sometimes huge stress is the reset button I need to remind me that I can’t handle everything on my own.

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpgAmazon button

Sending positive intentions to others (aka prayers)

praying-614374_1280My older son often has difficulty falling asleep.  I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had those nights where rumination and worry interrupt a good night’s rest. My advice to him? “Think of every person you’ve ever met and say a prayer for them.” That should take a while. It was a more intellectual version of counting sheep, and hopefully, a way to help others.

He said it helped him, and for me it sparked a new habit. Every night before I go to sleep I take a few minutes to pray for whoever is on my mind. That almost always includes my family and loved ones, but sometimes people I haven’t seen in years pop into my head too, even people I don’t even know.

For example, one time a man in his early twenties outside a movie theater approached me to ask for money. He was clearly a drug addict and looked so defeated and unhealthy. I was afraid, but I gave him a few dollars. He said thank you and walked away. I prayed for him then, knowing the money would probably go toward drugs rather than food. This was years ago, and yet I still pray for him regularly. I wonder what happened to him and I’ll never know, but I wanted so badly for him to feel loved. I could see he didn’t love himself and probably believed no one else did either.

I’ve dabbled with the idea of creating a prayer list because I’m an organized sort of person who loves to write things down (like everything I eat, every day). There are many prayer list apps our there if you’re interested. I thought about using one of them, but something about an app that reminds you to pray takes away the mystery for me. I am afraid it would become rote instead of the heartfelt spontaneous prayers I make now.

Some of the apps even have boxes you can check off when prayers are answered. My children’s Sunday school teacher reminds them that ALL prayers are answered. It’s just that sometimes the answer is “not yet” or even “no.” One of the mysteries of faith is accepting that very bad things happen to good people. We can choose to believe the universe is random or that all things have meaning, but either way, we’re not yet ready to understand fully. You don’t see the result of some prayers for a long time or ever in some cases. Did all my prayers for the drug-addicted man who approached me in a parking lot help him in any way? I’d like to think so, but I’ll never be able to check off a box definitively.

Prayer has the power to bring you out of yourself and deeper into yourself at the same time. When you’re praying for others, you’re setting your ego aside. You’re pulling yourself out of “poor me” mode. Nothing snaps me out of a bad mood faster than remembering all the people who have gone through much worse than I could ever imagine. But you are also allowed (and encouraged) to ask for yourself. Just knowing it’s not all on me to fix anyone else or myself gives me a sense of peace. I am putting forth the effort, but I’m not working alone.

Whether you believe in prayer or not, I’m sure you can acknowledge that wishing someone well, even if they don’t know you are doing so, just might change their lives for the better. I’ll be praying for you.

[Image courtesy of Gadini at www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpgAmazon button