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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”
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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.
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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.
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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.

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The little rituals that make our house a home

One of my most faithful blog followers mentioned how her grandchildren love to come to her house for after-school snacks, and it got me thinking, what are the little rituals in our household that make our house a home? Here are ours, and please comment with yours… maybe we’ll find some new ideas to add to our list!

  1. The annual viewing of the (original) Star Wars. I grew up with Star Wars, and have watched the movies dozens of times (and yes, I’m so excited for the next one!). When I was in college, the trilogy always seemed to be on TV in mid-December, right when I’d be studying for my final exams. I watched them as an excellent form of procrastination, and I knew even then that my future children would be educated in the ways of the force. We sit down once a year and watch them all, not in one sitting, but over a few nights. It’s a travesty when I meet a kid who’s never seen Star Wars.
  1. Coming home from trips and saying “east or west, home is best” as we pull into the garage. Traveling is fun, but nowhere is better than home to me, and I love that my sons appreciate our house so much too. They often say how cozy it is.
  1. Sunday morning pancakes. This came from my dad, who made whole wheat pancakes every Sunday morning on a huge iron griddle. He was the most relentlessly cheerful morning person I’ve ever met, and I’m proud to say I discovered how he did it: He got up way before anyone else in the house.
  1. Saying “sweet dreams, I love you” before bed every night. I tuck the boys in (although sometimes they’re up later than I am now) and we say good night. Sometimes once is enough, but other nights I hear one or both of them call out “I love you” from down the hall, and these are the times I never want them to grow up.
  1. Getting out the door on time (or almost on time) every weekday.  Our morning routine to an observer would look like a well-rehearsed play with characters moving from room to room in synchronized fashion. One is brushing teeth while another is in the kitchen making breakfast and the third is getting dressed, then it’s time to rotate. Who knows how many times I ask “Do you have your gym clothes?” and my sons ask “Do you have your keys?” It’s good to have someone reminding you of that stuff in the morning flurry.
  1. Dinner and grocery shopping. I often shop alone out of necessity, but my favorite trips to buy our groceries include going out for dinner first (we love Panera!). We write a shopping list while we’re still at the table, and then take turns pushing the cart and selecting items in the store. It seems like less of a chore and more of a special occasion when we all go together.

These are the moments I most look forward to in our home. What are yours?

[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.

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“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.

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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.

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The most rewarding things in life are not the ones that come easy

ID-100129086The other day, my sons and I were talking about what we would wish for if it would come true instantly. I wished I could sing well. My older son said he wished that whatever he wanted to be good at, he’d be able to do it perfectly right away. You think you’re fooling the genie by wishing for all the wishes you want, but you know it’s going to have to backfire somehow.

 

I said I wished I could sing well because singing is something I’d like to do, but it’s not essential to who I am. Don’t go suggesting I take vocal lessons (I might be pitch deaf for all I know) because I don’t have the drive to practice and put in the hours it would take to improve my singing, even if it were possible. It’s just one of those things that’d be nice, ya know?

 

But writing… that’s super important to me. For most of my life, I told myself that if I could be anything, it would be a writer. There were times I tried to bury that, or work around the edges – proofreading, copy editing, teaching other people to write – because it seemed so precious to me that I was afraid of messing up and losing my only big dream.

 

Why wouldn’t I wish that I could immediately be really good at writing and a big success? Because it would take all the fun out of it. Sometimes writing is really stressful and overwhelming. Sometimes I get discouraged and say, I should give up; this is going nowhere. But some little kernel inside me makes me keep going, no matter what, because when I’m writing and it’s going well, it’s one of the best feelings there is. Experts call it the flow state – where time stops and you are in the moment enjoying yourself. It’s not easy to get into that flow state, but the hours of frustration for those few unexpected moments of flow are SO worth it.

 

I am happy to say that I just finished the manuscript for my second book yesterday. It was more than a year in the making, a few pages at a time. I texted a few people, jumped around, told everyone else I saw for the rest of the day, and then I got back to writing.

 

I don’t want the joy of learning to write taken away. I want to savor each hard-won success as it comes. I want to climb my way up that mountain, scrabbling over every rock, losing my footing a few times, but still holding on tight, until I get to the top. The top is still shrouded in clouds right now. I don’t even know what’s up there yet. Will this be the breakthrough bestseller I’ve been dreaming of all my life? Will it be a movie someday? I sure hope so, but no matter what happens, I’m going to keep writing.

Whatever your secret wish is, I hope it comes true for you, but not instantly. I wish it comes true in the way that makes you say “all the hard work and all the time I hoped and waited was worth it.”

[Image courtesy of Photokanok at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net]

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.

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