STRESSED OUT: The Gift of What Just Might Kill Us

clara-bow

Clara Bow — Silent Film and Talkies Star –1920s — She was the inspiration for Betty Boop.  She also suffered with mental health issues due to stress.

 

Stress. We all carry it. Like interest on a credit card, it compounds. Quickly.

We are living in extreme days.  Our country is polarized, and some of us, perhaps many of us feel like we are hanging on by a thread.

Our daily responsibilities exceed the available time to accomplish them. I’m talking only about the things on our “MUST DO” list. Forget totally about our “HOPE TO DO” and “WANT TO DO” list.

Then, predictably so, like a promise that arrives early, a CRISIS OF EPIC PROPORTIONS lands in your lap exactly as your energy levels drop below zero. Couple this with your due date for everything urgent was expected yesterday and before, and your list of what you have to post pone due to emergency, is stretched to indefinite, if not infinity and beyond.   Generally, this will happen when you don’t have the following to cope:

  • money to pay for it
  • time to absorb it
  • energy/resources to fix it

Everything from demanding jobs, to family crisis, to health crisis, to a death in the family, or news that feels like a “sentence” feel like they are going to pull us under the waves.  Up to now we were at least managing our overwhelm, however precariously, as we bobbed between the waves of life’s stormy seas.

Here’s the hardest truth of our lives: Sometimes it sucks. I mean that literally. The challenge of just getting to the next day seems near impossible, because TODAY feels like it is vacuuming every last ounce of our energy, time, and resources to simply deal.

We can’t take ONE. MORE. THING. And then…..

BOOM!

The unthinkable. The unimaginable. The unbearable.

Like it or not. It’s here. How now will you get through it?

I’m not a doctor or scientist or even theologian who claims to know. I’m just a girl who’s been around the block a few times. And each successive lap does get harder, but……

it’s true—that which does NOT kill us, really does make us stronger.

My Christian faith has comforted my heart, and my mind knows many of God’s promises. But that never negates the reality of what is, and the pain/frustration/fear one goes through when one is on overload. The feelings are real, even if our analysis of what’s happening doesn’t agree with others’ perspectives. The truth is: We feel what we feel.

So, how to deal?

Something I learned a long time ago at church. Our wise pastor told us:

You are going to suffer in life. That you don’t get to choose.

The only thing you get to choose is HOW YOU SUFFER.

Will you waste your suffering?

Or will it be redemptive?

I have never forgotten that lesson. I mean I have in terms of application sometimes:

  • I get negative ( I whine to others.)
  • I forget to pray. I forget to be still.  (I’m SO busy!)
  • I complain. (As if stating the problem a dozen different ways will somehow change it.)
  • I avoid reality, or at least dream of it. (I think I will hide under my blankets and pet the cats and just listen to music all day. Yeah right.  )

And then: I remember another profound truth:

IT IS WHAT IT IS

 Seriously, reality always wins.

 I pause.

 I remember.

I get to choose my suffering.   I. Me. No one else.   Other people or life situations—they may overwhelm, even slay me. But I CHOOSE how I deal. Or die. Or live. That is my power. And no one and nothing can take THAT away from me! No one can take the power that I believe God has already put in me, unless I give it to them.

There’s a lot of anger out there these days. The election comes to mind. I get the disappointment and anger. I really do. But seriously, how much power are YOU going to allow someone else to have over your lives?   What changes can you make?  More importantly, WHO will you CHOOSE to be?

We don’t get to change our circumstances much of the time. The only thing available for us to change is: OUR PERSPECTIVE

Stress can BE our friend.   We can “reframe” our situation.

These things I’ve learned for sure, especially in crisis mode:

We can only solve one problem at a time. Tackle your tasks and finish them one by one. It may mean going off-line, off-grid, turning your phone off. That’s okay.   People will live without you for a few days. But you won’t live without you.

If other people can’t understand your limitations sometimes, that is their problem, not yours. Is it good to care what other’s think of us?  Sure.  But our health, our life comes first.

“No” is a complete sentence. This is a biggie, especially for women. We want to give and help so much, we can give ourselves away sometimes. But say no sometimes. Even if it’s just to practice for a real emergency. It’s so freeing. The relief that comes from knowing you don’t have to be responsible for everything just because someone thought you were the most capable to do it.

Get enough rest. No matter what. No good decision is ever decided when running on fumes.   Which brings me to: Delay big decisions until you have had at least one good night’s sleep.

Ask for help. And then don’t be ashamed. Be it tasks or an understanding ear, reach out to others. Please. Other friends don’t always know when we struggle. They are stressed too.

Daily Quiet Time. (DQT) Prayer. Meditation.   Simple solitude where you simply empty your mind of all thoughts, if only for ten minutes. This is absolutely essential if you are on overload. Practice this now. Make this your habit, so you won’t forget in emergencies.

Breathe. Just breathe. Slowly. Take it all in, understanding you don’t have all the answers. Remember? You can’t control it all.

Consciously choose to accept with grace, to the extent that you are able, what is happening now. I recently read a wonderful quote by Corrie Ten Boom:

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow
It only empties today of it’s strength.

For those of you suffering severe stress right now, I encourage you to watch this amazing TED talk by Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend. I found just taking the time, all precious 15 minutes or so, recharged me. It reminded me why we are gifted with our present. We have this beautiful opportunity to be brave as we rise to the occasion of our challenges.

You WILL suffer.

You WILL have to make a choice (even not choosing is still a choice).

Be brave.  And may you choose well.

 

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Close your eyes. Just listen to some pop pscyhology. There. Did your demons float away if only for a few minutes?

I Woke Up Channeling Woody Allen

Anxiety.  We all feel it sometimes.  The big questions in life plague us:  Why am I here?  Why did this happen?  What’s wrong with me?  Why am I feeling like this today?  Why can’t I just get happy?  How in the world do I solve this?  No biggie; just a momentary existential crisis; it will probably pass—or will it?

I’m no psychiatrist, just another person like you on the journey of life who tries to maintain some control and mental sanity.    It’s hard though.  There are so many things we have to navigate through—daily, and hardest of all simultaneously!

  • Relationships with spouse, parents, children, co-workers
  • Stress of job demands
  • Stress of finances
  • Prioritizing responsibilities—what can I reasonably accomplish today?
  • Health concerns
  • Spiritual dilemmas

As Madame Morrible states in the Broadway musical, Wicked, it’s easy to feel a bit despondiary.  That’s because life can all be so confusifying!  We deal with more and more situations and our feelings towards them with each passing day.  We quickly learn our sands of time will run out much faster than reaching the solutions to all that ail us.   Utopia doesn’t exist and nirvana rarely lasts more than a few minutes, a day at best, depending on what floats your boat.

Do you ever wake up feeling like Woody with the weight of the world on your shoulders?   Wanting to be a pacifist in a world that demands you stand up and fight?  Lamenting relationships that are far from perfect with those you love the most?  How do you come to terms with your youth fleeting and the possibility of your life ending?  What about the dreams you didn’t fulfill yet?  What if you haven’t even clarified to yourself what your dreams even are?  What if your time runs out?

Like Woody, we can get stuck in “analysis paralysis” and suddenly our feet feel like they are planted in cement, and our decision process feels about as stable as a ball trying to find 37 on a roulette wheel.  We keep spinning, the world keeps on turning, but are we getting anywhere?

Yes, like Woody so candidly and humorously often illustrates in his movies, it’s easy to feel like this on a given day:

  • Agorophobia – Fear of heights
  • Atelophobic—Fear of being imperfect
  • Autophobia – Fear of being alone
  • Cacophobia – Fear of ugliness  (also related:  Catoptrophobia – Fear of mirrors)
  • Claustrophobia – Fear of confined spaces
  • Hypochondria – Fear of illness
  • Nyctophobia – Fear of the dark
  • Obesophobia – Fear of gaining weight
  • Sociophobia – Fear of social evaluation
  • Technophobia – Fear of technology
  • Xenophobia – Fear of strangers or foreigners

Don’t laugh!  There’s tons of phobias!  You may even have some of these:

  • Barophobi – Fear of gravity
  • Coulrophobia – Fear of clowns
  • Ephebiphobia – Fear of teenagers
  • Porphyrophobia – Fear of the color purple
  • Selenophobia – Fear of the moon

We’re afraid to fail in life, and sometimes we’re even more afraid to succeed.  We spend too much time thinking about what we could have/should have done when thinking about the past as well as too much time thinking about what if related to the future.

So?  What to do?  Rush to the doctor and get a frontal lobotomy?  Even if you’re not iatrophobic (afraid of doctors), you already know you can’t stop your thinking process.     People can spend many hours and dollars trying to get to the bottom of what’s in their head.

I’m not convinced it can be done.  I’m not sure we were designed to have all the answers.    That’s why people with pedigrees have never impressed me that much.  Yes, I’m amazed at what people specialize in as a profession, but in their personal lives, they are sometimes messier than less educated people.  Sometimes a little bit of ignorance can be bliss.

Is there a way to move past thinking so much about things, and instead start doing things?

I’m convinced the answer is yes—sort of!  We can’t eliminate that which bothers us or we don’t understand entirely.  Instead we have to embrace it.  Can you let your doubts sit beside your knowledge and what you have faith in, until they decide to get up and leave?

The realm of psychology and faith and science all claim to have answers and infinite books to explain.   Only you know what works for you, but I’m convinced the mind grows on what you feed it!  So feed it well!    These things don’t work perfectly, but the more you combine them, the more likely life can improve.

  • Run!  (Walk, swim, or any form of physical exercise) – NOT AN OPTION in life!  Hormones, weight, and especially thoughts come into balance and focus when we exercise!
  • Eat Healthier – You know this.  More veggies, fruits, less processed food, less fat and sugar, healthy protein choices.  It’s true you are what you eat.  I find if I eat according to what I believe, I have more peace and don’t feel as guilty about my choices.  For everyone that’s different, but start eating with awareness of your beliefs regarding food.
  • Sleep!  Oh, it sounds so simple.  But trying to establish a regular bedtime and adequate sleep time is essential.  Everyone is different.  Not enough you’ll be a bear.  But I find, if I get too much, I’m a bear.  I want so much out of life, and I find I can be optimally happy with about 5-6 hours IF I’m eating, exercising, and utilizing my faith simultaneously.
  • Find something to do that you love!  Hobbies or things that give you joy are as essential as oxygen!  For me reading a great book, falling into the sound of music that I love restores my soul.  Do not rob yourself of finding something you love.  Make time to do it!  Schedule it!
  • Find Faith.  Life is long; trying to exist only on reason can be complicated indeed.  I’m not knocking people that do, I’m just saying for me, and many people, too much in life is mysterious, and if I had to have a concrete explanation for it all, I would go out of my mind.  But faith is a verb, it doesn’t work well, if you simply want it to exist in your head.  You have to put it in action,otherwise it’s just a bunch of words.
  • Identify and eliminate the toxins in your life.  You already know if you drink, smoke, or put other toxins in your body too much.  So I won’t lecture you!  Know the difference between moderate and abuse is all I’m saying.  Know whether or not you’d be better off if you totally abstained.  Enjoyment and enslavement are too different things.
  • Equally important:  Learn to eliminate toxic people!  Walk away from an argument.  You don’t have to prove you are right.  You only have to have peace with who you are, you don’t have to change others to think like you do.  If you are exercising faith, this becomes easier because you don’t have to figure other people out or fix them, only you.
  • Accept life on life’s terms not yours.  We all die.  We all suffer.  We all lose sometimes.  Life is not fair.   Once you can accept that, and move past having to know why, you can focus on how you can LIVE your life now without wasting precious energy and thoughts on that which can’t be explained.
  • Be thankful and loving!  It’s true, if you can wake up and first thing focus on all there is that is right in your life and the world, it sets the perspective for how you will go out and view the world today.  Treat others with kindness and a loving heart.

No one is perfect and no one is completely without fear at all times.  Embrace your fears, but don’t let them define you.

Love yourself enough to embrace life, and make right choices until they become habit!

And finally, a lesson from Woody:  Lighten up and learn to laugh at yourself!

From Love and Death – A scene with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton:

Boris: Murder’s immoral.
Sonja: Immorality is subjective.
Boris: Yes, but subjectivity is objective.
Sonja: Not in any rational scheme of perception.
Boris: Perception is irrational. It implies imminence.
Sonja: But judgment of any system of phenomena exists in any rational, metaphysical or epistemological contradiction to an abstracted empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself.

Boris:  … Yeah, I’ve said that many times.

Sonja:  Boris, we must be believe in God!

Boris:   If I could just see a miracle.  Just one miracle!  A burning bush, or the seas part, or my Uncle Sasha pick up the check!

Scene from Love and Death: