Writer Jennifer Yane once said, “I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days will attack me at once.” Admittedly, I spend too many days myself running from “the attacks of the calendars.” I am thinking that if I didn’t have so much stress in my life, I might be able to grab a cup of coffee first thing in the morning instead of jot down in my mood journal: how many hours I slept, where I am on my menstrual cycle, my anxiety/depression level upon waking, and any other important notes I need to record for my therapy and doctor’s visits.
It’s an awful lot easier to stay resilient, even if you have a severe mood disorder, when you’re not encased in stress. When you have all that cortisol — the backstabber hormone — mucking around in all of your biological organs, staying sane is about as easy as getting off a chair lift for the first time, or so it feels.
Here are a few steps I’ve been practicing lately to stay resilient in my days and nights loaded with stress.
1. Quit the guilt.
For some reason, the more stressed I get, the more guilty I feel about being stressed, which makes me more stressed. If none of that makes sense, simply move to the next point. If you were raised Catholic or Jewish, my guess is that you can relate. In a recent therapy session, my counselor gave me an assignment for two weeks: every time I’m about to feel guilty, give myself a hall pass until our next session. The two-week exercise made me mindful of the needless baggage I carry with me throughout the day.
Enough with it!
If my guilt is not helping matters — like making me act more like Mother Teresa, which it clearly isn’t, according to my kids — then I shall try to lay it on the doorstep and walk on a little lighter. In my guilt video, you’ll see how I compare it to a bag of rocks.
2. Carve a little space for “Ahhh”
I know I should tell you to meditate or do yoga here, but being that I have not had great success with either, I will tell you what works for me: swimming!
Why? Because I can’t concentrate on anything else when I’m swimming my laps but how many laps I’ve swum. And if you are OCDish like I am, obsessing about numbers of laps is a nice break from fretting about millions of things that could go wrong. I wish I were one of those people who could sit still and meditate or pray for long amounts of time. However, coming to terms with who I am—a person who needs to move while meditating or praying—is part of tackling the stress head on, and ditching the guilt about the way I do it.
3. Laugh at the messes.
Each Christmas season, I like to post “The Dysfunctional Holiday Letter” because it allows me (and maybe you) to chuckle at those holiday letters that make you want to use the airplane bag because they are just so wholesome, positive, and down right impressive! It always seems as if the events in other people’s lives flow seamlessly, and ours is a choppy river. But everyone is paddling against the current. I know this because, as someone who lives her life as an open book—with the front jacket listing 20 of my disorders–people tell me things they wouldn’t publicize to a stranger, much less their relatives and friends. And it’s genuinely funny stuff! All of the mistakes, disappointments, ironies of our lives are Jon Stewart material. If we can try our best to look for the humor in the messes, the cortisol running through our systems will stop being a choppy river, too.
4. Steal the mic from the inner jerk.
Almost everyone — except anyone who has written a self-help book, of course — turns up the volume on the inner jerk when stressed. Why? Because we are all pansies who can’t handle a thing. Or so we think. Our guard is down — we feel weak and pathetic — so the inner jerk takes the mic and sings a melody about the L-O-S-E-R you’re staring at. You need to yank the microphone out of his hands and give it to someone who can remind you of what you do really well. If you can’t think of anyone, you might want to spend some cash to solicit that material.
5. Stop Rushing
American journalist Sydney Harris once wrote, “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” You could interpret that in a number of ways, but I think it means that your feet don’t have to be in the sand in order for you to start relaxing … that much of our rushing here and there has more to do with a distorted view of time than an actual time deficit.
I’ve been trying hard not to rush these days. So, when I’m behind an obnoxious lady at the grocery store who is taking longer to load her items unto the belt than it takes my mom to wash her hair, then I will make a concerted effort to breathe deeply, arrest my foot-tapping, and refrain from checking my messages on my email. Then I will repeat to myself, “This is a beautiful moment. Right here. Right now. Beautiful.” Exhale in. Exhale out.
6. Be Present
One of my favorite psychology bloggers, Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., often quotes psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who said:
“In between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and freedom.”
This is a little related to my point about rushing, but looks at the bigger picture. If we stop rushing our lives, and start paying attention, our brain architecture actually changes for the good, and it easier (and more natural) to be kinder and more compassionate.