Change and how we manage it seems to have become the theme of the month here on the blog. In retrospect I can understand why. I'm experiencing a lot of change right now, both on the macro and the micro levels.
Can you relate?
At the macro level there's an overarching season of my children transitioning into adulthood and what that means for me as their mom. There are also the overarching changes in my career and in my business.
On the micro level there are the seasonal demands of the holidays, both personal and at work, and an upcoming trip that puts me on a plane for the first time in my life! To many of you that may seem like a silly thing to stress over, but we all know that new-to-us things can be stressful.
The change you are dealing with may look quite different, but it's still valid, no matter what the scale. Did you know our bodies and minds experience stress not just from experiences we might call bad, but also from the good? There's a measurement tool for this, called the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. I have found this to be an effective tool to help me give myself more grace in times when I feel stressed. It helps me to understand that even though some of the changes going on in my life are good, the stress I experience is my body's natural response and it will pass.
Does that mean we curl up in a ball and wait for it to pass? Of course not. What it means is that by gaining a deeper understanding of what's influencing our stress levels, we can give ourselves grace and have a better self-awareness of the need for self-care in times of good and bad change, and therefore be less likely to fall into stress-induced illness and overload.
These are seven of the top things I have found helpful as I work through the stressors of life:
1. Watch your nutrition.
Eat well and drink lots of water. If I can avoid the foods I know are inflammatory to my arthritis and fibromyalgia, and foods that just make me feel sluggish, I not only feel better, but I'm more likely to respond instead of react in a stressful situation. For me, that means steering clear of sugar, flour, some dairy products, and overly processed foods. Adequate hydration is essential for healthy brain function. Dehydration impairs brain function, causing issues with memory, focus, making decisions, and visual-spatial processing. To be at your best and to allow your body and mind to respond well to stress, it must be fueled well. Green leafies, nuts, berries, eggs, oily fish, dark chocolate, turmeric, green tea and coffee are some great options.
When my brain is on overload, my tendency is to continue to push through and keep checking off all the things, when I'd be much better off to step away and get in a walk, some gentle stretching, light weight bearing exercise, or some other movement. Housework counts (if you want it to...). Stepping away from all the things can give you a fresh perspective, which helps with any stress you're experiencing and can give you insight and renewed energy for the tasks awaiting you.
3. Make a list (sort of).
No, not just a long checklist of tasks that need to be done. Mine would go for miles and just cause more stress!
This has been a hurdle throughout my life. I'd make a list for the day, leave it laying somewhere only to find it buried somewhere days down the road and smack my head at what didn't get done. These days, we have our phones and note apps to keep up with such lists, and thankfully make them searchable, but list making can still become rather overwhelming.
What I have found works better for my brain are focus blocks and kanban boards (like Trello). The boards help me take each situation or project and break it down however I need to for my brain to process all the things. Then I can schedule a focus block in my day for whichever project I need to put my attention to. For instance, I have one for each of the events I'm helping coordinate, one for projects that need to be done around the house, one for my daughter's wedding, etc. I love Trello because you can do up to 10 boards for free. It has a very simple interface, not too many bells and whistles. If bells and whistles are your thing, find something else and go for it! There are other programs out there that have way more features if that's your thing. Experiment and find what works for you!
I also keep a pen and paper near my bed to jot down any thoughts that come to me as I'm sleeping or waking, so I can free my mind as I'm transitioning to rest. There are so many tools to organize your thoughts in practical ways with all the apps, software, and even physical products out there. Find what works for you and make it your own!
Speaking of sleeping...
Sleep and rest are vital for our mental and physical wellness. Much research is being done on sleep and its effect on our mind and body. Our bodies do so much restorative work during sleep, including ridding the brain of toxins and consolidating memories.
If you struggle with quality sleep and getting in the recommended seven to nine hours at night, please reach out to your doctor and work with them to find the root cause. For some, it could be sleep apnea. My husband has been helped tremendously with his sleep and overall health by having a CPAP machine. He honestly thought he would never be able to wear something like that at night, and now he wishes he had tried it years sooner. Sleep apnea is not only hard on your mental health from not sleeping well, but it has a huge effect on your heart, so please get checked if you suspect this to be the case.
Maybe you need blackout curtains or white noise. Turn on the blue light filter on your phone, or better yet, leave the phone in another room at bedtime. Read a good work of fiction to get sleepy. Do you drink caffeine too late in the day? Maybe cut back the timing on the caffeine or switch to decaf. I've found that a cup of chamomile or Sleepytime tea and some natural supplements have helped me sleep better.
If sleep is a struggle for you, please consider working with your doctor to find what would be helpful for your sleep health.
Seriously. As you read this, take at least three deep breaths. There are several breathing exercises for stress management. One I find particularly helpful is the 4-7-8 technique (when first beginning, do this in a sitting position and be mindful to stop if you experience any lightheadedness):
Breate in deeply for a count of four, through your nose with your mouth closed, for a count of four.
Hold for a count of seven.
Breathe out through pursed lips more slowly for a count of eight.
Repeat up to four times if comfortable. This is just one example of a mindful breathing exercise that can help reduce stress and anxiety.
6. Ask for help and dump the word should from your vocabulary.
We are not meant to do this life alone. The more we pack onto our shoulders, the less effective we become. When we delegate and get help where needed, we can focus more on those things which are authentically in our wheelhouse, and it might just bless someone else to be able to help out.
Ask yourself when facing a task if this is your best yes, or do you have a case of the should's? Sometimes it's better to say no to certain things so you can save your best yeses for the things that fit more authentically with your values. Just because I think I should be doing something doesn't mean that I'm actually the best person to be doing it. And who knows, there may just be someone just waiting for you to say no to that one thing so they can help with it and find their best yes. (Click here to find out more about how to explore and define your values to help you choose your best yes!)
Now I'm thinking about delegating the house cleaning for Thanksgiving so I can make that holiday pumpkin roll...because Lord knows housecleaning isn't my best yes!
7. Lastly, give yourself some grace.
With the pace, demands, and busyness of the world around us, we often feel like we need to be superhuman to get it all done.
It's okay to not do all the things! If you need it, here's your permission!
It's okay to use a pencil in your planner and erase and move things around (or cut and paste). It's okay to take the sticky notes on that board and move them to another day so you can take a nap if you're exhausted! Again, it goes back to that dreaded case of the should's.
Even if it's something you can't delegate, give yourself grace to understand when you need some self-care and permission to move something to another day or time. We often put more pressure on ourselves than is necessary. Give yourself some grace and space. The world won't fall apart if you take a break.
I hope you find these practical tips helpful in your own stress management. Let us enter the seasons ahead, both macro and micro, with anticipation for living more authentically, healthier, and lighter, with better stress management skills. 🦃🎄
What practical tips, tools, or ideas can you share that have helped you manage stress and anxiety? We'd love to hear what works for you. Share below and maybe you'll bless someone with an idea that may help them reduce their stress!