I try to keep a positive outlook in my life and on my blog. I also try to keep the stress and feelings of overwhelm far, far away. But I have to admit that 2019 was not my favorite year or best year, especially when it came to handling stress.
There were certainly many good things that came out of the past year. I found a new publisher, went on some fantastic trips, made a dear new friend, and made progress on almost all the goals I set for myself. Also, my mom moved much closer to me, which is great.
Even so, if I had to pick three words to describe 2019 and my response to it, those words would be stress, overwhelm, and uncertainty. The career and family challenges I’ve faced in the last half of this year kind of swamped my boat. Some days, it feels like I’m bailing as fast as I can just to stay afloat.
Can you relate?
Everyone has those Stressful Moments
At some point in their lives, probably every woman I know would give that question a great big, “Amen, Sister!” Perhaps because women are such relational beings, I think most of us take comfort in the knowledge that we’re not the only ones who are struggling. I know I do. I guess that’s my motivation in writing this particular post, so you’ll know it’s not just you.
Everyone struggles with stress, overwhelm, and uncertainty from time to time. It’s not just me, friend. It’s not just you either. Some seasons of life are just tougher than others.
My husband and I celebrated New Year’s Eve with my mom. Her retirement community hosted a great party with a fantastic dance band, champagne toasts, and the singing of Auld Lange Syne at midnight east coast time! So not only did we have a good time, but we also got a good night’s sleep. Or should have.
It had been a busy day and I really was tired. I dropped off right away, only to find myself wide awake at one in the morning, beset by sleeplessness and anxious thoughts. I tried praying. I tried counting sheep. I tried counting backward from one hundred. I tried moving to another bedroom.
But the upside of being awake half the night in a dark room is that it leaves you plenty of distraction-free time to think. I wish I could tell you I had some “Eureka!” realization at dawn which made everything better but I think that only happens in the movies. The challenges I faced in 2019 are still with me in 2020.
Identifying the Issue at Hand
However, as I lay awake, looking back on the last year, I was able to identify some patterns that had made a tough season of my life even tougher.
Remember what I said about my boat being swamped? As I looked back on the last several months, I started to see that every time another wave washed over the side, I abandoned something good that I was doing to try to deal with the flood.
Okay, as I went back to read that last sentence, I see that the metaphor is a little vague. I’ll just spell it out.
Over the years, I have gained a good understanding of the spiritual, emotional, and physical habits of self-care that make my life happier and more productive. However, as unforeseen circumstances and problems came along, it felt like I didn’t have time to take care of myself along with everyone and everything else. Month by month and problem by problem, I let many of my good self-care habits fall to the wayside.
Stress, overwhelm, uncertainty and the feeling that I wasn’t doing much good for myself or anyone else. And the truth is, I wasn’t.
Can you relate?
Look, I’ve decided to give myself some grace here. After all, the problems I faced last year were real and though my response to them wasn’t effective, it did come from a good intention – the desire to meet my obligations and care for the people I love. If you’re in the same boat, maybe you should give yourself some grace as well. I don’t think any of us aimed for overwhelm, did we?
But I’ve decided it’s time for a change. Well, maybe not a change so much as a reboot. Starting today, I’m returning to the default settings that I already know work for me.
Turning the Tide this New Year
In short, I’ve decided to start the new year by recommitting myself to old habits – the practices which make me happier, more productive and more capable of paddling through the waves without getting swamped.
For me, those habits include the following:
Reestablishing and protecting my morning routine of prayer, journaling, and reflection. Taking control of my thoughts and attitudes in the morning has a huge impact on the rest of the day. I can’t afford to let the tyranny of the urgent eat away at this sacred time.
Getting back to healthy eating habits. I don’t regret a single slice of those holiday pies but the party is over. It’s time to embrace vegetables and start tracking my Weight Watchers points.
Reinvigorate my winter workout. Last year, I took barre classes in winter. This year, I’m going to try doing CrossFit with a girlfriend. Having a workout buddy will be fun and help me hold myself accountable. The benefits of regular exercise spill over into almost every aspect of my life, emotional as well as physical.
Do something creative every day; paint, quilt, knit, crochet, or play the piano. Spending even fifteen minutes a day in playful creativity lifts my spirits, feeds my soul, and reminds me of all that’s good in life.
The tricky part about this is that all of these things take a certain amount time, and time always seems to be in short supply. After all, that’s why I started throwing all those good habits overboard in the first place.
Back to the Basics: Dealing with Stress
When the waves got higher and more frequent, I thought I didn’t have time to take care of myself. But the truth is this: when I don’t take the time to take care of myself, I’m not strong enough to keep paddling.
If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’ve seen those safety videos explaining what to do in an emergency. They always have a part where the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling and the adults put on their masks, then help any children sitting next to them as the voiceover says, “always put on your own mask before helping others”.
Emergencies happen. I get it. Sometimes you’ve got to drop everything and just deal. That’s what happened to me in 2019. But I can’t live my life in emergency mode over the long haul. Nobody can.
If you’re feeling under stress and out of breath, maybe it’s because you forgot to put on your own mask before helping others. The start of a new year can be a good time to change all that.
The list I created for myself are the things I already know work for me. Your list will likely be different and that’s okay. But for a lot of us, the stressed, overwhelmed, underwater, and out of breath, the key to a happy new year might just mean a recommitment to old habits.