Stress is the sneakiest thing, isn’t it? It disguises itself in all kinds of ways – pain, doubt, hunger, lack of hunger, the shakes, the sweats, the mood swings. I know we can’t escape it, but damn, doesn’t it knock you for a loop sometimes?
I think what makes stress so sneaky is that the cause isn’t always apparent. It’s usually not one big thing but a million little things. Here’s what I mean. Christmas shopping? Not a problem. Write a blog? Not a problem. Write another blog? Fine. Write a book? Sure. Cook, clean, take dogs to the vet, prepare for a visit by the stepsons, balance food and exercise, and keep up with emails, research, friends, my kids and extended family? I can do those things with my eyes shut. But this past week, when everything needed (and still needs) my attention, I feel like I’m cooking pudding with avocados and bran muffins. I like pudding, avocados and bran muffins, but separately. Together, they’re disastrous.
Unfortunately, stress welcomes my old nemesis: anxiety disorder. I’ve been prone to it since my first anxiety attack in 1986. And while I’ve learned a lot about it over the years and have learned ways to manage this disorder, when it plops itself in the middle of my busy life, it seems to take over everything and I forget how to say, “No! I’m in charge, not you!”
Thus, I’m not feeling real in charge right now. I have to remind myself to breathe, to not run away from the feelings, to prioritize and do what I can, all the while not beating myself up for this “flaw.” Everyone gets stressed out, I tell myself. Why can’t you handle it? Then, for the millionth time in 22 years, I remind myself that I’m not “everybody” and that I am merely a person who has issues with anxiety disorder. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t do anything to cause it. It’s just a part of who I am.
99 percent of the time, anxiety doesn’t control my life. I control it. But when I’m smack dab in the middle of huge stressors that trigger the heart skips, the shallow breathing, the anticipation of dread and fear, it’s not easy to just drop to the mat and start meditating. I have to slowly wade through my thought processes, decide what’s important and what’s not, and to remember that I can’t do everything and that it’s OK to say no or ask for help. This takes the kind of patience isn’t readily available in the middle of the shakes and what feels like knives in my stomach. I have to step outside the physical sensations and realize they are manifestations of too much work and too much emphasis on perfection (like you didn’t know I’m an anal retentive perfectionist who posts to-do lists in my office, kitchen and bedroom).
I’d like to wish it all away, but wishing isn’t action. And sometimes taking action is the most painful part of reducing stress. One thing that helps me to step outside and think is, as I mentioned, meditation, but also writing. Just in the time it’s taken to write this blog my head has calmed a bit. I’ve cleared some space in there so I can actually work through the list of things and people who “need” me. Hmmm…there seems to be one less knife in my gut right now. One less twitch in my eye. I’m not shaking. I’ll take it.
Stress is sneaky. It’s a pain in the ass. Stress is knocking me for a loop right now and I’m not going to feel completely on my game for awhile. However….and I say this taking a deep breath…. that’s OK. I don’t have to be.