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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back to s... tress

Topgold, Flickr

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. (Isak Dinesen)

It had to happen. After a week of delightful and almost absolute freedom (i.e., little work, mostly play), the reality hits again: a big contract just landed on my desk, school starts in a couple days (meaning I have to both prepare my kids for "back to school" and prepare myself for the classes I will give), extracurricular activities will resume in a few weeks... in short, I am going to be very busy again.

Most of us have felt this kind of frenzy that accompanies periods of intense responsibility. It's not pleasant. It's not even good for you: in times like this, the hormone of stress, cortisol, is released, and if that lasts it can have a significant impact on your health.

What to do, then? I have put together a list of strategies to deal with stressful periods without going crazy.

1) Get organized

Acquire a good agenda, calendar, whatever system works for you, and stick to it. Write everything down. Read it every morning. Otherwise, and especially if you're a scatterbrain like me, you will surely forget something, plan two things a the same time, etc. As for material things, they need to be organized too! If you have to look for more than 2-3 minutes before you find something, it means you're due for a cleanup! As our grandmothers used to say, "a place for everything and everything in its place". Being a relatively messy person myself, I find putting things away to be a challenge, but honestly, it makes such a huge difference!

2) Prioritize well

It would be nice to stay on top of things in all areas of our lives, but if you're really busy, that's almost impossible. Make choices. Some things will have to give. For example, it's okay to slack a little bit on your house's cleanliness if that's the only way you'll have enough time to cook healthy meals. Clean food in the tummy is more important than clean windows, if you want my opinion. Other things, that don't seem absolutely necessary from the outside, will have to be maintained because they make you feel so good. For example, even when I'm very busy I maintain and cherish my social life: spending time with pleasant people I care about is the only way I'll retain my sanity!

3) Speaking of social life...

Another priority we should make is to manage our relationships well. Some examples include: 1) not letting interactions bear the weight of your stress (venting aggressively on others is NOT okay) or be dictated by a sense of urgency ("quick, quick, hurry, we're gonna be late!")  2) choosing who we interact with carefully (focusing on the relationships that are rewarding, letting go of the ones that don't feel so good). 

4) Oil the machine

If you are going to face periods of stress, you better be prepared. And that starts with the body: eating well, sleeping sufficiently and exercising regularly are invaluable tools that help us handle anything that's thrown at us. Neglect those things, and all of a sudden stress will feel... even more stressful!

5) Act, don't react

It's easy to get caught up in reacting. This morning, the kids noticed the dog's eye was infected again. Between exclamations ("eeeew!" "disgusting!") they didn't seem to think of the most logical thing to do: just go get the eye drops and put some in! While it's perfectly okay to have a reaction, don't let it linger. Act instead.

6) Find your own ways

Some say that you shouldn't read your emails until later in the morning. That doesn't work for me. I like to open my inbox fresh out of the shower, as I sip my coffee. Oftentimes I am the only one who's up, meaning I get to read and reply in a quiet atmosphere. In a similar way, I have never been able to exercise during lunch time, as many recommend. However, I do really good when I fit my run or workout right before breakfast, or after supper. I know someone else who goes against all mainstream advice by not having breakfast. It seems to work for him. That's fine! With trial and error, you will figure out your own optimal strategies.

7) Solve problems in due course

Not all situations can be tackled right away (exceptions include serious hemorrhage, in which case I recommend you don't waste a minute). Some situations require time and a careful assessment of what is going on as well as an exploration of the possible solutions. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt at a loss for a solution, unsure of the right course of action? I sure have. It is unsettling. We would rather solve everything on the spot. Yet my life experience has taught me that not seeing a solution does not mean there is none. It only means you haven't found it yet. Or maybe you know the existence of that solution, but are not ready to apply it in your life. Which is equivalent. The only cure in those cases is time. An ex-classmate of mine, who was questioning his current love relationship and wasn't sure what to do, once told me "It's okay. I'll cross the bridge once I get to it". I remember thinking "Wow, he's so laid-back!" But he was right. Rushing things does no good.

8) Remember that problems can be attacked from different angles

Think outside the box. See things in a new light. Don't expect everything to be either black or white. Nothing is that simple in life. What seems like "a very perplexing situation" or "an insurmountable problem" to the main character in the movie below is approached very differently by the people he confides in. "Inhabiting two worlds", for example, is not a possibility that fazes them. Quite the contrary, in fact. Take a look:

Midnight in Paris

9) Meditate

Some answers in life only appear to us if we sit in stillness for long enough. Rushing in all directions will not bring an answer, only exhaustion. So sit in stillness. Do not chase any thought. Do not judge any thought that comes by. Just welcome them. Observe them.

10) Number ten is yours! What are your strategies in times of stress and uncertainty?

Above all... don't forget to breathe!


  1. I hadn't heard that salt quote before ... Absolutely love it. Really like your stress strategies - and I fully agree about the clean windows vs healthy meals.

  2. Great blog as always! My number 10 would be similar to meditating... yoga!

  3. I have spent years working on the "act, don't react" thing - it has gotten better but still a work in progress!!!
    My #10 would be "sometimes you just have to laugh and/or cry!"

  4. Great post .....No. 10. Take time to breathe .....amongst all the rushing, sorting, planning STOP take a deep breath and continue.

    Is that a bit like yoga - I'm not sure ?

    All the best Jan

  5. OH
    I need act dont react to be my mantra right now...

    1. Make a rap with it, and sing it to yourself. ;-)