Why do I love helping people manage their stress? For awhile, I had a tough time finding balance and the ideal recipe of "doing" and "being".
Now I want to help others find their sense of balance, while challenging them to pursue more of what they love and decrease their stress.
What do I mean by "doing"? It means going through our daily routine--going to work, finding a job, running errands--everything from doing what we need to do to get through the day to finding what makes us happy.
I've noticed that changing my attitude has helped me discover moments where I can just be, where I can be aware of what's surrounding me, even if I'm distracted and not directly in the "present".
1) I started acknowledging that my feelings are valid.
2) I began sharing more openly with others.
3) I wrote down things that I was proud of myself for doing. I started writing down things that might be easier or harder for others like getting out of bed and taking a walk.
You are perfect with all your imperfections.
(Adapted from John Legend)
Here are 3 ways that helped me get to a place of self-love:
A shift took place when I stopped comparing myself with others and focused on my career and what I needed.
I was selected for a job that I had applied to three years in a row. So I was excited when I got the job. That excitement made it difficult for me to see the situation as it was. I was so focused on the outcome (of getting the job) that I forgot about listening to my own internal cues and whether it were the right fit.
Because of this, I came into the job only focused on having it and not doing what I needed. That summer was one of the most difficult because I ignored what I was feeling and just went with what “looked good”. So now, whenever I apply to a job, I make sure that I’m in the space to listen to my intuition. It was an important lesson. Now I’ve made it a priority to listen and to ask myself if I am in a mental space to process and to see if I can make an appropriate evaluation of my situation.
I got distracted...
This situation also taught me the importance of trying that job. I now know that I am not fond of working in hospital settings. Perhaps it’s the structure. There's a place for everyone. I give credit to those who do enjoy working at a hospital, but for me, it's not where I work best.
What I do know is that every time that we “lose” something, we also gain something. One of the most valuable parts about diving into new situations is that we learn about aspects that we appreciate and those that we don’t.
Back to the story...
When I was first out of college, I wasn’t confident about my skills. I ended up volunteering for an organization and my supervisor highlighted the importance of using Microsoft Office and Google Suites. But what I learned was that I was less interested in working in an office in front of a computer. From then on, I knew that my future endeavors needed to revolve around working with and helping people.
We’ve all been there. That feeling that everything is happening all at once. It seems like it’s just too much. You might feel consumed by your thoughts. The hard part about feeling overwhelmed is that it sometimes takes a big cry or a surge of intense emotions before we realize that we need to slow down or take a break.
Here are some ways to get through all those overwhelming feelings in the moment.
Redirect Your Focus
List 1 thing that is important right now. Can you solve anything right now? If the answer is no, we might need a break. This doesn’t mean that it continues forever. Remind yourself that you’ll come back to your problem. Remind yourself that worrying will not make your worries dissipate.
If you’re fixated on one problem, shift to a different problem. This mental break gives us some perspective. It’s a form of brainstorming.
Help Someone Else
Call someone else and ask her/him about her/his day. This doesn’t mean that you ignore your needs, but if you’ve been thinking about your problem all day, it might distract yourself from your thoughts. Not only will you be there for another person, you might feel useful and feel less powerless overall.
Imagine one of your favorite places. Here, you feel at peace. You’re reminded of the grandeur surrounding you as you visualize. Use all of your senses to imagine this place. How do the clouds and sun interact? Where are you sitting? Imagine how the ground feels and what the air smells like. With this visualization, we’re provided with a temporary escape and chances are, you won’t feel worse than before you tried this exercise.
Repeat a mantra
Find an affirmation and repeat it. Take 20 slow breaths. As you breathe, imagine that your body continues to relax five percent more. Feel the tension lifting from your shoulders.When we experience fear and our heart rates increase, our bodies interpret this situation as a threat, but as our heart rates decrease, our bodies inform our brains that this threat (your problem) is no longer an issue. Continue these slow breaths and repeat your mantra.
It’s hard when we’re tired and things affect us more than they usually do. Have you ever had that experience when you blow up over something little? To make things worse, other people’s responses aren’t validating; they’ll say something like, “Come on, it wasn’t such a big deal. We can fix it.” It’s not about the little thing that went wrong. Often it’s the compounding of different things that made you upset.
So how can we deal when it’s been a long week?
Remind yourself that you’re more sensitive and that things might affect you more. On these kinds of days you might want to take a five-minute walk or allow yourself to be less rushed.
Rate your feelings throughout the day.
Let’s say that we use a five-point scale, where five is the highest level of intensity of an emotion. By pinpointing your emotions, you can take the actions necessary to make sure that intensity doesn’t increase. Now let’s use an example. Let’s say that you’re at a level three, where you’re feeling moderately anxious. To maintain that level, you figure out what you need.
Find people who will validate what you’re experiencing.
Tell your friends that you want them to listen. Maybe this means that you’re not looking for them to fix your situation, but just be there for you.
I love the idea of the carrot on the stick. Sometimes we just need something to look forward to at the end of the day. It helps with those long days. Maybe this means stopping by a lake or nature spot if it's not too far away from your house. Or if you're in the city, you could go see a movie. There's something about being in the movie theater and not being bothered for two hours. Or at least, I enjoy it! Let's say that none of those are exciting, you could also take a longer route from work to your house, and turn up the music. And for the end of the week, plan something with your friends and go to a concert or plan to take yourself to the beach or to the museum. That's all for now.
What helps you get through the week?
Maybe you get frustrated with yourself and tell yourself, "I'm too lazy" or "Why can't I just get it together?" Or you might think to yourself, "So-and-so does it all. Why can't I?" Sometimes these thoughts can back-fire and prevent us from doing what we can do. Let's take the example of committing to a "30-Day Challenge", but after skipping one day, you think to yourself, "Well I might as well give up now". Or maybe you do end up finishing the "30-Day Challenge", and you beat yourself up for skipping a few days in between. Maybe you can't relate to this at all!
Let's say that you criticize yourself. We can discuss the rules that we’ve created for ourselves. In the back of our minds, we might have these “shoulds” or “musts” that dictate our habits. For example, you might think, “I shouldn’t think of this as such a big deal.” In a statement like this, we’re taking away from how the situation impacts you. We invalidate what we’re feeling. We get so caught up in how it affects us that it makes it difficult to move beyond it. What do I mean by this? By thinking that we shouldn’t be affected by it, we become consumed by guilt and shame, “So why can’t I do it?”, rather than “I guess it is affecting me.”
Now let’s apply this thought process to the rules that we’ve created for ourselves.
Maybe you make dinner regularly, and you think “I must make dinner every day”.
The difficulty with statements like these is that we have created rigidity for ourselves, and we might want to rebel against these “rules” we’ve created for ourselves. Then you might have one of those days where you eat all the bread, and you’re stuck in frustration and shame. We learn to work with our tendencies. If you enjoy eating bread, then it might be helpful to create some flexibility so that you don’t have the need to rebel.
Maybe you learn that the keto diet isn’t for you, and instead, you might carve out specific meals where you allow yourself to eat bread.
These beliefs might come up as "I can't because of…"
To identify your own beliefs, you can write a list of these "limitations ". I put them in quotation marks because these thoughts are merely perceived. They're not necessarily limitations or "bad". Instead, we might shift our thinking and observe the factual information related to our situation. Ask yourself if these thoughts are helpful, rather than if they're true. Let’s say that you’re trying to make it a regular habit to go to the gym, “I can’t go to the gym because I’m too tired.” See what it’d be like to shift this to, “I can…” by acknowledging your situation and assuming responsibility. Here’s how we’d apply this to our gym example, “I can meet my friend at the gym after work when I’m tired”. Now how can you use the “I can…” framework. Brainstorm different ways that you can work around your situation. If your statement is “I can’t because I’m too busy or I don’t have enough money”, think about how you can fit a task in a manageable amount of time. Start off with something manageable. Even if we start by adding in five minutes a week, we gain confidence and momentum. We prove to ourselves that we can fit it into our schedules when we thought it wasn’t possible.
Let’s say that we’ve added something to our list, but it continues to be added to the list because we keep putting it off or avoiding it.
Maybe it’s replacing the dead lightbulb at your house and you never get around to it because you have access to other lights. Having someone keep you company might give you that push. Even if it’s replacing a lightbulb, I’m sure that your friend wouldn’t mind sitting there with you. Teaching it is another alternative. Let’s say that you’ve been putting off fixing your wi-fi connection. Maybe you’d have your friend hold you accountable. This is when worrying about how others perceive us can be advantageous. You might want to avoid feeling like you’ve “messed up”, and this added pressure might help you get that task done. So that's all for now.
What do you do when you're procrastinating?
There are those words. Hurtful words. Unstable. Weak. Crazy. Anyone that has been called these knows what kind of pain accompanies these words.
But what are you really? It’s never okay for someone to call you these names. Ever. Even if your actions are erratic.
Those actions don’t define you. We all go through periods in which we might do things that aren’t characteristic of us. Maybe because it’s a more stressful time in our lives. Maybe you haven’t gotten as much sleep as you usually do. Maybe because you’re dealing with a lot all at once.
We might not always handle things the way we’d like to all the time.
This doesn’t mean that we abandon all responsibility, but that we take responsibility for what we did, we learn from it, and we forgive ourselves.
Assess and pause.
When you receive hurtful words, what’s your immediate reaction?
If you’re angry, let yourself be angry. If you’re hurt, allow yourself to feel it. Ask yourself what you need. Acknowledge what you’re feeling and press the pause button. When we push away our feelings, they end up arising at a later time. But if we let ourselves feel what we’re feeling, we can feel it and then ask ourselves what we can do about it; we can prevent ourselves from reacting.
The reason that I don’t use the word “overreacting” is that that word is filled with judgment--overreacting according to what is “expected”, overreacting in terms of how we’re “supposed” to react.
Remind yourself of who you are.
Write a list of qualities that you do have. Chances are that you're a good person, at least for the most part, and that you try your best. You're doing it. This thing that we call life, and it's not easy.Write a list of things that are meaningful to you. Maybe these include spending time with people and pets that you love, the outdoors, traveling, helping other people, your career, the list continues... Now soak it in.
Sit in silence and repeat one of these phrases:
“May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be filled with lovingkindness.”
“I am wonderful as I am. I do not need to change.”
“What was said was hurtful. I am doing ___ to take care of myself right now.”
The reason that this phrase or a version of this can be helpful is that it’s pinpointing what took place and the wording suggests that we are “doing” something proactive to take care of ourselves. We’re placing ourselves in a situation of empowerment.
Here’s a list of things you can do if you’ve had a long day:
Take a bath.
Get one of your favorite candies (if this is a trigger, skip this item)
Take a five-minute walk.
Call a friend.
Make some tea.
Color a mandala.
Fill a sheet of paper with smiley faces.
Write a friend a letter and send it.
Make a list of places that you’d love to visit.
Write down a list of celebrities you admire and why.
So what do you do to take care of yourself?
Yes, we all have those moments when we wait until the last minute to get something done. Here are some tools to keep in mind to work with your procrastination because we won't always be perfect and on top of things.
Break down those tasks into smaller chunks.
Write down all the tasks that need to be completed related to the larger task. Let's say that you have to return an item by mail. The smaller tasks might include finding the return slip or the address, getting postage, and going to a UPS drop-off center.
Set a timer.
For those tasks that we're really not looking forward to doing or ones that we've been avoiding, set a timer for 20 minutes. Most likely, you'll continue working past 20 minutes once you get into the groove.
Think about how you'll feel afterwards.
There's nothing like that gratifying feeling when you check something off your list. Maybe this means finishing one of the tasks required for the bigger task. Which parts can you control?
I’ve always had trouble maintaining a regular sleep schedule. I’m not sure if you feel that your sleep cycle gets off kilter when you go out for a night and then you’re tired for the next few days. After a few more days, you feel sleep-deprived. You can’t seem to wake up at five thirty because you went to bed at two a.m. the previous night. You’re not alone.
Hold yourself accountable.
Have someone hold you accountable and to meet you for coffee so that you can avoid feeling guilty. Having a friend call you is a bigger motivation. Make it into a fun game where you can try to wake up before the person calls.
Remind yourself that you'll be happier.
We’re all in a better mood and think more clearly when we get more sleep. Even studies show that college students experience more positive moods and are more extraverted when they get better sleep. Focus on the benefits of getting to bed an hour earlier. If the motivation is coming from within, we are more likely to follow through with the desired behavior.
Find a nightly routine.
An hour before bed, create a bedtime ritual. Whether that means turning off the lights and getting out your favorite book (on Kindle or in tangible form), do something relaxing on a nightly basis. When you start to do this activity, your body will associate bedtime with this activity.
Some of my clients have found it helpful to set a timer an hour and a half prior to the "desired" bed-time. The "desired" bed-time might be the ideal time that you'd like to crawl into bed. The reason for the timer is the mental preparation related to going to sleep. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by what sleep entails, and how it means that we're one step closer to tomorrow. What do I mean by this?! Maybe we begin to go over all the things we need to do the next day and that's what makes it anxiety-provoking to think about going to bed. I like the idea of an hour and a half because it gives me time to relax and remind my body that I have plenty of time to wind down before going to bed.
Watch your caffeine intake.
I’m definitely guilty of this. We all need our caffeine. If you need your daily cup of coffee, see if you can stop drinking coffee by 3pm. This way, your body has time to rid of the effects of coffee before you go to sleep. Studies show that coffee intake six hours prior to sleep can disrupt sleep quality.
Invest in bed-time tea.
Sometimes I think that it’s the act of drinking tea that is calming. This means, avoid caffeine-based teas before bedtime. Herbal teas including valerian root, chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm can reduce stress and anxiety. After having this tea before bedtime a couple weeks in a row, your body will begin to associate drinking that sleepy-time tea with going to bed. Think back to your Intro to Psych class with Pavlov's dogs. For those who want a refresher, the researcher Pavlov trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Yes, we are human beings, but the key is that we can retrain our behavior and pair our actions with a particular situation.
Amsterdam, J.D., Li, Y., Soeller, I., Rockwell, K., Mao, J.J., & Shults, J. (2009). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral Matricaria recutita (chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 29(4): 378-82.
Drake, C., Roehrs, T. Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9(11): 1195-1200.
Gray, E.K. & Watson, D. (2002). General and specific traits of personality and their relation to sleep and academic performance. Journal of Personality, 70(2): 177-206.
When I'm feeling down and exhausted, I have to ask myself what I need. Do I need love from myself or comfort from my friends? Do I need to take some alone time and be by myself?
I don't know if you get to those places where you're just not feeling it and all you want to do is stay home and veg out. But I've noticed that there are times that I have to push myself to hang out after a long day, just because I'd rather be in my comfy pants (literally and figuratively). I guess I'd call that tough-love with myself.
Yes, we can be judgmental. It serves a purpose. Sometimes it tells us that we're feeling insecure about something and that's why our criticism of others or ourselves comes up. At the same time, self-judgment and judging others can be taxing. When we're critical of ourselves, we're actually making it harder to give ourselves that self-love. That criticism adds to our negative thoughts about ourselves.
For an exercise, you could start with acknowledging that the judgmental thought is coming about, "Hey, that's pretty judgmental. It's okay to judge. You're human. What do I need right now?" The reason that "it's okay to judge" is included is that it's about being kind to ourselves when we're being judgmental of ourselves and others. The next step is action-oriented. By asking ourselves what we need, we're creating space for us to take care of ourselves. So as an example, if we're tired and at work, maybe we need to take some long deep breaths for two minutes. Or maybe that means that we need to step outside and call a friend.