Sustain.Me

My Major Stress Self-Care Action Plan

10 things to get you through major life stress - horizontal

In my Culitvate post yesterday I mentioned that I was going to share more on what I’m doing to work through the major stress I’m experiencing as a result of a recent life event. For more on that, check yesterday’s post.

Here are a few things that are helping me work through what has been a very unexpectedly stressful time in my life.

1. Meditation

What?! | At least 10 minutes a day, sometimes at the beginning or end of a day. Sometimes for an hour because, yes, life has been THAT crazy. And you know what? It’s been amazing. A-mazing. Honestly, I’m not someone who ever thought that I would be into meditation, but I love it. On the hardest days, it is literally the only thing that I can do to clear my mind when I start down the swirl of negativity.

How | I downloaded the Headspace app from iTunes (it’s free! and also available on adroid) to incorporate meditation into my daily routine. But honestly, on the hardest day (which, of course was the day I started), I laid in my bed in a supported, comfortable position, closed my eyes, put on my Pandora yoga radio station, lit a candle, and focused on breathing.

Every time a negative thought came to mind, I let it roll away. And I continued to do that for another 20 minutes. Eventually, the negative thoughts stopped and I drifted somewhere between awake and asleep. And an hour later, just like that, I was awake. And I felt amazing.

 

2. Therapy

What?! | Yes, friends, therapy. T-H-E-R-A-P-Y. I don’t care who you are or how self-aware or self-controlled you are, there will be a time in your life when you will need a therapist. And it might not be for something as intense as my life situation right now (which is what prompted me to seek it out, nearly two years ago). Having a therapist is awesome. And, I’m telling you, if you can get over yourself enough to get in that door, you won’t regret it.

How | Initially, I called my health insurance to get a list of local therapists that were covered under my plan that met certain requirements (basically they had to understand my situation). And because I went through my insurance, it’s covered, meaning I only spend the $20 copay each time to attend.

Each week is different. Sometimes I’m working through some hard stuff. Sometimes I’m talking about the business I’m developing. Sometimes I talk about the kids. Sometimes I share frustrations with life, or social pressures, or whatever. And she always gives me little nuggets, little tidbits, and great feedback that I refer back to for the weeks to come.

I think the one thing that always turned me off from therapy was the idea that you had an obligation to go frequently – and that’s just not true. Sometimes I go weekly, sometimes I go every six weeks. Sometimes people come with me (that are involved in my story), and sometimes they don’t. It’s completely up to me. And even when I’m not going through something, I always leave feeling better.

3. Exercise

What?! | Usually when I’m the least interested in exercise it’s because I really, really need it. But when I’m tired, or stressed, or drained, it’s SO easy to say “not tonight” or “I’m too tired” or “I should just rest.” It’s really easy to think that “taking care of myself” means laying on the couch watching Netflix. And that’s total BS. Taking care of myself means actually caring for my body. And mind. Even light exercise or a walk is better than laying around. Unless, of course, I’m sleeping.

How | If I’m really tired, I promise myself a short routine. A light exercise. A focused visit. Maybe I work on shoulders, or abs, or legs. Sometimes, once I’m there, I get energized and end up doing a lot. Sometimes I don’t. My only obligation is that I get there and that I try. And every time, I feel better.

The biggest lesson from pushing myself into exercise? I have never once regretted it. And I have regretted LOTS of nights on the couch. Get out there. Get to work.

 

4. Eating good food

What?! | I know. On my hardest days I say “I deserve this… (usually it’s a cupcake or a latte)” and I convince myself that (1) I’m having a hard day and (2) that eating crap will make me feel better. Turns out, it never does. And don’t even get me started on “comfort food.” The thing is, when I’m stressed, I carry more weight. Regardless of diet, my body seems to immediately sense stress and think “I better gain 5 lbs.” News flash, body, I don’t “need” to gain 5 lbs!

How | So when I’m having a hard day, I’ve changed my “treats” to things that involve a favorite healthy meal, or green smoothie, or homemade something. I indulge in the PROCESS not the eating. I take care to search through recipes for “the best” nourishment. And I let myself eat as much of that as I want. I’m changing the conversation with my body. And I love it.

5. Sleeping more

What?! | It’s easy for me to fall into a sleep-trap when I’m stressed. As in, I “deserve” this nap. Sometimes, it’s less of a nurture and more of a necessity – because stress wears me out.

How | Like everything else, getting the right amount of sleep is about balance. If I’m REALLY dragging each day, it’s time for me to get myself to bed earlier, grab a short nap, and give myself time to recharge. But I always remind myself that “sleep” and “laying in bed watching Netflix” are not the same thing. Sleep is sleep. When I get good sleep, I get back to being me a lot faster.

At the same time, if I’m sleepy (or if I would rather just not do what I have to do that day), I go for a short yoga session, a 10-minute meditation, or a pick-me-up. Whether it’s a coffee and a modest treat, or a smoothie, or Nutella on toast, if it’s going to keep me working towards my goals, a small indulgence is worth it (to me).

 

6. Working focused, and less

What?! | Working can be an awesome distraction, especially if you work with customers directly. But right now, my job is completely on me. Blogging and building a brand is not something you can do when you’re a depressed lump of goo. So, lately, it’s been a big struggle to keep up with content creation.

How | I spend a lot of time making lists and planning out my day. I make my goals really small, and really focused. Instead of the 8,000 goals I have for each week, I focus down to 1 or 2. And I make sure they are absolutely 100% achievable. Even routine stuff like “do the laundry. fold the laundry. put the laundry away.” can go a long way in terms of boosting my sense of accomplishment on the hardest days. It’s not about what I have to do or what I should do, it’s about what I need to do for myself in order to get through this hard moment in my life.

7. Talking about it with close friends and family

What?! | If you’ve known me even professionally, you know that I’m an open book. I recognize that it’s a unique thing, and certainly not for everyone, but for me – being honest (politely, respectfully, and without detail) with people about going through hard things has made my life immeasurably better.

How? | First, I DO NOT share all of the details of my everything. And I truly try to keep what I do share at a level that isn’t too burdensome for the person hearing it. Occasionally, I go too far and share too much. And I feel bad about it. But my best moments are when I’m able to let my friends know “hey, this hard thing really sucks right now and I could use a little pick-me-up” and those friends can say “I’m SO sorry to hear it, here are some adorable pictures of kittens.” And you know what? It’s awesome. (Thanks, Molly!)

8. Not talking about it with anyone that can’t offer constructive support

What?! | I know, I’m an open book. But that book is only open for people who add value to my life. My open-book life is also very much not open to anyone who wants to cut me down, or that would enjoy watching me struggle, or that has the hero-syndrome of giving me all the answers.

How? | I don’t always consciously recognize these friends/family/co-workers immediately, so I tend to go with my first instinct. If I feel resistant to sharing with someone, I accept that resistence. I give the basic version of “this one aspect of a very general part of my life is challenging right now” and that’s it. I approach it with strength.

And, as an extra measure of caution, I tend avoid those people, if possible, until I’m through the hardest part.

9. Breathing

What?! | Literally, when I’m super stressed, I take a few focused, deep breaths. It’s an unconscious response, but as soon as I recognize it happening, I stop and breathe. And it helps tremendously.

How? | Usually this comes up in the transitions. Maybe I’m writing a response email, or a letter, or getting ready to make a phone call. And, as I’m getting ready to do that thing, or in a paused moment, I sigh. And that’s when I take a few more breaths. It’s like 10 full seconds of space. And it’s really helpful.

10. Having a supportive, loving, husband and family to help me through

I’m really REALLY lucky. Really. Sure, he’s not perfect. Sure, there are times when I’m upset and he thinks I need a push to move on when I really need an understanding ear. But he also has been one slice of amazing. If I say I need another Saturday morning therapy session, or if I need to go to yoga, or if I need to run errands by myself, he helps me make that happen.

But let me be clear: he is not the one that makes me better. He is not the person that solves my emotional stress. He is not the answer. He supports when I indicate how I want support. He is there. And he listens, to a point.

10 things to get you through major life stress -vertical

 

I hope this post provides some insight into my healing process, and while I hope you never need it, if you ever do – I hope it helps you with your own. Life can be hard sometimes, friends, and having some tools – even an “action plan” – can make all the difference when it comes to healing, moving forward, and working through even the hardest moments in life.

 

 

xoxo,

Julie