Staying Steady When Stressed

BoxesI don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed out I immediately start looking for the extraneous elements in my life. The expendables. The fungibles. I can cut that dinner date; I don’t really need to go shopping yet; that is just a pet project, not something that has to be done.

Take moving. I, unlike most people, hate moving. I cannot stand living out of boxes, or even the sight of boxes. It triggers my ADD and sends me into a never-ending spiral of fear and loathing. But it’s more than that: disruption causes me to give up on things I normally care about, like good eating, exercising and working on side projects.

To a certain extent this is normal. Something’s gotta give when life is turned upside down. But only to a certain extent: I still have time for the things I value, I just don’t really have the motivation. If you’ve read my other posts you know I’m completely obsessed with the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, which says that during times of upheaval, we are lower on glucose, the brain chemical that lends us motivation and follow-through.

So, fine. I should cut myself a break. But why do I also bail on things I still really have time for? Why do I lose faith in my work and life? Why do I start to consider the frailty of my hopes and dreams just because I’m a little discombobulated?

Well, I guess glucose is probably behind those questions as well. But one of my goals for this year, which includes an imminent move and a baby due in less than three months, is to figure out how to stay levelheaded when life is swirling around me. I’m not so great at it yet, but any suggestions you have will surely help.

Staying Strong When Stressed: Keeping Routines Helps You Achieve

Library_BooksHave you ever noticed how easy it is to fall off the wagon when you’re under pressure?

Right now I am stressed. So, so stressed. I have to get on a plane in a few days, which to me is basically the equivalent of having the mount the steps of an Aztec pyramid to have my beating heart cut out. My baby is sick. We have to move on short notice, and while I realize the rest of the world LOVES moving, I actually don’t like it at all. Not at all.

The temptation here is twofold:

1. Whine unendingly, loudly, hyperbolically to anyone who will listen.

2. Become a hedonist.

It’s odd, but in times of stress we tend to allow ourselves the freedom to do things we otherwise wouldn’t. Tempers shorten. We eat whatever we want. We “forget” to exercise. We throw good habits, like flossing, removing makeup at night or stretching out the window. And quirkier responses. For instance, I completely abandon reading, opting instead for bad reruns of cooking shows or sitcoms, and watch the aspirational stack on my bedside mount, which only adds to my stress.

The reason behind these responses is simple: we are using all our energy to deal with the stressful situation, and don’t have a lot left over to do what we ought to. Unfortunately, it is often times routine that gets us to where we’re going in life. Despite common thought, successful people don’t work when work moves them, they aren’t thin because of an abundance of willpower, and they don’t build empires out of thin air. They work. They set goals. They achieve them by fulfilling smaller tasks that make up larger tasks. They are one giant, time-effective proverbial tortoise.

I am a hare. I admit this freely. But to become successful and reach my dreams, I realize I must stop abandoning the things that help me get there simply because things become stressful. In fact, should I succeed in some of the ventures I’d like to, the life changes caused by that success will be stressful, so how will it help me to fall off the wagon then?

The answer, of course, is simple: routines have to become, well, routine. We have to be on autopilot. Flossing must be something we just do, not do “if we can.” Reading, updating your blog, cooking fresh food, running, gardening or whatever else moves us toward our better selves must become an embedded part of our day, so that we stop trying to rationalize the action away when we don’t want to do it. Only when it requires no extra mental effort will it happen automatically, and therefore be immune to stress.

It won’t happen overnight, I realize. But I’m inspired by moves like One Party Gypsy’s, where she starts small with a morning routine she can keep without too much trouble, that fits simply and easily into her vision for a good day. These are changes we can all make, if only we take the time.