How I Manage Stress

In my last post I mentioned that my mom had been in the hospital one week. One week became two. Then fifteen days. And yesterday, finally, mom came home. I’m here to say that that was THE MOST stressful fifteen days of my life. This is significant as mom’s hospitalizations are not rare. She has been hospitalized dozens of times in the past twenty years, sometimes for good stretches of time. One time she was hospitalized for a month. It’s never easy to see her sick, or to have to visit her in a hospital, but this time was different for a number of reasons.

My mom suffers from a number of complicated conditions including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, peripheral vascular disease, and diabetes. She has suffered almost two dozen amputations. If you cannot imagine that, don’t try- it’s worse than you can fathom. I’ve never known a human being to suffer physically as much as or more than my mom. The amazing thing is that she still has a smile on her face, optimism for the future, and a love of life. She has made all of this easier for us all by remaining peaceful in her heart, no matter how bad things got.

The reasons this hospitalization was so stressful are numerous- she was deathly ill, and many days we weren’t sure if she would recover. She had contracted an infectious disease, and we all had to be careful and wary not to spread it around or catch it ourselves. She was hospitalized in an unusual place- she usually would have been sent to a different facility but they did not have available beds. And then there were the numerous outrageous failures that occurred at the hospital almost every day… she suffered misdiagnosis x2, which delayed her treatment and risked her life. There were failures in training, failures in proper procedure, miscommunications with doctors, every day came with something to worry about!

Instead of merely visiting and supporting my mom and family during her hospitalization, I had to expend additional emotional resources and time fighting with the hospital to ensure she got the care she needed to survive, and to protect not just her- but other patients at the facility. I met with admins all the way up to the CEO of the hospital over several days. I argued with five doctors. Five. When a few of those doctors would not listen to us or help my mom I had to go above their heads to complain and plead for the treatments she needed. It was insanity. I spent every ounce of energy I had these past few weeks, and so today I am simply spent. Emotionally exhausted. DONE.

I know that I need to recharge, so today I will begin to heal my heart and rest my mind by employing some tactics I use to manage stress and protect my health. These are the strategies I find to be helpful:

Make noise. Talking to a friend, loved one,  a therapist (or even a pet) is probably the very first and most important thing I do when I am going through something stressful. Not only does it help me “get it all out” and process events, but it makes me feel like I am not alone, that I have support.

There are times when I don’t have anybody easily accessible to talk to, but I’ve found that simply making noise is also beneficial to relieving tension. A really cool friend of mine taught me this trick, she told me that one of her stress-relief strategies was to “Let it out your mouth”- meaning to speak, yell, groan, shriek, whatever you feel like you need to do to release the pent up frustration you feel. I have found this to be very good advice. In overwhelming moments when I don’t have anybody to talk to I might just simply groan, “uhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” and find some immediate relief. Even though this is a private activity I would do in my car or somewhere where nobody else can hear me, I still felt strange and embarrassed at first- right up until I realized that it helped. Now I have no shame.

Writing. For me writing is an excellent way to unload all of the things on my mind that are bothering me. It’s not always enough to talk to a friend, though that helps and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do that. When I write down my thoughts I almost always feel an immediate release of tension in my body, and those pesky swirling thoughts begin to dissipate. When I read back my writings, I find it helps me to process difficult experiences and come up with solutions to my problems.

In case you do not like to write, I would recommend you try a very simple exercise I learned decades ago from Oprah. Try keeping a gratitude journal, listing just three things a day that you are grateful for. Write those things down, re-read them. Review your entries weekly, allow yourself to smile.

Rest. I make sure I’m getting eight hours of sleep a night at minimum. This often means that I cannot agree to take on extra responsibilities or make fun evening plans with my friends- but when I am rested I feel better both emotionally and physically. Since I get up very early to deliver my daughters to school I must adopt a very early bedtime. Sometimes I struggle to let go of things still undone by bedtime, but the dishes will be there for me when I wake up. As will the laundry, and anything else that I might have to put off to make sure I get enough rest.

Fuel. When life is crazy and you’re running around a lot or exhausted, it’s easy and sometimes even necessary to eat fast food. I did it sooooo much more than usual these past few weeks when I felt that I had no other choice. I didn’t have the emotional energy to care about what I was putting in my body.. in a pinch I selected chicken sandwiches, fries and a soda with caffeine just so I could remain upright. I consumed more than one Snickers bar in a pinch for time and out of desperation for comfort. But I won’t hold that against myself now, it’s done. Now that the danger is past (I’m hoping), I will think more about fueling my body and make healthier choices: real food, real ingredients, very little processed stuff, less meat and more fruits and veggies. I’m never perfect in my diet but I’ve learned that small changes made frequently add up to make big improvements in my health and wellness.

Movement. For two weeks I haven’t been to the pool once. I never felt that I had the luxury of an hour to myself, I always felt that I needed to be ready to be there for my family at any moment. I spent the majority of the time sitting- mostly in my car or in a chair at the hospital. As a result I had no way to burn off stress or remain fit. My body aches, I can feel the high hum of anxiety in my chest. When I regularly swim I notice that I hurt so much less, and I can burn off some of that tension. Tomorrow I will resume my usual habit of swimming 3-4x a week, and I can’t wait. I don’t love having to exercise, or having to go to the gym to do it, but with much experience at it I know that movement is medicine.

Acknowledging reality. Today my mind is racing back through everything that has happened and I recognize that this is my brain’s way of recapping events so that I can make sense of them and put them to rest. I will choose activities that allow my mind to wander so that I can process this important information. Some might believe that NOT thinking the tough stuff through is what is best, but I know that even though it might hurt- acknowledging my problems and thinking through them is the only way to come up with solutions and finding a sense of resolution.

Creativity. As long as everything goes good I should begin to have time to myself again this week to do with what I will. I look forward to posting here about some of my recent projects, and to starting some new projects. It always makes me feel awesome to produce something beautiful and new.

Today’s Project: Stress Relief

Today’s Soundtrack: Roller Derby Roadtrip Playlist on Spotify
*Oooh, I need to update this! Maybe I’ll work on that some today.

I’m Reading: The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

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