A Guest Post By Shiuan Butler
Aloha! My name is Shiuan and I am the Creator of Journaling Sisters, a safe, supportive, nurturing community of heart-centred women who love connection, creativity, and journaling.
I came across Amanda’s blog, My Life, I Guess… recently and loved how open she was on the topic of mental health. I decided to reach out to her about possibly guest blogging on mental health and connecting with ourselves and journaling. She loved the idea and here I am!
I was so touched by Amanda’s post, “Stress Leave: Am I Really Sick Or Just Looking for a Way Out?” when I first came across it. It is so open and honest and vulnerable, and not that common on the internet. And the number of comments (100+!) just shows how prevalent stress from work is and how much people appreciated Amanda’s honesty.
I guess it’s no surprise that most of our life stress is often job related or induced. Since we spend more time with our coworkers than anyone else (all day, 5 days a week) it makes sense it’s something that either brings us great joy or great stress.
I don’t think there’s any way we can avoid stress completely in our lives. After all, life is full of ups and downs and that’s what makes it interesting.
I love this quote by Reinhold Niebuhr and recently it has come to me again:
“God (or Goddess) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I think what a lot of people expressed in response to Amanda’s very helpful post was encouragement, support, and almost indignation on Amanda’s behalf that she HAS the right to stand up for herself, and no job is worth the damage to our own health, whether physical or mental or emotional. This is definitely one situation where we CAN make a difference, and we should.
I’m really proud of Amanda that she took the time off that she needed. I commend her for figuring out the finances when things were tight. Tight finances can make taking care of ourselves be pushed to the back burner sometimes.
I have certainly had my share of stresses in my life as well. So hey, I get it. Whether it was a marriage at a young age, and then ensuing divorce, or a trans-Atlantic move on my own and not knowing a soul, and then back to the east coast and setting up in New York City all on my own — one of THE most expensive cities in the world. I’m certainly familiar with the concept of STRESS. Whether it’s work induced or otherwise, I’d like to share my top 10 strategies for how to effectively deal with overwhelming stress and come out the other end, mostly intact!
Top Ten Strategies for Handling Stress When You Are Absolutely Positively Stressed the Hell Out:
1. Keep Breathing /Take Breaks /Protect Your Energy
First things first. Remember to keep breathing. It may sound trite, but when we’re really stressed, it’s easy for our emotions to spiral downhill and soon enough we’re panicking. Which doesn’t usually help. If you want to yell at someone or scream at work, take a breather. Just breathe in; breathe out. Breathe in; breathe out. Do that 3 times. Let the moment pass. Swallow what you’d really like to say to the person. Then move on, mentally and physically. I’m not saying it’s easy, but we can choose what we focus our minds on.
Take breaks. Just think how many breaks a cigarette smoker takes in a day. You’re allowed that too! Step outside of the building; breathe in that great city air. Walk around the block or two. Actually, take a break during your lunch break. (I’ve done, or not done, all of these things too at a hectic full time job, so I know it’s easier said than done.) Even if it’s 5 minutes, and it takes 2 minutes to go up and down the elevator, it’s worth it. A change of scenery, a little change of perspective will help deal with the stress.
Protect your energy. This may sound a little woo woo-out there for some of you. But just like when sometimes you hang out with certain people and you feel so energized and loving life, while other people you feel like all the energy is sucked out of you. I assume the latter is your work situation. As much as possible, I want you to imagine up a glass wall (or bubble) around yourself as you go about your workday. You can wear a particular piece of jewelry if that helps you feel protected.
This is obviously working on an emotional, spiritual level. But it works if you let it. If you can’t actually cut down on the time you need to spend with the person who depletes your energy or makes you miserable after spending time with them (they’re on your team, or worse they’re your boss), just picture you are in your bubble while you’re sitting across the table talking to them. Call me crazy, but just try it. Also, before you get to work in the morning, hold your necklace or picture yourself walking into the office inside the calm clean air of your bubble. That is your haven. Picture it with you all day.
2. Speak Up
Amanda was a great role model for this. She spoke up about her situation. She blogged to her audience about it. She sought out a mental health counsellor, as well as a physician. Don’t keep it bottled up inside. That is the worst thing you can do. I understand you may be doubting yourself that you’re just exaggerating things, things aren’t so bad, if you just did X, Y, or Z, if you just waited it out, it’ll get better. Just suck it up for a little while longer. You can do it.
If you find yourself wanting to talk to a mental health professional, please visit https://www.betterhelp.com/start to see if online therapy is right for you.
Sure, you can, but do you really need to? Or want to? Sure, we all need to pick our battles sometimes. And some situations really do have a time limit to them. But if you are truly stressed the hell out, and this has been going on for a while, and you’re not quite sure what you’re waiting for, maybe it’s time to speak up. I’m not saying you have to jump to your HR department, you can start with a good friend. Or see #3.
As I mentioned before, I created a women’s journaling community to support one another while we delved within ourselves and reflected on ourselves and our lives. So I’m a pretty big believer in journaling. I’ve kept a journal (or back then it was a diary with a key) since age six. Sure I’ve fallen off the bandwagon too, but when times were especially tough (a bully when I was 8, or an abusive boyfriend in my 20s) it was a sacred, protected space I could go to and relieve my feelings. It saved me.
If you are really stressed, you can just start with writing for 5 minutes. I have a link below for 10 Inspiring Journaling Prompts for the Beginner, that includes instruction on how to set up your journaling ‘tools’ first. But really, if you’re already stressed I wouldn’t ‘stress’ about it. Get a notebook you don’t hate, a pen you like a decent amount and literally sit down with a timer for 5 minutes. If you feel called (like you want to) continue writing, then go ahead. But no pressure at all. The whole point is so you can relax a little here on a daily basis. Do this every day for a week. After that, you can increase it to 10 minutes if it feels right to you.
Self reflect on your situation. You’ll need to do some analyzing here and journaling can be a great way to sort through your thoughts and different emotions. Some questions to journal on might be: Do you simply need to change the way you think about the situation (change your perspective) or do you actually need to take action and do something about the situation? Is there something you can change about the situation or do you really need to leave? See also #8.
Exercise is so important when you are trying to accomplish anything in your life. Whether it’s building a business, writing a book. If you have a big goal or project that includes dealing with a lot of stress, then you need to exercise. Again, and this is the theme of my strategies, small steps is key here. (You don’t want the thought of ‘needing’ to exercise regularly to stress you out too!)
What is something you enjoy (or don’t hate), is convenient (near work or home), and affordable? It can even be doing exercise to a video or YouTube at home. That works for me. I would say 15 minutes here is great. Ideally something that will take you away from your worries for a few moments and give your mind a break.
With any of these activities listed here it could work even better if you had a buddy to do it with. A good friend to go run with. This goes back to #2 Speaking up. Any place where you can let out some of your stressful feelings is great. You don’t need to dump out everything on your friend. (You DO want them to come back!)
But if you trust their judgment, this could also be a good place to share some of what you’re trying to sort out in your own head and what next steps you should take. Ultimately the decision is still yours. But it can be helpful to get advice from different perspectives and pick out the best ones for your course of action.
Meditation can have a bad rap these days. It seems that it’s divided people into 2 camps. People who ‘do it’ and people who feel it’s just ‘not them.’ If you find regular meditation, that is when you sit there with your eyes closed and try to let thoughts pass like clouds, too difficult for you (you fall asleep, daydream, get impatient), you might want to try guided meditations.
Guided meditation is something I recently got into and love it. Regular meditation has always been a bit difficult for me. (OK, I’m one of those who fell asleep.) And I admit I’m not the most patient person in the world. But guided meditation can be a really interesting adventure of your mind. It can be very calming, letting the person’s voice guide you through an imaginary forest or just noticing the positive things in your life. You can google ‘guided meditation’ or I have a short and sweet one on gratitude on my site. Email me and I’ll be happy to send you the link!
7. Self Care
Again, another way to help alleviate the stress. Self care can include anything that makes you feel good physically, emotionally and spiritually. This can include, candle lit baths, walks, dancing, yoga, any creative activity (painting, surfing, etc). Our stress, while we may feel it in our brains and heads, is also in other parts of our body, if not all of it. Close your eyes right now for a moment. Where do you feel your stress? There is no right answer. Wherever you have a slight inkling, that’s a good start. A massage or acupuncture may also be heavenly for your body.
This idea goes back to #1 Protecting your energy. I think of boundaries as slightly more tangible than the idea of protecting your energy. Boundaries is something that is healthy and you can use in all areas of your life, anywhere where you have relationships with people, which is basically everywhere.
Boundaries is not about shutting people out or hiding yourself. Boundaries is about maintaining healthy relationships for both parties, where neither one of you is stretched beyond where it makes sense. It’s sharing parts of you at work that you feel comfortable sharing. And if someone asks you about something that you consider more personal, it means glossing over it or changing the subject or honestly saying you’d rather not get into that at work.
It’s about maintaining a healthy distance in certain areas of your life so that things don’t get messy. For example, imagine if your boss knew about your sexual habits. Not healthy. That may seem like an obvious one, but there is plenty of gray areas that it is up to you to set the line of what you want to share or get involved in different areas of your life.
What does this have to do with dealing with stress? While you’re sorting out your stressful situation and figuring out what your next action step will be, it’s good to set healthy boundaries with the characters involved. It’s OK, if you haven’t before. It’s never too late to start. People might be surprised at first. Whoa, what’s this? But if it’s something you feel that you will be more comfortable with a new boundary in place, go ahead and try it. You may very well feel better right away.
9. Small Steps
I mentioned this above, but whatever you do during this stressful time, I strongly recommend doing it in small steps. If you are leaning toward quitting, give yourself a little runway time to prepare. (You can give yourself more time than your boss if you want.) But because we naturally don’t think as well when we’re under a lot of stress– and we may don’t even realize it– it’s best to do everything in small doses to give ourselves time to adjust and not give ourselves any more pressure than we already have.
10. Do Something You Love or Makes You Laugh
What is something that you absolutely love? Or always will make you laugh? Old horror flicks? A visit to the beach? Is there a band coming through that you love? Because when we’re stressed we need something with an extra ‘oomph’ that will help us ‘snap’ out of it. During this time, it’s helpful to find that special something that will help pull us out of our funk (or out of our heads) for a little while. (And I don’t mean drugs or alcohol!) Sure, the problems will still be there after you come out of the movies, but you will be a little lighter and might even think of some new solutions too!
These strategies are all ways to help deal with the stress, panic, anxiety that can sometimes spiral out of control. Understandably, you’ll still need to figure out an action plan for your work or life situation. But hopefully, you’ll be able to problem-solve better since you are feeling less stressed.
Remember: You are not alone. Tons of people get depressed from their jobs. That is not to say that you shouldn’t reach out to a professional. If you feel stressed enough to be googling articles about it, you could very well benefit from speaking to a health professional. Your company might even cover this as part of their employee advocate/wellness program. If you are searching on your own, I’d recommend that you find someone who has good reviews and testimonials. A referral from a friend would also be ideal.
Stigma around mental health exists. You’re not crazy. There is pressure out there to feel like you’re supposed to act a certain way, feel a certain way. And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you (!). Actually, all of your emotions should be within an acceptable range and only within that range, and if it’s not then you’re crazy. When actually it’s crazy to expect people to deal with this much pressure from work, life, family, everything and NOT flip out. When actually there’s no such thing as ‘crazy’ or ‘normal.’ We’re human. It’s human to feel your emotions. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather feel mine than numb out. That’s what being alive is all about.
Now go out there and watch a terrible old horror flick and then journal about it. You got this.
Shiuan is the Creator of Journaling Sisters, a supportive community of heart-centered women who love connection, creativity and journaling. Check out the upcoming women’s Virtual Self-Discovery Retreat here! You can find out more or get your free copy of 10 Inspiring Journaling Prompts for the Beginner instantly here. Reach her at shiuan dot butler at gmail dot com.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Shiuan is not a medical doctor, has no formal medical training, and holds no license or degrees in medicine. This article is not to be considered a substitute for a conventional medical evaluation with your health care practitioner. Any information presented in this article is intended to educate and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical or psychological treatment or advice from a licensed professional health care provider.
Shiuan urges you to seek a health care provider that you are satisfied with so that you and your health care practitioner can work together and arrive at a diagnosis and a course of healing that is best for you. Ultimately, your decisions and actions about your health are your complete and whole responsibility.
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