Monday, February 11, 2019

When life becomes too stressful...Step One of Ellen's road tested strategies



I specialise in stress and depression, and as it happens, 2018 gave me an opportunity to road-test techniques and approaches. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share what I did, how it worked for me, and hopefully, it will help you too.

If you don't know me, let me start by explaining that these last 12 months have not been easy.

Last February our best friend died in a shock smash and in March my husband Tom broke an arm and a leg. 

Tom was at home for three months, and helpless, poor soul.  During his convalescence, I was helping our friend's widow deal with the kind of red tape a sudden death generates. Also, there were some difficult family matters that cropped up. The year culminated with my estranged father's death in December.

I really thought we could get some peace, and then Guido, our wonderful cat, disappeared.

Recognising the signs of stress and burnout, I took the best part of six weeks off work. Now I'm back, and I'd like to share.

When life becomes too stressful...

Everyone is stressed nowadays. We all seem to be pushed to the max. Current advice tends to focus on coping, and this typically involves learning a stress relieving exercise such as visualising. I love that kind of exercise because it's a basic skill that will 'push up your Zen', as a friend calls it.

However, when your life is too stressful, you can't just whap on a Band-Aid like visualisation. Stress is a signal that you are over loading. It's okay for a very short time, but if you keep pushing yourself, you're going to damage your health.

Stress is a signal that you need to change your life.  

So, here's my first tip: when life becomes too complex, simplify.

Back in April, when I found myself running around 24/7 and too busy really to sleep properly, I stepped back and took a good look at how I was spending my time. This isn't psychology, it's practical time management, but it's a step towards good mental health:

Note down how you spend your time. Then, rationalise.

I have three jobs: counselling psychologist, columnist, and author. My other tasks were red tape for my friend's estate and some small projects I had on the go.

When I laid it all out, I realised that I was very organised about my work, but that I had allowed the red tape to take over.

What I was doing wrong: I was treating every bit of paperwork as an emergency. It wasn't. Taking phone calls and texts at all times of day, and prioritising whatever had to be done, meant I was ducking in and out of that task and stressing myself several times a week.

How I fixed it:  I accepted all the texts, forms, letters and so on, but I put them aside and dealt with it all on Thursday mornings.

What I was doing wrong:  Also, I had lost sight of what I am contracted to do and what work I take on as a favour.

How I fixed it: The small projects were mentoring work. As they were favours, I was at liberty to make my own rules. I informed the people involved that life had thrown me a couple of curve balls and that I would be available but only at certain times. Then I scheduled blocks of time weeks in advance.

What that did. By pushing those jobs into solid blocks, I lowered my stress level and was able to use the rest of my time more productively.

In addition, I changed some of my routines at home. I ordered groceries online to be delivered every Saturday so I could avoid going shopping. That's been a bit hit and miss, but overall, it's been useful.

Also, I dumped every single clothing item that needs ironing. Now I wear only pure cotton that goes in the dryer and can be hung up or folded, and miracle material blouses that are wash and shake dry. That has been a life saver and I seriously recommend everyone in the world adopt this!

As first steps, these moves really helped me. Next time I'd like to talk about socialising and support.

Want to discuss this? Come and talk to me here.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay