Last year I was sitting in my comfy chair just minding my own business – scrolling around on my tablet like a mad dog. Suddenly, without warning, my eyes literally started flickering and spinning. I honestly thought I was actually having either a seizure or a stroke, maybe both. As someone who worked in the medical field for many years, my mind tends to skew in the direction of the worst-case scenario. When things didn’t get worse and then started to ease up, my hubs ordered me to bed for a nap and thankfully nothing like that has happened again. But it rattled me substantially enough to get to the root cause of that weird event, which leads me to today’s topic…
By the time we reach midlife, most of us are well acquainted with stress. We may even be so used to it that we can barely recognize it. It becomes the white noise in our busy lives. By the middle-age years, we wear the badge of having raised our children, with all the joys, excitement, and let’s face it, trials and tribulations that come with the territory. We got married, had children, established a career, weathered countless disappointments, lost family and friends, may have gotten divorced, lost jobs. But we made it through somehow.
We have worked hard for a long time to get to that Nirvana that is midlife with the kids at college or at least out of the house on their own. The return of a more carefree lifestyle, bolstered by the lovely nest egg we have created beckons. But more often than not, that reality we had envisioned for ourselves so many times just doesn’t come to pass. Instead, we are handed a whole new set of challenges that continue to demand everything we have to give, sometimes with no end in sight.
The big difference this time around is that we are just tired. Raising a family and working, whether outside the home or as a stay-at-home Mom, sometimes both has left us drained in unexpected ways. Adding insult to injury, our bodies start to fall apart a little bit more each year. Looking the same on our driver’s license picture becomes more and more difficult every four years. You don’t dare stop coloring your hair, afraid of the gray-haired lady that is underneath.
Even if you are lucky enough to see your kids settle into successful lives of their own, you might suddenly find yourself in the role of caregiver to your aging parents. You know it’s the right thing to do and after all, taking care of others is your specialty, right? But suddenly one day you realize you can’t remember the last time you weren’t stressed out over something. Maybe your memory has begun letting you down at an alarming pace. You can’t even tell someone what your favorite color is, because you don’t know anymore.
Or you are perpetually tired to the bone, yet cannot ever get a good night’s rest. You don’t remember the last time you did something just for fun. You simply cannot remember who you used to be before you were saddled with carrying the weight of your world. You find yourself getting sick easily, each day is a challenge. And you have resigned yourself to the fact that this is what life will be from here on out. You would like to change and take better care of yourself, experience joy again, but that would be another thing to add to your to-do list. Besides, who has time and money for luxuries like massages, yoga classes, and therapy? You are stuck.
Not so fast my friend!
What I just described may be largely true, but it does not mean you are doomed to remain on this depressed, always stressed out track.
First let me tell you that while taking care of the needs of those around you day in and day out is noble for sure, sacrificing yourself on that altar is not. That is a price nobody should have to pay, least of all you – you tenacious warrior woman!
There is help. And the best part is that much of it is free or very budget-conscious.
And here I have to insert a disclaimer. I am not a mental health professional, nor do I aspire to be one. This post is not meant to be a substitute for professional help. It is meant as a beginning guide you get started on the path to a life that is not ruled by constant stress. If you are depressed and need help, please seek help from a licensed mental health professional!
There are concrete steps you can take, habits you can learn to incorporate into each and every day. While they cannot remove ongoing stressors from your life, these simple changes, if employed consistently will add up to a calmer YOU by equipping you with the tools you need. And over time you may find yourself much better equipped to weather the storms, trials, and tribulations of being everything to everyone.
During my research for this post, I encountered some striking facts. One of those being the conclusion by a growing number of scientists that genetics don’t play the starring role in how you and by extension, your life, turn out. Recently there has been a significant shift away from genes as the all-encompassing determining force and towards environmental and lifestyle-related factors.
Why should this be so important? Well, in a nutshell, it takes the keys away from genes and their pre-ordained powers and puts you squarely in the driver’s seat. And that control gives us the opportunity to change course, to re-define ourselves and our lives. With STRESS now considered the major contributing factor to disease, it stands to reason that we need to take the reigns when it comes to reducing its destructive force. We owe it to ourselves. Period.
Here is a short list of lifestyle factors that play a huge role:
- what you eat
- how much rest you get
- whether or not you exercise
- how you respond to stress
As soon as you scan over this brief list, you recognize that those factors are within your control. Indeed, they go hand in hand.
Today I would like to help you get started on the path to living a better life by equipping you with a few simple tools and strategies.
All of the printables mentioned in this post can be found in the FREE Resource Library. Just sign up here and the password is on its way to your inbox!
And with that, let’s dig in!
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BEGIN RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE FROM STRESS – ONE LITTLE STEP AT A TIME
When it comes to changing your overall outlook and capacity to handle stress, positive messages are key. Keep this thought in mind as you proceed:
“YOU BECOME WHAT YOU BELIEVE.”
Powerful stuff. What exactly is it that little voice in your head is telling you day in and day out? Is it encouraging, or beating you up? My guess would be that the latter probably applies. After all, you know yourself better than anyone, and being your own worst critic is second nature. My question for you is: Would you allow someone to talk to others in your family, or in your care like that? Likely not. And that brings me to the first step.
STEP #1: Positive Affirmations
Using positive affirmations daily is a powerful and underutilized tool. Don’t underestimate them! Positive affirmations will actually form new pathways in your brain over time and eventually take over from the negative soundtrack you have been listening to, diminishing and hopefully extinguishing its grip.
Begin by paying close attention to how you tend to react. What is the first thought that pops up when you mess something up? Are you silently beating yourself up over your little mistakes or do you encourage yourself? Would you dare criticize anyone else so consistently out loud and to their face?
Sure you can google “positive affirmations” and find plenty of examples, but the most important ones are those you formulate yourself. The simplest way to get started and to figure out which affirmations are more likely to resonate and produce results is to keep a running list of the self-defeating thoughts that come to mind. For each one of the negative messages, formulate an opposite, positive one. Write it down. Read it often and say it out loud. There is something very powerful and reinforcing in hearing your own voice expressing positive, encouraging information.
To make this process easier, I have created a FREE printable guide on how to write your own affirmations and little cards for you to print, fill in, and cut out. They are waiting for you in the Resource Library.
To make this easy for yourself you can also find positive affirmations here. Just pick out the ones that resonate with you and write them down on little individual cards.
Keep your affirmation cards where you will see and use them often, like your nightstand or next to your favorite chair. Make it a habit to start and end your day on a positive note? And that moves us on to the next step.
STEP #2: Prioritize Rest
Getting a restful night’s sleep can be a real challenge. Believe me, I know from personal experience! But a good night’s sleep is what fills the tank that gets depleted throughout your busy day. You cannot run on empty for very long. What can you do to set yourself up for a peaceful night?
Here are a few suggestions:
- keep caffeine consumption to a minimum or cut it out completely, see my post on quitting coffee for good
- don’t eat a heavy meal close to bedtime
- resist the temptation to watch that late show on TV (you can probably stream it later and often without those pesky, timeconsuming commercials)
- create a calm evening routine
- your bedroom should be a zone for resting, not work
- stick to getting up and going to bed at the same time every day of the week
- try to go to bed earlier, according to Ayurveda, the sleep you get before midnight is better
- keep a notepad by your bed to jot down any pesky thoughts that keep you from getting shut-eye
- write down your thoughts on the day in a journal, remember to end with something to be grateful for
- read an inspiring, uplifting book or leaf through your favorite magazine
- listen to guided meditation (find them on YouTube or in the app store on your phone – I like OAK for I-phone)
- diffuse calming essential oils like lavender, cedarwood, chamomile
- treat yourself to a cup of chamomile tea or golden milk before bedtime or if you’re up for it treat yourself to something a little more decadent like these yummy hot drinks
STEP #3: Practice Gratitude
Even during your most stressful times, taking a few moments to reflect on what is good and working in your life is important. Some days may be what I have come to call “water days” when all you can think of to be thankful for is clean drinking water and flushing toilets. But hey, those amazing luxuries we shouldn’t take for granted!
Gratitude is one of those buzzwords that is flung around a lot. It sounds awfully cliché. And it does indeed take practice. A recovering confirmed pessimist, it took some doing to win me over to the glass-half-full side of life. Once you get the hang in trying to find the silver lining in every little cloud you will find that gratitude fortifies you against the disappointments of life.
Everyone has those “water days”. Use them to really buckle down on finding something to be truly grateful for. Better yet, make it your goal to aim for at least three things. Just like positive affirmations, the act of thinking about what is good and working in our lives shifts the focus to the good side. Write down what you are grateful for and you won’t have to remember so hard next time you are faced with a challenging day! The little blank cards in the FREE printable affirmation kit (find it in the Resource Library) will work for this as well. Or keep a little notebook of blessings so you can go back and re-read them any time life has got you down. The more you exercise your “gratitude muscle” the more it will become ingrained in you.
STEP#4: Set Boundaries
Why are you burned out and stressed? Chances are you have too much on your plate. You try to do too many things for too many people. Let stress be proof that you just can’t do that. NO is a complete sentence. Of course, it goes completely against the grain of any people pleaser to just say no, but I assure you, the world will not come to a screeching halt if you do. Do what you comfortably can and delegate the rest, no explanations required.
Knowing you, it will probably still be enough. Do you consistently fail to meet your own expectations? Lower them, my friend, if only long enough to catch up with yourself. If you don’t have at least some time to do the things you love, that make your heart sing – you are working too hard. Stop being a doormat, doing things simply because they are asked from you. Put your family on notice. They will learn to respect your needs even if it takes a little time. You are too important an asset to them!
STEP #5: Create a Quiet Space
For those times when life just becomes too overwhelming and you need to step away and refuel if only for a few moments, a quiet space just for you is a must. This could be your favorite corner in the living room, your bedroom, any calm and quiet space will do. Keep it ready and free of clutter. Use it to take a few deep breaths, close your eyes for a few minutes, listen to your favorite meditation app, or enjoy a cup of tea. Add a warm, cozy blanket and a nice pillow. Make it a habit to be good to yourself!
STEP #6: Include Humor in Your Life
No matter how sad or stressed you are, how bleak things may look at that moment, humor will get you through. They don’t call laughter the best medicine for nothing! Listen to your favorite standup comedian on Pandora (free in the App store) or pull out that old Farside cartoon book or other funny light reading. I live in Erma Bombeck country. Her deadpan humor endures and her books will make you smile and laugh out loud, guaranteed.
STEP #7: Get Creative
Now, I understand that doing something artsy and creative may sound like a lot of effort and time. Hear me out on this:) Remember how happy coloring and doodling made you as a little girl? Enter the amazing invention that is the adult coloring book! No special skills or fancy art skills needed. Just choose your favorite colors and create little masterpieces of your own. Coloring inside the lines is strictly optional!
My friend Becki recently wrote a fun post filled with adult coloring books for just about anyone! You can find it right here on her blog abookloversadventures.com.
STEP #8: Show Your Pets Love
Pet ’em if you got ’em. When we run around like chickens with our heads cut off all the time, our pets tend to fall by the wayside, as far as getting the love and attention they deserve is concerned. Research has shown that petting Fido or Fluffy actually lowers your blood pressure! Do yourself a solid one and take your dog for a walk. Getting some fresh air will do you both a world of good! Not enough energy? Your furry friends will love for you to snuggle with them!
I hope you find these steps helpful. Use some of them, the more the better, often and I promise you it will help reduce stress in your life. My eye spinning incident was a wake-up call for me. Sadly, it has taken a number of wake up calls to get me to realize that taking care of myself is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Here is another affirmation I have found to be the absolute truth!
“My sanity is essential to the smooth running of this operation.”
Don’t forget that! You are important and your health and well-being matters. This post is meant as a starting point on your journey to a less stressed and happier life. There is so much more information out there on this topic. My friend Laura recently posted her own helpful post on this topic on her blog naturalhealinghope.com. Be sure to tell her HI from me when you stop by!
If you need some help pampering yourself, check out my homemade health and beauty recipes! Why not surround yourself with some inspirational art? You can find all of those in the FREE Resource Library.
You are always welcome to join the conversation in the TWGL Facebook group. Come on over, we’d love to have you!
And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram to see what trouble I am getting into!
I wish you happy, healthy, and stress-free days ahead! And if stress does rear its ugly head, you’ll know how to put it in its place!