I’m always trying to learn more… about coding, about parenting, about the world, whatever. Lately I’ve been trying to learn more about myself. Specifically, more about how I deal with stress (and how to deal with it better). Last year was rank with stress for me (I’ll get into the details of that in a sec). Something I’ve often told people is there is a direct correlation to the amount of stress I am feeling and how long I let my hair grow out. My head is like a chia pet that seems to grow lush when watered regularly with chaos, change and over work (except, of course, for the very top of my head which is as shiny as a hubcap).
I have a long history with stress, particularly of the anxiety flavor. I’ve suffered from panic attacks since I was a teenager. They would come on fairly slow when I was younger, but in college they jumped up in frequency and intensity, mostly revolving around the life of a semester and coming to a crescendo around the time of finals week. I would usually experience a bit of a health dip after each semester finished. It felt like my body had just finished a marathon. At that point I would have progressed past the point of panic attacks and moved on to eye twitches and getting dog sick. After a few weeks of rest, I would be able to sit upright and start the cycle again.
Over the years I’ve learned to deal with this aspect of my personality through a variety of coping mechanisms. I still have highs and lows, but they aren’t quite as extreme. I have also had to recognize my own limitations and adjust my lifestyle somewhat to maintain balance. To be honest, recognizing my limitations is something I really stink at. Typically, I only realize I have over committed when I see an increase in panic attacks and then I have to scramble to course correct. I have a lifetime of experience course correcting my life decisions.
For example, let me share more about the glorious year of 2016. We bought a house that we knew would need some remodeling, but it has over 2 acres, nice trees, and even a pond. Right around the end of the year we found out that the house would also need a new roof, an entirely new electrical system, mold remediation, and the property was a haven for snake. During the summer of 2016, my wife got a concussion at a local water park which required her to take some bedrest. I had to up my contributions to maintain our household of six. On top of all that, I started a new job at a software company. There was quite a bit of transition with that as my new job was very different from my previous position. Those are just the highlights from that year, but I could go on (and on). So, I’d say we started 2017 on a bit of a deficit in terms of health and our capacity to deal with stress. I’ve noticed that my current state of health is pretty horrible, as is my patience and mood.
Stress, in my experience, is a great big red flag that tells me to stop and think. When I take the time to reflect I ask myself 2 questions:
- Do I need to change something about my life?
- What expectation am I reacting to and do I need to rethink that expectation?
I’m aware that these questions are not earth shattering. In fact, they are pretty darn simple. But using them to help me start a dialogue is starting to change my life. In fact, my goal for 2017 is to make asking these 2 questions on a regular basis.
So far, asking these questions has led me to take on a change in my diet, start talking to my doctor about some health concerns I have, write this post and be more present with how I’m feeling on an hour by hour basis. I don’t want stress to control my life, I don’t want to continue feeling overwhelmed by it (if that’s even possible – I think it is). Stress is a normal part of life and it can even be good for us, or so I keep reading. So I gotta figure out how to deal with it better. I’m hoping that the regular practice of asking these 2 questions is going to yield some better things. I’ll keep you posted.