Like some 40% of humans, I have an MTHFR gene mutation. This means, among other things, that when my stress response gets turned on I have really hard time turning it off. This means that I take my stress management very, very seriously. But sometimes the pressure from the outside gets to be too much. Like it did this last Friday when I was getting whiplash from the personal, professional, and social deadlines coming on top of the daily maintenance stuff and other responsibilities — like my brand new threenager. (If you pray, please throw one my way because threenagers are no joke.)
But I digress.
Stuff was a lot, and I was feeling really, really stressed. So I tried something different. I decided to just have faith in myself. I made a physical list so I wouldn’t have to try to hold all that stuff in my head, and then I just said, “I trust you.” And then every time I felt that familiar feeling of stress and being overwhelmed I would just repeat it to myself, “I trust you.” And you know what? It worked.
While this was a new tactic for me, it’s not a new concept. In psychology, they call this reframing, changing how you perceive something so your experience of it changes. When I was feeling overwhelmed with all the to-dos, it was because I approaching them from a place where I felt inadequate to do it all. But that feeling of inadequacy was a false one. In my nearly 4 decades, I have tackled some pretty nasty to-dos. This was not my first rodeo or even my biggest.
But it’s so easy to forget how very adequate we are. I see this in my clients (and in myself). We downplay our achievements, and we highlight all the ways we feel inadequate. So what if you flipped that script? What if you took a few minutes to see how far you have come, how much you have accomplished, and then just said, “I trust you?”
Warning: I’m going to talk about current events. If you are in a phase of your journey where you have more than enough on your plate with just waking up every day and have no desire to know whats going on in the world, stop reading here. You do your journey and don’t feel guilty for a minute. With a disease like Lupus, we all do the best we can. There are plenty of great blog post you can read on this site that will help you on your journey that don’t deal with the news.
Now for the rest of us: This weekend was an especially brutal one. The events in Charlottesville are deplorable and heartbreaking. Like you, I am angry and sad. After holding vigil by my phone all Saturday, I was in a pretty horrible place. I woke up feeling ill for the first time in a long time and, frankly, a little depressed.
Maybe this describes you this past weekend or maybe it’s some other horrible thing happening out there that takes you down. Whatever it is, I want to remind all of us (myself included) how to manage our reaction to the craziness of the world so we can protect our health. This is vital because we aren’t just women with chronic diseases, we are a citizen of the world and what happens in it affects us deeply. But, unfortunately, the world didn’t stop being crazy when we got our diagnosis, and worry and stress tend to exacerbate our symptoms.
These are the things I reminded myself that help me take care of myself while being a citizen of this world.
- Care and worry aren’t the same things. I give myself permission to care about the world and the people in it, but my worry doesn’t help anything. My worry doesn’t stop bombs, or change hearts, or rewrite history. My worry only hurts me; it compromises my physical and mental well-being. When I figured this out, I started saying this mantra when I find myself being consumed by worry over issues I can’t control: “I can care deeply, but this situation doesn’t need my worry.
- Act on your convictions. If you struggle to get out of bed every day you might be inclined to skip this step, but please don’t. When I say act on your convictions, it could mean go volunteer or go to a meeting to talk about the big issues and brainstorm solutions, or it could just mean pray or meditate. Smile at a stranger. Tell someone in your life how amazing you think they are. Action doesn’t have to be a big grand gesture, it just means to strike back against the ugly with love. Remember to direct that love as much inwardly as you do outwardly.
- Use your energy wisely. I woke up on Sunday feeling horrible because I spent my energy on worrying over Saturday. When you have dealt with or are dealing with fatigue (like the exhausted in your bones kind), you realize that energy is kind of like money. You don’t always have it. If you don’t spend it wisely, you can end up hurting. Spend your energy wisely, preferably on things that will increase your energy and help you heal.
- Get yourself to your community. A big part of taking care of yourself is finding and being apart of a community of uplifting people who support you and are worthy of your open heart. Maybe that means your local lupus support group and/or your church. Maybe it means an online community of people who share your love for knitting or Jane the Virgin. Thanks to the internet, community can be cultivated anywhere, it just takes action on your part to find it and show up.
The world is a broken place filled with broken people but it’s also a beautiful place filled with loving and caring people. Take care of yourself, your heart, and your mind.
During the Q & A section of a recent presentation, I was asked how I managed stress. I reviewed the information on the worksheets I’d been discussing, but I realized her question went deeper than simply “What do I do?” She was really asking, “How do you actually remember to use these tools?” Because stress management tools are only helpful if you use them, I make it a point to cultivate tools that are as practical as they are effective. Here are my simple tips to work life and health affirming habits into your day.
To get some of these tools for yourself you can get instant access to my free stress workshop here.
- Step one, pick tools that you can actually do. I would love to manage my stress by getting massages or spending an hour in a sensory deprivation tank, but ain’t nobody got time for that! I do, however, have a few minutes every day to do some breathing exercises. If you need more stress tools you can get instant access to one of my most popular workshops on stress management right here.
- Step two, schedule it. I did not go from being fueled by stress to effectively managing my stress because I had some tools. I had to plan when and how I was going to do things. I created intentions before I went to bed and ran through those intentions when I woke up. I put things on my calendar and scheduled my work/life around them. Using tools to address my stress did not come naturally, so I had to be very intentional.
- Step three, I started “taking a second.” In the past, I would encounter a stressful moment at work or at the dinner table or wherever, and it would just rule the day. But then I started allowing myself the space to ask, “What’s the alternative here?” For example, I would be sitting at dinner with both of my kids refusing to eat the beautiful and nutritious meal I just made, and I would think, “What’s the alternative to all this? I have expectations that aren’t being met, so I can either dig in and let stress rule the situation or I could do something like take a mommy time-out and do one of my stress management techniques.” When I took those moments to calm my stress response, I was able to view the situation more clearly and with more empathy.
At the end of the day, it boils down to being intentional and strategic. You know what your day looks like or the resources you have at your disposal, so seek solutions that work within your constraints. The transformation from stressed-out Carrie to the person I am today didn’t happen overnight, but the more intentional I was about addressing my stress (and the way I ate, moved, and thought about my body) the easier those things fell into my life and the more natural they became.
I hope this helps you find and use the tools that work for you. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
The other day I had the privilege to see an acting troupe perform plays written by my kid and her classmates. It was awesome! But it was also on a Friday afternoon in the cafeteria with about 200 kids who were ready for the weekend. To say the energy was up would be an understatement. The teachers and the performers did a great job of keeping the kids quiet, but one really exciting moment on stage was just more than these kids could handle.
Remember how loud it could get during an assembly when you were a kid? I was having major flashbacks!
But then one fabulous teacher got their attention and started counting out the breaths. Breathe in for four, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight. Two rounds later the energy had shifted! I knew this worked for me and for the adults (like the teachers I taught it to) and my own kids in a one-on-one situation, but I was floored by how immediate and effective this breathing exercise was for some 200 kids with weekend-fever.
If I hadn’t already been sold on 4-7-8 breathing as an effective tool to immediately reduce your stress and get focused, I would have been in that moment. All these kids brimming with energy and feeding off of each other were able to calm down and get centered in less than a minute! When they took those deep, intentional breaths, they were telling their brains (which told their bodies), “Everything is cool; you can relax.” When their bodies received the message, they turned off the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and engaged the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
And you can do that too. Feeling too scattered to write that to do list or just get after it? Feeling overwhelmed by stress? Can’t sleep because your mind is racing? Take less than a minute and breathe in for 4, hold for 7, and breathe out for 8. Do this for two to three rounds, and you will send your body the relaxation signals it needs to calm down and focus on the task at hand.
Check out my video for a guided practice and let me know how it worked for you in the comments below.
Until next time,
Before I became a health coach, I was a policy lady. I went to policy school because I wanted to help right some of the injustices of the world. I still do, but I’ve changed my approach a bit. However, coming from this background, you might imagine that, like many of you, the last few months have been pretty stressful. In that spirit, I want to dive into how you can manage your stress even if you can’t do anything about what is causing the stress.
First, our body’s stress response is very important. It keeps us alive by diverting our blood where it needs to go in the event that we need to fly or fight. Think about being chased by a bear or lion, you definitely need to run away or fight it off if you are going to survive. But when we are constantly under stress, it can harm our health by causing us to store fat around our organs and by creating inflammation. But it’s more than that. It can rob us of joy, and it just feels really horrible.
But what do you do when the thing or things that are causing you stress are out of your hands? Here are my tips:
- Get as much trustworthy information as you can. My tactic is to stay away from any news outlet that needs you to watch or click ads because those sources tend to sensationalize things.
- Create a plan to act on that information if needed. You don’t have to do everything, but pick a thing and do it.
- Disengage from social media. Social media can be fun, but it can also be full of inaccurate information that can cause a lot of fear and panic. And you have no control over what you are going to see. While you are scrolling through pictures of cute kids or puppies, you get smacked by hateful or scary memes. Back away from your devices for a few hours or even a few days to give yourself a rest. I hear the world outside is pretty beautiful.
- Hang out with people who lift you up. Share your concerns, your fears, and then listen to theirs. Sharing our concerns helps us feel like we aren’t alone.
- Take care of yourself. This isn’t a time to fall off the wagon. In fact, it’s a great time to up your health game. Exercise to reduces stress hormones and lower inflammation and eat those vegetables, fresh and fermented, to keep that brain-gut connection well-fed.
- Implement stress management techniques into your day.
- Breathe. A solid breathing practice is one of the fastest ways to calm your stress hormones.
- Practice gratitude. This means taking a few minutes to write down or meditate on a few things you are grateful for. This not only anchors you in the present, but it also has been shown to reduce inflammation.
- Meditation. Meditation is a powerful tool, but it’s basically just giving your brain a break from all those thoughts going through your head. Simply get comfortable in a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. You can do this by slowly counting as you breathe in and out. When I meditate, I like to count to 10 and then start again as I breathe slowly in and out. During this time, my mind might start to wonder so I just bring it back to my breath. There are loads of guided meditations out there. I really like the Headspace app (paid) or this resource from UCLA for free guided meditations.
I hope this help you and that you will make it a priority to take care of yourself, no matter what storm you are weathering.