I posted a couple of weeks ago about being overwhelmed and not knowing which sources of stress were worth the anxiety and which needed to be jettisoned.
And I have a few remedies to share, in case you, too, have those days when there is just too much to do. When you have to choose between blinking and breathing, try these:
1. Visit a wise relative. I spend a morning with my grandma and felt refreshed. At one point in a conversation about a neighbor, she said, “You know. the whirlwind of small children is a blink in the span of your life. It feels really big, but it’s just a blink.” She’s wrong, of course, because having small kids for ten years or so amounts to more than 10% of your adult life, no matter how long you live. But the fact that she remembered at her age how challenging the frenetic under-five set is, that she’s seen several generations go through that, and that she didn’t warn me about how much harder teens are all sufficiently reassured me. That people get through this. That it’s not as big as it feels. That things change, every day. And that someday all this 80mph will be a memory.
Perspective offers a long-lasting respite.
2. Meet a friend. In the past week I met, face to face, with four different people—by choice—whose company I enjoy. Drank coffee, watched laugh lines, marveled at grey hairs that weren’t there the last visit. It’s a rather impressive phase of life in which to have good friends you’ve known for a while. My friends are getting older, and in the process honing a more condensed version of the person I’ve always known. A lot of the chaff falls away in your 40s. My friends are ditching the bullshit. They’re glimpsing mortality and deciding what they want to do with their lives. They’re caring for older parents and they’re caring for kids. And they’re still smiling and listening to new music and seeing art exhibits and writing short stories. You can get information, but you can’t get full sensory pictures from email or phone calls or blogs. Go watch a friend’s face while they tell you a story. Really watch them. The process is compelling.
Friendship provides a salve.
3. Change your music. I am, by nature, a creature of ruts. Not just habits. Deep, well-worn grooves. I used to listen to a tape on a loop for weeks without cease. (Hey, that was fancy in my day…tape decks that offered continuous play changed my life. Don’t go on and on about your MP3 playlist. When things are important, you sit with the tape recorder by the radio and you push pause before you hit record and play so that when the song finally comes on the air you can catch it without the sudden sounds of stops and starts by just releasing the pause button. And then to play the whole thing on a loop? Technological nirvana.) I once went three months without changing the tape. That’s some serious dedication (and change aversion, but that’s another story for another post). I do it with foods, too: eat the same foods for weeks at a time until I can’t stand to see them anymore. But feeling panic at being overwhelmed and having too much to do and being paralyzed with stress does not benefit from ruts. Sometimes releasing the valve on the pressure means getting some air in there and shifting the contents. (Not, for heaven’s sake, like the scene in Just One of the Guys. Playlists don’t itch.)
Music informs mood and alters rhythms.
4. Change your food. As mentioned again, I default to habits. Pressed for time and energy, I tend to default to what’s worked before. The same veggies, the same fruit, the same protein courses over and over. Lentil-bulgur burgers. Scrambled eggs with cheese. Bean stew. Stir fry tofu and udon. Pasta. Burritos. Goat-cheese-flatbread rollups. Salad. Peanut butter on apples. Pancake sandwiches. Eggs and cheese in rice. Al prepared with kids fighting around me, as quickly as possible, with stress pressing me to move quickly, efficiently, and without genuine engagement.
So I went to the fancy grocery and found a few small ways to bring adventure to a process that was wearing me down.
I quickly cut and arranged the fruit on a plate. Then I made a typical dinner. And we had adventure night. We all sniffed and tasted the fruit, compared notes. We talked, we used our senses, and we spent at least five minutes present, aware, and engaged. Together. And ate our so-called boring, expected, normal dinner with a sense of newness.
Adventure engages all your senses.
Adding a knowing grandmother, several good friends, some new music, and dragonfruit to my week, I felt as though things had really changed. Spring cleaning for the rut of stress and fluster. I’ve begun to remember that life is pretty manageable. That we’re lucky and that it doesn’t take a week in the tropics to feel as though we’ve restarted. That sleep is important and so is art and writing and family and food and exercise. And that a little taste of each whenever I can get them is what my current reality. Little bites of adventure, little efforts at balancing and exploring and listening and smiling are exactly what will fit right now.
And that’s pretty adventurous for me.