It’s Not Me!
It’s not me, it’s Life.
I’m constantly trying to convince myself of this fallacy. Life is really stressful right now. I’ll bet my list of “life stressors” is longer than yours!
I breed stress. It’s how I roll.
I knew for sure, though, that I was in trouble as I sat at my desk this morning, acutely aware of just exactly what was going on around me.
The leaves are still falling in Portland. AND, the leaf blowers are still sounding. The noise. The incredible, unceasing, irritating, mind-numbing, grating, annoyingly repetitive sound of the leaf blower just about flipped my lid this morning, AS I was sitting at my computer reading the Whole9 Life’s article on the damages of stress. Despite my desire to pull out every last strand of hair on my head and scream, I laughed.
This article – this description – it’s me.
According to Wikipedia, Type A individuals are described as ambitious, aggressive, business-like, controlling, highly competitive, impatient, time-conscious, and tightly-wound. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving “workaholics” who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.
That doesn’t exactly paint us in a flattering light, does it? I promise, we’re generally more fun than Wikipedia would suggest. The problem is that under the right conditions, Type A drive can morph and grow into something else entirely – an actual stress addiction. And we mean that in the most literal sense of the word. Ask yourself…
- Are you always on tight deadlines, multi-tasking within an inch of your life or creating ridiculous schedules for yourself?
- Are you a perfectionist in everything you do, even when it doesn’t really matter?
- Are you an inattentive listener, checking email, paying bills or cleaning while on the phone?
- Are you constantly worrying about “what if,” stuck in an endless loop of dreaming up worst case scenarios?
- Do you rush everywhere, all the time, because there are other things elsewhere you should be doing?
- Have you lost all sense of patience, losing your cool when faced with even a minor telephone hold, appointment delay or grocery store line?
- Are you always saying, “Things will calm down soon,” but they never, ever do?
- Does the idea of a restorative yoga class, meditation or sitting quietly for 15 minutes make you want to crawl out of your skin?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of those questions… you may be a stress junkie. And if you don’t think “stress junkie” is a very real, very dangerous condition, think again.
A show of hands as to those of you who can relate…
I am intimately familiar with the Type AA lifestyle.
By the way, I am an extremely KIND AND CARING person as well. All of this stuff above, I internalize it ALL. I guess that makes this “stress junkie” ticking time bomb.
There’s hope for me yet.
So what’s a stress junkie to do? Telling one to “chill out” or “relax” is inane in this situation, given the addictive nature of the stress response. (It’s like telling an addict, “You know, you should just stop using.” How effective is that strategy?) Still, identifying habits and patterns and admitting you have a problem is the first step. So stop the 27 things you’re doing right now, take a deep breath and say it with me – “I am a stress junkie, and I have a problem.”
The trouble with identifying a strategy to break the stress addiction cycle is that there is no one-size-fits-all. We’re going to address a few different coping mechanisms here, but you’ll have to try them on for yourself to see what fits your personality and stress-style the best.
Identify your triggers, change your habits. Take time to figure out what precipitates stress in your life. (Ask family and friends to help you here, as you often aren’t a good judge of your own triggers.) If you know you jump into “stress mode” the second you turn on your computer or as soon as the kids get home from school, then change that routine. Take 30 minutes of quiet time to wake up and set the tone for the day before you power up. Create an after-school routine to help keep noise and chaos under control (or hire a babysitter for an hour a day to help you manage post-school homework and snacks).
Control and predictability – create a routine. Procrastination, multi-tasking and chasing your own tail self-perpetuates the stress cycle. Creating (and sticking to) a routine can to add some predictability to your day, and remove some opportunity for unexpected stress. Creating a normal bedtime and wake time can be an especially helpful routine, as it also ensures you’re getting enough sleep each night.
Exercise some, not too much. Low intensity exercise (like hiking or swimming) blunts the stress response for up to a day after each session – but it has to be something you want to do. (Forcing yourself to exercise only creates more stress.) Don’t overdo it – more is not better. Consider low to moderate intensity activities, as high intensity exercise may only be feeding your stress junkie tendencies. (In fact, high intensity activity may not be appropriate for you at all. For real.)
Don’t (purposely) fast. Deliberate caloric restriction and extended (or regular) fasting provokes a physical stress response, and only adds to your overall stress burden. Plus, taking the time to eat healthy meals on a regular basis ensures you’re stopping to care for yourself every few hours, which is a good thing. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking; emphasize protein, and include some starchy carbs like sweet potato or butternut squash. If you often “forget to eat,” set a timer to remind you – it’s that important.
Skip the coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant, and the last thing you need is more stimulation. Try backing off your daily dose, or taking a month-long caffeine holiday. This one is gonna hurt – but your adrenals will thank you.
Meditation – sort of. Studies show psychological benefits while someone is meditating – but those benefits don’t necessarily continue after the session is over. (Plus, the idea of jumping into an hour of meditation a day is probably unrealistic for you right now.) Start off with five minutes at a time, every hour on the hour. Force yourself to stop whatever you are doing and take a walk, get some water, eat something or just sit quietly. (Time it – don’t cheat yourself.) Physically removing yourself from your stress-cycle may inhibit the degree to which you wind yourself up.
Social support – try giving. The right network of friends or family can help you manage stress, but often the stress junkie simply won’t ask for help. So try giving – offering social support in a volunteer or charitable setting. Seeing your impact can be a powerful experience, and make you believe you do, in fact, have some control over life’s situations.
The E – R – C strategy. Make a list of stressors, and identify those you can Eliminate, those you could Reduce and those you must simply Cope with. Consider evaluating time, money and accepted obligations all at once; you may be able to eliminate or reduce more stress than you believed. (For example, if cleaning the house on your day off is a big stressor, consider revising your budget to hire a cleaning service. If you’ve accepted too many social requests, prioritize one or two that are the most important to you, and beg off the rest. They’ll forgive you, and you really can’t afford to take on any more right now.)
Practice the 80/20 rule. In the case of stress, take the 80/20 rule to mean that 80% of your stress reduction can be accomplished with the first 20% of effort. Taking the first step – admitting you have a problem, asking for help, starting a stress-reducing practice (anypractice) – can provide tremendous stress relief. So don’t wait until you’ve got the perfect stress-reducing strategy to start, and don’t wait until the next time you’re at a stress level 9 out of 10. Do something – anything – on a daily basis and see if you don’t feel better having at least taken a step in the right direction.
Get help. Sometimes, working through your situation with an impartial party is exactly what we need to put things into perspective. (And if you’re practicing your stress 80/20, the very act of making an appointment with a psychologist, a life coach or a professional organizer will make you feel better!)