I think I'll move to Australia.
November 22, 2011 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Stress is starting to hurt me. What can I do? How can I dramatically reduce stress in my life? And/or take a budget vacation?

So I have a lot of stress in my life.

I am late 20s. In graduate school (6 years through PhD grind, barely making any money). In the middle of a divorce. Abusive parents are dead, so am only family member who gives a shit/can provide any support for severely mentally ill and, as of 2 weeks ago, imprisoned sibling. I also have to move in the next month. With my pets. Also clinically depressed. Yes. Cool, right?

The latest wrinkle--imprisoned sibling debacle in the middle of divorce--is fucking crushing me, and I can tell because my body is falling apart. My skin is a mess, I am getting yeast infections for the first time EVER, I threw my back out, also for the first time ever, I'm exhausted all the time, and, probably understandably, depressed. And I'm so overburdened that even relatively minor irritants are sending me through the roof. I don't have any resilience left. What can I do to build it back up?

I am in therapy and on meds. I get regular massages. I am joining roller derby (!!!!) I know I should also just sort of hermit a little and force myself to eat scrupulously well and sleep on a regular schedule, though the depression makes that hard and adding "rules" just adds more stress.

So, ugh, what should I do? With a lot of "givens"--a low income, a fucked up family, some personal drama--how do I reduce stress in gentle ways that don't just add expectations and pressure? How do I climb out of this stress hole? What other kinds of things (like massage) could I add in?

Or, alternately, how can I afford a cheap, relaxing vacation for a couple weeks this winter? Preferably somewhere not cold?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You're currently enrolled in school - see what resources exist beyond talk therapy and meds. My U had cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, etc.

I'd suggest exercise as well.
posted by k8t at 5:22 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please tell us what country you're in and what part of that country so that we can suggest low-cost vacation spots.

Try walking for 30-40 minutes every day, great for tension relief. I went to a grad school that sat on top of a steep hill. Just walking up that hill most every day helped a lot. Swimming would also be good if there's a campus indoor pool. I know you're exhausted, but stress relief will give you more energy. Yoga might be helpful. Are you getting any sleep?

The jail thing, I've been through something similar, and the abusive parents. Feel free to memail me if you need a friend.
posted by mareli at 5:34 PM on November 22, 2011

Agree that exercise will help lift your mood immensely. Another way to heal yourself is to go organic and vegan, and supplement with B12. Also, how are you sleeping? Getting enough sleep is KEY.

If you're in the US, and y can find an inexpensive flight to South Beach, I highly recommend going. There are several uncommonly nice, dirt cheap hostels there, and you can make your own meals in the shared kitchens.
posted by devymetal at 5:36 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Water. Drink lots of it.

Alcohol. Avoid it. Any other recreational drugs, avoid, at least for the next few months.

Walking. Do it. Listen to librivox recordings of public domain stuff that's related to your field. Listen to music. Listen to books you've always meant to read.

Meditate. I downloaded a bunch from meditation oasis on iTunes.

Have another glass of water.

Partake in social interactions that you enjoy. Skip the ones that stress you out. Keep this in mind when derby starts. If its not fun, you have my permission to quit. You do not have my permission to beat yourself up about quitting. Check your health insurance. It may not cover injuries from a sport you know carries a risk of brain and bone damage. (they'll come up with any reason not to pay a claim. Just finding our that you joined derby would be enough for some ins companies to deny. And trust me, they look.)

Learn to paint your nails or make face masks or bath bombs or whatever girly pampering thing you love that costs a kazillion dollars to maintain. Stop if it's not fun. Go to Marshall's or Ross and buy a few pairs of silly panties. Also check out the bra section, if you're like most women, well, like me anyway, a fresh bra can do wonders for your outlook.

Light a candle while you eat your dinner. Or breakfast. Give your attention fully to as many meals as you can. Avoid eating in cars and study carrels and while walking.

Where's that water? Have some more.

Have regular progress meeting with advisors and professors.

Schedule regular study/writing/accountability time with other people in your program.

Finally, the hardest one. Feel the pain and stress of all of this completely for 20 minutes a day. Schedule it in. That time is inviolate, but it will also mean any time the stress comes up, tell yourself, "I am allowed to worry/hurt/be angry about this, but it's going to have to wait until [time] because right now I am enjoying my run/sacoring my dinner/getting ready to call my friend in Alaska."

Ok, for real finally. Cry. Have a great big snotty cry. Cry some more. Maybe give yourself an hour for that. Then, deep breaths, a hot (or cool) shower. Jammies. Cup of hot cocoa or whatever soothing ritual you want.

and if you decide south Florida sounds good? Let me know! I'll help you sort out some gun things to do.
posted by bilabial at 5:51 PM on November 22, 2011 [14 favorites]

See everyone else's thoughtful comments for good advice about addressing your challenging circumstances.

I have a "band-aid" to offer. When your stressed, or at any time really, stop and breathe. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and slowly in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Do it for at least 3 or 4 breaths. You may feel silly. I still do. It totally works though. You will relax, at least a little bit.

It's only a band-aid, but I hope it helps.

Also Australia is full of scary things that are trying to kill you. Don't move there!
posted by Wretch729 at 5:53 PM on November 22, 2011

How about meditating? By meditating I mean just closing your eyes and trying not to think, and instead "watching" your breath. That's it. You start to notice the content of your thoughts as they arise. For example: "I'm so stressed about my PhD", "I have no family", "that person betrayed me", all on repeat and competing for mind space. Just observe your thoughts as they arise and don't judge them as good or bad. Just let them be. And know that the thoughts aren't you. You are the observer. Once you can see the thoughts they start to untangle. And then they are easier to manage.
posted by rabbitfufu at 5:56 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
OH! Yes! U.S. West Coast. Northern California.

(And, yes, I am also in a therapy group.)
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:01 PM on November 22, 2011

Do you have experience with skating or roller derby? I just worry that it could be a bit much to add some injury to your understandably stressed life. I would recommend Yoga instead.
posted by quodlibet at 6:28 PM on November 22, 2011

Long, hot baths with a book are excellent for reducing stress. If you hold stress in your body/back/muscles, the warm water will help you physically relax.

Chaos has ruled your life for awhile; scheduling something nice for yourself once a week at the same time/on the same day will help soothe your nerves. Whether it's reading in bed with your favorite breakfast every Sunday or going to a matinee and eating popcorn by yourself on your day off, make it something you don't normally do that's inexpensive and doesn't make you feel guilty afterwards (i.e., not binge eating or drinking until you black out our buying a $1,000 worth of clothes every weekend).

Plan your vacation on the cheap by finding someplace amazing and inspiring in your price range on VRBO. If you want to fly instead of driving or whatever, I usually find good airfare deals on Hotwire.

Also, masturbate. It raises oxytocin levels in your blood and you get extra serotonin, dopamine, etc. These latter two things also are produced by exercise (you can also get an endorphin rush if you really kick your own ass good enough).

I gotta tell you, roller derby's pretty stressful. After being around it for two years and not actually even skating myself, I'd think twice if I was worried about breaking my leg and not having any close family to help me out with dealing with the physical stresses of the upcoming months.

Maybe you could postpone that until 6 months-a year from now? It would provide you with a good distraction, strong community, and physical activity (plus screaming fans/haters), so I can't say it's a bad idea. It might be too much for you at the moment, but it's obviously not up to me. Good luck with all this shit - when you're on the other side, you'll hopefully laugh about it all. I've dealt with something similar myself, and you've got my sympathies.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:52 PM on November 22, 2011

Yoga, exercise, regular sleep, regular sunshine. Also, if you are pressed for time, see if you can impose a fairly keepable routine. That will help you "budget" your time predictably.

I find recreational reading is one of the first things to go when I'm pressed for time, but it's still the best thing to break the cycle of hypervigilance and worry. Remember to make time to let your brain consume something it loves (fiction, music, movies, art, whatever).
posted by elizeh at 7:22 PM on November 22, 2011

just some ideas---

clear your schedule. anything not necessary, don't do it. it will clutter your day and make you stressed. sometimes i find when i overbook my schedule or get a bit too ambitious with my schedule i get stressed out. half the time i do my work half-assed and just takes more energy to re-do my mistakes.

balance. regarding what you eat, drink, and sleep. make sure your a lotting 6-7 hours for sleep and eating vegetables, proteins, etc. also taking vitamins. these seem like small things, but in the long run you will feel and look better which will help you with the other aspects of your life that you are trying to pull together.

exercise. try to take time out of your day to exercise. go for a short walk. or instead of taking the subway-- try walking. incorporate your exercise into your daily activities.

taking trip to get away would be good, but also make sure you tie up loose ends before heading out or else you might not actually relax. when trying to pick a location think about a place you can do a few activities but don't feel like if you don't get it all done that you missed out.

try to do something each day that makes you happy. sometimes for me that is just sitting on the internet and researching some weird country i'd like to visit someday. even just indulging in an ice cream cone.
posted by melizabeth at 7:32 PM on November 22, 2011

Summarizing from what people have said so far that's worked for me:
  1. Meditation - Meditation Oasis has a solid, free guided meditation podcast that makes it easy to get started.
  2. Exercise - Do something. Be active. Don't let the prospect of an exercise program cause you more stress. The FitBit is a good, unambiguous way to measure activity.
  3. Yoga - This basically combines #1 and #2. Stress takes a physical toll, and yoga helps you stretch that out.
The last bit I have is try one thing for 30 days. Just one thing (eg, got to bed at 9:30). Even if you know five things could make your situation better, pick one and do it for 30 days. Without exception.
posted by tenaciousd at 7:47 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can, get out into nature. It helps relax you, and there are lots of great nature-related things to do in Northern California. Hikes, beaches, etc. Is there anyone you could visit for a weekend just to get away?
posted by annsunny at 9:03 PM on November 22, 2011

I am in a ridiculously similar situation (and feel free to MeMail if you want to just talk about it), and the things that I have found, through about a year of trial and error, to work:

1) Eating in a way that makes my body feel nourished and fed well. Trying to eat "healthy" according to a systematic practice with strict rules, and depriving myself of things I both enjoy eating and nutrients my body needs to function well doesn't make me personally feel great. I sort of eat according to a systematic practice now because it makes me feel good to eat that way, but also don't follow it 100%, because I listen to myself when I want to eat an occasional cupcake or whatever.

2) Doing the kind of exercise that makes me feel like I'm doing something productive and healthy for my body and also having fun. For me, this is NOT yoga... yoga makes me feel stressed out because if I can't create any fucking inner peace like everyone else seems to be able to do, I feel like a failure (which is so helpful for depression, right?), so I have found what works for me is the all-out, exhausting, hard-working, high-intensity stuff that makes me feel like "WOW, I just did that!!" I tried roller derby too. :)

3) The one thing I'm strict and no-compromises about is therapy, 100% adherence, no excuses. Even if it is hard for me to scrape together the money, or if it's hard to spend the hour when I need to get some extra work done, blah blah blah, I don't let myself cancel my appointment, because I ALWAYS end up glad I went.

4) Spend time with people you genuinely enjoy being around. Don't force yourself to hang out with friends just because you think you're supposed to, or because it's a "healthy" thing to do. I was hanging out with these girls I couldn't stand because I was telling myself "well you can't isolate, you have to be social" but I didn't even like them, so it was torture. I started reserving my time for things that felt worthwhile, and that was a good move.

5) Sleep enough. Get yourself in bed early if you need to, stop with the caffeine if you need to, do the exhausting exercise if you need to, talk to your doctor if you need to. But get enough sleep.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:07 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Avoid ALL sugar. It wrecks your body and you mind doesn't work as well.

Tai Chi has done wonders for my relief from stress. Three days a week, an hour removed from the mundane. It's very good.
posted by anadem at 9:15 PM on November 22, 2011

ack you have so much to juggle right now - is there any friend you can ask for a bit of help - someone to come over for an afternoon to help you pack, or take care of your pets while you move. There are probably a bunch of things that would be no trouble at all for a non-stressed out person that feel overwhelming to you right now. Don't be afraid to ask for help, that's what friends do for each other.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:42 AM on November 23, 2011

also, the ultimate cheap vacation is the staycation. the trick to making this fun is to have the time off work and school, and to forbid youself from doing any work. plan a week at home that you don't set the alarm, don't expect things to get done around the house, and don't have any obligations to anyone but yourself. Stock up on your favourite foods, get bunch of awesome movies to watch, take long bubble baths, have friends over for wine and cheese, go for long relaxing walks. Spend some of the money you would have otherwise spent on airfare and buy yourself a nice present. Read books, paint your toenails. knit and listen to audiobooks. Give yourself permission to be a total lazy bum. I've done this and it's awesome.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:19 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

All good advice.

I've found that it's hard to be both mentally exhausted and physically exhausted at the same time. That's why exercising can be so helpful.

Meditation and exercise. But, also, is there a way for you to learn how you can extricate yourself from your sibling responsibilities or, at the very least, modify them? Surely, you're doing your sibling no good in the state you're in. Perhaps just temporary until you right yourself.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:18 AM on November 23, 2011

I know you've said you're on meds, but do you have something for immediate anxiety relief, like ativan or clonazepam? I used to only take the latter at night, but I've come under some major stress recently and (with the doc's advice) have been taking some during the day as needed. I have found this quite necessary to keep myself from having a complete breakdown and preserving my (physical) ability to just keep getting things done. As one example, I managed to stave off a cold this week and with a past history showing that stress leads to colds and colds and more colds, I think this had a hand in it.
posted by kitcat at 5:38 PM on November 23, 2011

I'm so sorry you're going through all this.

"I know I should also just sort of hermit a little and force myself to eat scrupulously well and sleep on a regular schedule, though the depression makes that hard and adding "rules" just adds more stress."

Try thinking of these things - eating well and sleeping well - as taking care of yourself. Whenever you have a free moment, and whenever you have a stressed moment, ask, "What can I do right now to take care of myself?"

When you think about developing the habits you need to get yourself well nourished and well rested, consider that as setting boundaries to make sure you get well taken care of. It's all too easy to put other people's needs first. Deciding that you WILL be in bed at 10 pm is less a rule that you need to stress out about breaking, and more a little fence around you, protecting you from the rest of the world that would happily have you stay up until 4 am dealing with everything other than taking care of you.

Good luck. [hug]
posted by kristi at 12:00 PM on November 24, 2011

The best budget vacation is a staycation. I work in a stressful job and while I treasure time off, I don't long for vacation trips because they are too stressful. I feel like I am simply transferring stress from work to stress about the trip! What can help is tackling something that is "on the list" that you just haven't had the time to do: repairing something, cleaning something, putting those old photos into something besides a box, clearing out a closet or a garage or an attic, purging unused items, finding a better way to store your shoes or jeans or whatever, etc. After doing one of them, I feel lighter for having addressed clutter or disorganization and feel empowered for having achieved a decluttering of even a pocket of my life. Those little things that are "on the list", for me anyway, sit on my radar waiting for attention and thus add to my stress even though I'm not really thinking about them. What clutters your environment can clutter your mind. Also what everyone said about exercise. The activity seems to encourage stress to move through and out of you rather than sitting in you wreaking havoc on your body. Good luck.
posted by Jezebella at 5:56 AM on November 25, 2011

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