Keeping a dozen balls in the air.
August 28, 2012 2:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm the middle of some very stressful life-events... What can I do to keep my stress levels down and my temper in check? My strategy for previous stressful situations is just accepting the stress and the misery and knowing it will pass. Does anyone have any ideas on how to counteract the misery?

So I've got some big things going on in my life at the moment/in the near future:
- moving
- family visit
- upcoming holiday
- busy season at work

I'm excited about most of these things, but there's so much micromanaging to do that I'm also sort of freaking out - getting insomnia, forgetting to eat, losing my temper (this is a Thing with me), etc. Luckily I have not yet started hitting the pints of Haagen Dazs but it feels like only a matter of time. I am kind of a control freak, a perfectionist, AND a procrastinator - terrible traits which come to fore at times like these.

In previous stressful situations I have basically accepted that I am going to be super-stressed for a given amount of time and self-medicated with comedy - not an option this time around as I simply won't have the time.

I want to be able to enjoy the family visit and the excitement of the move, not freak out about them. Does anyone have any tips? I have a regular lifestyle: assume I eat well (unless I forget), I exercise (when I have time), I sleep regular hours (unless I get insomnia), I journal and also pray/meditate.

Thanks, guys.
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a pet, go snuggle it.

If not, I recommend kittens. On the Internet.
posted by spunweb at 2:16 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have anything in the way of a commute then perhaps podcasts are the answer? Or radio shows? Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy is quite good, even if you tried the book/film and didn't like it (I didn't)
posted by purplemonkeydishwasher at 3:18 AM on August 28, 2012

Hard exercise, like sprints. Not a "when I have time thing," an actual "I do this because it's so helpful that it's worth the time thing.". A set of sprints really doesn't take long. You can warm up in ten minutes, sprint yourself into the ground over the next ten.
posted by OmieWise at 4:12 AM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Exercise is what keeps me sane. I find when I don't workout, I tend to start to get depressed and stressed. It lets you know that you can at least do something. Second to exercise, doing and achieving something simple can help. When everything is going wrong, just do the easiest thing and you are one step closer to where you want to be. I'm talking very easy, like vacuum or wash your car. It again lets you know that you are awesome and can do something. That's what I've found to be most helpful in these kinds of situations.
posted by neveroddoreven at 4:23 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Make more time for exercise. Seriously. The effects of an intense workout cannot be understated. As long as your health allows for it I would make a point of getting a big workout in most every day.

(FWIW, I suffer from depression but meds only get me half of the way. I rely on regular intense workouts to bring me the rest of the way and keep me mentally healthy. If I miss my workout more than 2 days in a row my mood starts to kick out and the sadness, stress, and anxiety come back fairly quickly.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:31 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am coming to say that hard exercise has been helpful but it's also good to go to a place where you can just cry it all out. My SO has had a lot of help from occasional reiki sessions. I should note that the tears flowed into her ears because she had to lie on her back, so YMMV.
posted by parmanparman at 5:01 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recollect reading that one of the benefits that many fans of hard rockin' music receive is emotional catharsis.

I don't know about the academic rigor of this conclusion, but it certainly jibes with my own experiences, which predated my awareness of the above assertion. When I was working twelve-hour shifts at a gnarly industrial plant I would listen to the Clash or something like that at high volume during transit and it seemed to give me a lift.
posted by mr. digits at 5:17 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing exercise. Also meditation, even if it's just for 5 minutes a day. If you like to write or draw, you might try journaling too.
posted by Shoggoth at 5:23 AM on August 28, 2012

Wow, I am sorry you have so many things on your plate at once.

The first suggestion that popped into my head was to-do lists. I have some trouble keeping organized, and I have found that creating to do lists makes a huge difference in my life. I usually do a weekly and a long-term one, but I have also done task based to do lists as well. The nice thing about having to do lists is when you have some free time, you can try to do something off of your list. If you find yourself getting stressed out as you are headed to bed, I suggest making your to do lists then. I find that having everything written down really helps to de-stress me. And don't forget that you probably will overload your to do list-- you probably won't get everything done in the time you expected. I have been doing to do lists on and off for years and I still have weeks where I don't get much done. However, I would suggest prioritizing one or two things that you HAVE to get done within that time frame. That way you are making sure you are getting the most important things done first.

My second suggestion is to review your progress as success instead of beating up on yourself for how much you haven't done. You have a lot on your plate, and its going to take time to get through these things. Also, when you make mistakes, use that as an opportunity to learn and to improve. You are going to make mistakes; use it to try and do better next time.

Third is delegate. You have tasks ahead of you that you can ask family and friends to help you out with. For example, what about asking someone to go pick up some boxes for you? Or hire someone to do all of your moving for you?
posted by emilynoa at 5:26 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this me? I am also up against those four things. I find lists, and ticking things off them, enormously helpful. Especially self-care stuff like going to the dentist and easy things like 'take books for donation to the donation box'.

Do you have a firm date for the move? Do you find deadlines spur you into action, even if you are usually a procrastinator?

At extremely busy times, I put my mealtimes into my calendar. It has to be checked off just like any other meeting or commitment.
posted by wingless_angel at 5:41 AM on August 28, 2012

You have to make time to eat properly. Hire a grocery or meal delivery service if you have to, but get yourself enough consistent veg & protein that you can keep going. Yoghurt, carrot sticks, avocados, peanut butter on celery, almonds.

5-10 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation is also really really good for keeping your focus on the other stuff when you're doing the other stuff. Here's a simple & straightforward technique described. Repetitive exercise like running, biking or swimming can also be the meditative time.

Triage your lists - accept that maybe there at things you want to do that you don't have time for. Hire a cleaning service before the family visit, don't pre-research your holiday. FOOD & EXERCISE are not those things. :)
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:06 AM on August 28, 2012

I'm all about project management and time-tables.

Take an hour or so and write down EVERYTHING that needs to be done. Brainstorm it. Everything from organizing when the movers will arrive to what to pack in the clothes basket in the back seat of the car as you drive to your new home.

Plan to have everything done at least one day prior to any deadline.

Write down each item on an index card. Now organize the cards so that the order makes sense.

On each card write the date/time the item needs to be accomplished.

As you achieve each item, you can write on the card the date and time it was completed. File the cards, or toss them. But revel in the fact that you're ahead of schedule.

This will give you a handle on what needs to be done, but also a tracking mechanism for knowing that you're on target for completing everything on time.


Allow your family to cook, or take you out during their visit. (Pot, meet kettle.)

Let others in your family help with certain tasks (this can be dodgy, my Dad once packed a box of old newspapers, they were for wrapping other items for packing...yes, we still give him shit for it.)

Pamper yourself during the craziness. If you're working late hours, be sure someone else is covering dinner. Plan for a massage or manicure or just an hour a day to sit and do nothing.

Pack the kitchen and use paper and plastic until you unpack at your new home. The kitchen takes the most time and everyone underestimates how long it will take to pack it. Also, because it's used until the last minute, it's the last thing to get done. Save yourself the trouble, do it early and survive on (Healthy) take out until you move.

If you have the money, hire people to do stuff for you. College Hunks can do your packing, Merry Maids can do the move-out cleaning as well as your pre-company cleaning. The idea is to get as much of this off of your plate and move it onto someone else's.

The best move is the one where all the boxes are in the garage and all the guys have to do is come in, load the truck and unload at your new home. You have hired movers, right?

When it's all over, take two days off and go to a resort where you can get spa services, sit by the pool and have cocktails brought to you hourly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:17 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that meditation can be hard to add (as a new practice) in the middle of the tornado when you need it most. I find that a recording of either guided meditation, which gently prods you through relaxation and breathing, or hypnosis for relaxation or sleep, can really help at the end of the day. I find that no matter how wound up I am I rarely get to the end of the cd awake.
posted by InkaLomax at 6:36 AM on August 28, 2012

Since you already meditate, make sure you are including "micro-meditation" practices that help you ride out habitual emotional/stress responses in your daily life. When I feel myself starting to stress about things, I try to a more detached, mindfully aware stance toward what's going on: yes, there are objective difficult things going on; yes, when I think about that my response is anxiety, tightness in the chest, etc., and then acknowledging that response and not suppressing it but letting be while letting it go. Observing the emotion, relaxing the body.

Combine this with meditation practices that look at the root of suffering, and you can cultivate a state of mind that can face difficult situations without experiencing them as "miserable."
posted by drlith at 6:41 AM on August 28, 2012

I sing myself hoarse in the car.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:49 AM on August 28, 2012

As a crazed perfectionist/control freak who moved house, in a new country while family visited from back home and then my mother almost died while here and ended up in hospital all in a two week period recently I offer the following advice. Just do the job in front of you.

When you are doing something just do that thing, if you are at work, you are just concentrating on work. If you are packing you are concentrating on just packing etc. Worrying about all the other things you should/could be doing at the same time will just make it all seem too hard. When you are feeling overwhelmed, just ask yourself what needs to be done right now, and then just do that one thing.
posted by wwax at 8:02 AM on August 28, 2012

For micro medicating with comedy, go to a thrift store and pick up some extremely cheap, extremely silly/outrageous t-shirts to wear while packing, working out, etc. It is good for your mood and a good conversation-starter for pleasant, feel-good (not heavy) types of social interactions. Bonus points if you wouldn't normally dress this way.

The best one I wore this year (that someone tried to buy off my back): Tweety bird on the front holding an electric plug, Sylvester on the back lit up by electric shock. After everyone gushed about the sweet bird on the front, I would tell them I was just as sweet as Tweety and then show the back of the shirt. Some people died laughing. (Though this was actually not a t-shirt, it was a sweat shirt.)

For the temper, take some pointers from the "to do list" type suggestions above. Anger is an emotional call to action and desire to control or fix something gone wrong. Deciding what constructive thing I can do about blah is the best antidote I know for anger. It is okay if it is not the optimal solution you wish you could implement, but it has to be some sort if action. Otherwise, I tend to stew and get more reactive.
posted by Michele in California at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my life gets complicated, I start putting things in my phone in more and more detail. You mention you're eating well and exercising, but you also say "I have not yet started hitting the pints of Haagen Dazs but it feels like only a matter of time," which is a position I can completely empathize with. So: take an hour and schedule all the important things that you know help keep you sane, but which have a tendency to slip when you get stressed out.

On a typical non-stressed day, I have an alarm that gets me up, one that tells me to go to bed, and a calendar appointment with what I'm cooking for dinner that night. As I get more stressed, I break these things down even further: I might have a calendar appointment that tells me to get the meat out of the freezer the night before, or reminds me to clear off and wipe down the counters so that I can cook, or that tells me to make sure the yellow pot is clean for the stew I'm making. I might put in calendar appointments for what I'm having for lunch that day, or even plan out all three meals for every day. I'll schedule my weekly chores, even my daily chores; I add a second "get ready for bed" alarm half an hour before the "go to bed" alarm so I don't wind up mindlessly refreshing Metafilter at 1 AM while snoozing the "go to bed" alarm for the umpteenth time. I schedule my workouts.

Basically, I'm outsourcing as much of my executive function as possible to my phone. After a while I have kind of an unpleasant Pavlovian guilt reaction to the Marimba ringtone, but it helps keep me on track.
posted by KathrynT at 10:03 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

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