I can't be nice one more time.
July 13, 2016 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I am stretched super thin and don't have any more patience or tolerance for people. Help me not start screaming.

I am usually a nice, kind, friendly person. I can't handle one more single interaction. I can't handle one more single frustration. I can't be nice to anyone right now. I am out of niceness.

Obviously, I can't be out of niceness, and I have to deal with frustration. I am in a hugely stressful work environment; I am almost at the end; I'm not at the end for another few weeks.

My stressful work environment means I have been living in a hotel for months. I am eating as healthily as I can and working out when I can.

I cannot handle this stress anymore. I'm done. But I can't be done. But I'm also going to just start screaming incoherently the next time anyone asks me a question. I need to not do that. Your advice appreciated.
posted by quadrilaterals to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 117 users marked this as a favorite
Is therapy an option for you? This seems to be a little more intense than what, say, meditation and mindfulness tricks are designed to accomplish.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:58 PM on July 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: 1. Work out more. Make it easy and brainless to get motion. Go buy a jump rope or have one sent to you and jump rope (or do jumping jacks) twice a day or more. I have literally done jumping jacks on a sidewalk outside a restaurant in Salt Lake City (because I was losing it and didn't have the patience to wait for my order to arrive) and airports. Do 25 or 50 jumping jacks. That will help and you don't need a gym. Or find stairs in your building. Etc.

2. Temperature extremes can help regulate mood. So hot/warm showers and baths can help you with your frustration, as can ice packs wrapped in cloth placed against a muscle area (not your belly or vital organs). I usually put one against the back of my neck or against a thigh for 2 to 5 minutes.

3. If you haven't made a calming playlist yet, make a calming playlist or an upbeat playlist or whatever kind of music makes you feel calm or upbeat or capable.

4. The stuff above works for me; they are self-soothing techniques I learn from a DBT group. Here's a link to additional techniques that may be useful for tolerating distress.

5. You do't have to handle this stress for several more weeks. You just have to handle it for one second at a time. That may sound stupid but being mindful of what is happening right this second can pull you out of your fear over coping with the stress of the next several weeks and make the situation more manageable. Sometimes when I'm stuck in my head I will look around and start describing, in my head, 10 things I see. To pull me back into my body and out of my stress or anxiety.

6. You are allowed to take care of yourself, right? So is there a place at work where you can go for 10 minutes each hour to just be and take no more questions? To revive yourself? Or walk around the building once an hour? Or block time on your calendar for 5 mins of meditation or whatever will pull you through this?

7. You can do hard things. You have done hard things before and you are doing a hard thing now. Give yourself credit for how hard this is. Acknowledge your desire that you want this to be over, even though it's not over yet. Give yourself mini-visualisation vacations, imagining yourself in a safe and beautiful place. And promise yourself a meaningful reward after this is over.

8. Consider deflecting when you are super stressed by saying, "I can't answer that question right now. I'll get back to you (in 30 minutes, tomorrow, whatever)." Or saying, "Check with X. I'll be busy between now and the end of the day, so I'm asking X to answered questions about Y."

9. Escapism! Cat videos, podcasts, dark humour, whatever. Take little breaks as needed to deal with your stress. Text snarky comments to friends if that helps.

None of this may be helpful. I don't know what you can or cannot do to take care of yourself. Just want to say that as individuals we often forget how much power we actually have to take care of ourselves. I'm not trying to victim-blame, I just mean that employers brainwash people (well, me at least) into saying yes to too often. Like, way too often. But it turns out that if we say no strategically, that no can protect us when we most need it. So YMMV, you may have virtually no control over anything. But maybe you do. So wish this project were easier. It sounds really hard. Hang in there!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:35 PM on July 13, 2016 [50 favorites]

You might want to practice saying as you fend people off - "I've got a big work deadline. Call me in August." It puts across the warming illusion that you would like to see them, or are willing to deal with them... eventually. Just not now.
posted by puddledork at 5:38 PM on July 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Can you take a day off and have a long weekend at home? You are stressed to the point of feeling physically unwell (your mind is part of your physical body). Your brain has been operating under high-stress conditions for too long and you've re-wired your brain for stress; you need to allow your brain time to re-wire it for normal conditions. You need to recuperate and heal.

Also, is it possible that you can approach this functionally, and just ask for help? Whether you like it or not, you've apparently reached a point where you responsibilities (which I assume include Making Nice) are too difficult. For the success of the project, you may need to offload something, or re-set expectations for your client.

In the meantime, I have a few mental tricks I use when I feel like this:

Mantras: "The fastest way out is through" and "Done is better than perfect."
Considering Quitting: When something makes me feel shitty, I like to consider whether it actually does make sense for me to quit it. Give it an honest think-through, pros and cons. If it doesn't make sense for me to quit, then I remind myself "I'm choosing this because this is the right choice for me, even if it's the harder choice. If things change tomorrow, I can make a different choice." Basically I try to remind myself that I'm on the right path. Most of the time it doesn't make sense to quit. However, sometimes it does, and goddamn is that its own kind of freedom! I one time quit a job and then ultimately decided I couldn't even work the full 2 weeks... not objectively a great choice, but WOW was that was the right choice for me, no regrets at all! And for the rest of my normal circumstances, I've reminded myself that I'm not some Corporate Drone Slave, but that I have a rational mind and I'm using it to make good decisions for me, even if it feels sucky.

Source: moderately successful anxious person who has consistently performed under high-stress jobs (except for that one thing with the 2 weeks notice, but, welp, there you go)
posted by samthemander at 5:39 PM on July 13, 2016 [17 favorites]

I feel your pain, I'm in a similar situation. I find it very relaxing to fall asleep to reruns of old TV shows I used to watch when I was younger. For me, this is usually Law & Order, Columbo, Matlock and Murder She Wrote.

Can you stream Netflix or Amazon Prime on your laptop, or use a Chromecast with your hotel TV?
posted by invisible ink at 5:42 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When this has happened to me in the past (not exactly, more short term intense stress like for a week, not months) what works to sort of snap me out of it is doing something that makes me feel like part of a crowd.

So, a concert with high energy or maybe a sing-along portion, dancing in a club, a sports event with lots of action and cheering and chanting. Follow this with a period of rest, no tv or entertainment just instrumental music if you must, a long bathing ritual with moisturizing and nice smelling soap and shampoo, lying on the bed in soft clothes.

The next day it feels (for me, anyway) like I've rejoined humanity so I don't want to bite off the heads of other humans.

Then you have to build in two little chunks of you-time a day until it's over.

Chunk one is variable in time, but you have to spend at least five minutes reminding yourself why you are doing the horribly stressful thing. If it is an event, you need to get down to the floor and be part of the event, see the good time other people are enjoying that you did. If it's a project off in the future, read articles and look at pictures and think in a focused way about how good and worthy all the hard work everyone on this project is doing will be when it is completed. Renew your motivation any way you can, every single day.

Chunk two is fifteen minutes of absolute no communication no speaking just you existing. Preferably in the middle of your workday but in some kind of pleasant space. Is there a park nearby, or somewhere with a nice view? Maybe a library with a beautiful interior, or a little spot inside an office building with art or plants or a fountain or something. Build this time in to your schedule. Maybe before or after lunch, or if you really have to in the morning before you go anywhere. Treat it like a meeting with someone important on your schedule. Turn off your phone. Just know that for the next fifteen minutes nobody will talk to you and nobody needs anything from you. Maybe have some tea or a fancy yummy coffee drink, sip it slowly. Don't let anybody, including yourself, feel crappy about scheduling this in. You need it to function.
posted by Mizu at 5:49 PM on July 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

Man, I know that feeling. For me it's usually a sign of introvert exhaustion or whatever you want to call it, and what I need is time where my brain can rest and not feel like it has to pay attention to other people and take care of them.

So reduce as much as possible human contact, if possible take breaks and eat meals away from people you know, tell people you're fighting off a cold or whatever if you need to beg off work related social obligations without making it a big deal.

Wear headphones if you are in public in situations where strangers might get chatty.

If you're in a routine - hotel, work, hotel - try and go somewhere new but that isn't too demanding. Take your coffee and sit on a bench near some outdoor space, take a bus ride to a part of the city you haven't seen, eat in a restaurant that is very different from wherever you've been going, go see a non stressful movie.

Definitely get a massage. Or maybe find a spa and sit in a hot sauna. And if you have a decent tub, hot baths.

Adapt to whatever your preferred self care methods are.

When you're feeling a little better, maybe see if you can care a little less? Not to say, be careless, but see if you can get just a little distance from the emotional aspects of success/failure/perfection/etc. of the demands you're currently under. And not in an angry way, but in a buddhist, non-attachment way.
posted by pennypiper at 5:51 PM on July 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

For me, "I am so frustrated I am about to snap" has proven to be a selenium deficiency. Brazil nuts are crazy high in it.
posted by Michele in California at 6:06 PM on July 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a mantra that's worked really well for me when I can't cope: Improve, Appreciate, Connect, Protect.

Doing anything that fits into one of those categories is replenishing--shores up yourself as a person who has value, is capable. Those actions don't have to relate in any way to your stressors. Improve anything: put on socks if you're chilly, take out the trash, straighten the books in your bookshelf. Appreciate anything: the light through the window, your best friend's sense of humor, your lovely collarbones. Connect with anyone: send a text to a friend, call your aunt, make a Facebook comment, have dinner with a buddy. Protect anyone: your pet from fleas, your coworkers from a grumpy outburst, your garden from weeds.

I find it a valuable lifeline when I'm really out of coping options.

Sorry to hear you're in such a tough spot.
posted by Sublimity at 6:30 PM on July 13, 2016 [130 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, the last time I was in your shoes, I locked myself in the large single-stall bathroom of a nearly-deserted restaurant, made sure to not have my phone on me, took off all my clothes, and just sat there. It was such. a. relief. to know for certain that no one knew where I was, no one could ask anything of me, no one could comment on anything I was doing. I must have spent at least an hour in that bathroom, sitting naked on the floor on top of my pants, doing nothing but luxuriating in the silence. It was so incredibly restorative.

Lots of places could serve this purpose: your hotel room, your hotel bathroom, a different hotel's bathroom (I list bathrooms especially because they are one of the last remaining places where you have complete privacy and it's a strong social taboo to say anything while you're in a stall), a park, a dense grove of trees, a hundred yards off a hiking trail, a beach at night, a rooftop, a fire escape, a cafe without table service, a car if you have one...

I did it for an hour, but you could even take an entire mental health day to do this. Call out sick, fake an emergency, just say straight up "I need a rest day if you want me to keep going on this job," whatever it takes. This is absolutely a physical need that your body requires.

In the meantime, it may also help to find a mantra/statement that makes sense to you and can get you through the rest of the ordeal. Ones I've used in stressful times are "I will do XYZ, but that doesn't mean I have to like it" and "Right now I am doing XYZ, everything else is not a priority" (with the understanding that there is a specific time/date when the regular priorities will resume). You can adapt one of those if it resonates with you, or make your own.

I've heard lots of folks say that a big ol' calendar where you cross out each day with a fat black X can be helpful - visual progress! And you can couple that with the idea that you don't need to focus on your to-do list, or your big long-term goals, or what your boss wants, or the difficulties of prolonged hotel living, or any of that - the only thing you need to do is keep the X's going on the calendar. You've come this far, you don't want to break your streak now, do you? All you have to do is keep the X's going.

I hear you. It's so hard, especially when you're stretched so thin that it might feel there's no 'you' left anymore. The 'you' is there, buried underneath all that stress, it just needs some TLC. My hope is that after you take some time for yourself, you'll feel a little less like an obligation-fulfilling robot and a little more like a human with your own wants, needs, and feelings. At that point you can reevaluate and figure out what some reasonable next steps might be.
posted by danceswithlight at 6:52 PM on July 13, 2016 [13 favorites]

Been there!

1. As someone else said, get as much "alone time" as you can possibly manage under the circumstances.
2. When you're not working (I don't know if this is doable if you work in the hotel you're living in?), make a rule to not think about work.
3. When you are about to snap in that moment, remind yourself, "This is going to have a whooooole lotta worse consequences on me in life if I snap right now. I am only gonna make it worse on myself if I say what I want to right now."
4. I remind myself that my job is designed to have everyone encroach on me even thouglh I don't want them to, I have to be welcoming and super friendly (through gritted teeth if necessary), and right now, I can't say no even though I want to right now. I have to accept that the avalanche of stress is going to be falling on me. I can't stop it, and thinking that I can stop it (by saying no, or stop, or shut up, or go away, whatever) is again, only going to make things worse. I have to remind myself in the worst moments that I have to take this, and it's putting my life and livelihood at risk right now to act out on my wah-wah feelings in the next five seconds.
5. As Kimmy Schmidt said, you can bear it for ten seconds at a time...then another ten seconds, and another ten seconds.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:03 PM on July 13, 2016

Best answer: I've been in a really similar situation while I finish my thesis for the last few weeks/months. I reach massive irritation and anger so much more quickly than usual and I get angry about being angry and so on.

First, I've found one of the biggest things giving me stress was lack of control and there's a lot of studies showing that feeling like you have no control over decisions and success in your life is one of the biggest causes of unhappiness. Living in a hotel means that your stuff isn't really where you want it, you don't have your usual choices for food, your time might be scheduled in a way that's mostly based on other people. Can you make your hotel room more yours, at least for now? Put clothes away, maybe temporarily hang a printout of something you like on the wall, rearrange the table? Pick a meal that you get to eat exactly the way you want to, everyday. Alone, only with people you like, at a specific restaurant, a specific type of food from the grocery store but in a park, etc. Just find part of your day that you can control and protect them from infringement by other people even if it feels rude.

And secondly, there is a space between friendly/kind/nice and raging frustration. You can be the bare minimum of polite to survive and not put any more energy into it. It's okay. When you're not totally frustrated, pick the things that you can stop doing without long-term consequences, so that it might feel rude but it's not offensive. Like, you have to get done these specific tasks today, but you don't have to make small talk and you don't have to go out for drinks after, or whatever is superfluous.
posted by raeka at 7:04 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Like danceswithlight, I have a suggestion involving bathrooms. When I'm in an intense, stressful work environment, every time I go to the bathroom, I allow myself not to think about work. I sit on the toilet a few extra minutes and just breathe. Just breathe and not think. Usually I also congratulate myself for making it this far through the day.

Unlike danceswithlight, I don't get totally naked, but you do you.
posted by mcduff at 7:24 PM on July 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

If your hotel has a pool, use it. Especially if you can figure out a quiet time of day. Something about being in the water - maybe the temperature extremes mentioned above - is incredibly calming for me.

If you can take sick or vacation time, take it.

I'm sorry you're having a rough time. I hope things get better for you soon.
posted by bunderful at 7:32 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not healthy long-term, but can you dissociate a bit? Like, literally pretend to be a service-performing robot made of meat, and, if you can cope with this level of emotion, derive a small amount of satisfaction from the extent to which nobody can tell the difference. Poor meat robot, needing to do all those difficult things while you curl up inside and watch it explain yet again how to try restarting the computer. It's gotten me through frustration before. Alternatively, if there is any work buddy who can absorb any of the emotion for you, walking past them while smiling brightly and saying "the niceness factory is closed! The villagers say the drought of fucks will last for months! Isn't that a SHAME" can be cathartic and, if not super-professional, at least less unprofessional than completely falling apart.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:44 PM on July 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

When I was in a similar situation I found yoga extremely helpful. I got up 30 minutes early and did yoga on a bath towel on the floor of my hotel room. I used a yoga for beginners by Rodney Yee workout video from YouTube (that's power yoga but that or a different type may suit you). It really kept me calm enough to face the day and helped with my fitness as well.
posted by hazyjane at 9:26 PM on July 13, 2016

I have been there. You will get through it. It's almost over. You can do anything for a few weeks.

Does the hotel you're staying have a spa? Can you take an hour off to get a massage? Just an hour where no one can reach you can help a lot.

It's hard to give other advice not knowing the particulars of this gig, but I've had jobs where it was possible to come in and confess to other co-workers that I was in a terrible mood, and they would sort of give me a wide berth until I could jolly myself out of it -- or we'd all just have a big bitch sesh and then everyone would feel better. Sometimes, just admitting that you're stressed to the other people in the boat with your helps alleviate the tension. I know this gig may be such where this isn't a great idea, though.

In a similar situation, I have literally screamed into a pillow and it weirdly did help.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:22 PM on July 13, 2016

Best answer: Let it all out. Go into the hotel shower, turn it on full bore with nice warm water and sit on the floor of the shower and cry for as long as you need to. The times when I've been the most stressed (after breakups, during work meltdowns) this has helped the most. Stay in there for a few hours if that helps. (And yes, it's a horrendous waste of water but it's not like you're doing it daily.) The falling water feels like rain, it's incredible soothing. Then order an in room massage if they have it, and hotel room service. Get all the comfort food. Really spoil yourself. Then go to sleep. I guarantee you'll feel better.
posted by Jubey at 12:53 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Wear sunglasses. Really. The small daily interactions can be draining if you are exhausted. Going to the market, buying a ticket, ordering lunch, all can use up your emotional energy. Sunglasses can create a mini world for you where people can't quite see you, and you don't need to be 'on', as they won't know one way or the other. And it also creates a darker, more soothing experience by coloring all visual stimulation the same. When I'm overwhelmed I always reach for my sunglasses.
posted by Vaike at 5:16 AM on July 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all, so much, for your wonderful kindness and niceness. Marking best answers of things I think I'll do.

I locked myself in the large single-stall bathroom of a nearly-deserted restaurant, made sure to not have my phone on me, took off all my clothes, and just sat there.
I love this advice so much!!!!
posted by quadrilaterals at 6:10 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you have a tub, take a bath and scream underwater. It's relaxing and nobody can hear you.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:11 AM on July 14, 2016

Best answer: Everyone has had great advice, but I have one more suggestion based on my own life right now. I am going through a very stressful time at work, and I am also wallowing in how awful the world seems right now (in the US - politics, inequality, etc). When I feel like I am about to explode, I try to distance myself from things are truly beyond my control and do a little digital detox. No news, no Twitter, no looking at my relatives' infuriating Facebook posts. It doesn't magically fix my problems, but it helps me manage my stress levels. Good luck!
posted by GoldenEel at 8:36 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Taking a sanity break from my own massive festering kettle of stress crunch to peruse askmefi and tada! Instant community.

I can suggest two things: one is to find a sympathetic ear and just dump it all out. Articulate the problems, even stuff that your listener may not exactly follow. Swearing helps if you're so inclined. A sympathetic ear can be made out of plush, or even a picture of a concerned looking baby animal. This helps me map out where one stupid thing is causing trouble across a broad range of current issues. Suddenly four problems are really one (maybe?). Also I can practice fancy swears (omg look for clips from The Thick of It for inspiration).

You know it will be over eventually. There's even a time frame. Imagine what you'll be doing a week after you're out of this madness. Enjoying a beverage with your feet up? Doing something special for yourself that you don't have time for now? Maybe just sleeping in your own bed. You will get there. We'll both get there.
posted by mrcrow at 2:10 PM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Regular breaks, whether you think you need them or not, and probably whether or not your coworkers and/or boss think you need them or not.

You've got a choice between making changes and not making it. No one wins if you don't make it where you wanted to be, so you likely have a bit of leverage in getting those changes OKed. It's worth asking.
posted by talldean at 8:23 PM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: quadrilaterals, I don't have much to add to these great suggestions but just wanted to say that, as much as you can, be kind to yourself and put your own self-care as close to the top of your list as you can. Getting sick on top of all this will just make you more miserable. And feel free to memail me if you want to vent!
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:49 AM on July 15, 2016

Best answer: OP, if you're like some folks I know you may be holding yourself to a standard of niceness that's not really necessary and maybe not worth the burden it can place on you at times. It can be hard to do, but if you can find a way to dial back from "nice" to "basic politeness," that might help.
posted by bunderful at 2:07 PM on July 15, 2016

Get a cat! Seriously! Holding a warm purring soft thing that loves you just for feeding it and generating body heat is da bomb. Ok, you may end up doing a wee bit more for your new furry overlord but it will be 100% worth it! I promise!
posted by eggkeeper at 1:44 PM on February 11, 2017

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