Climbing out of the Stress Spiral

Whew! After nearly two weeks away I finally got around to posting my lessons learned through a year of budgeting Monday, and I’ve got another post in the works for later this week. I’ve been struggling to balance work projects with personal projects with maintaining friendships and relationships, and it all came to a head at the beginning of last week. I was in one of those periods where I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed by the stress of everything on my plate, and I had to take a step back.

This isn’t super uncommon for me. I find myself feeling overwhelmed pretty often – I’m new in my role at work and have a hard time being kind to myself when I make rookie mistakes during the learning process. During this time where I’ve often found myself feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I’ve developed my process for handling *those weeks* where I just want to curl up in bed and cry.

How I Handle Being Stressed and Overwhelmed

1. I write a whiny stream of consciousness…

I usually try not to whine or let myself wallow in the feelings of self-pity and overwhelmedness, but I do give myself that opportunity in the beginning of trying to work through it. I open up a blank page and write about all the things that are “happening to me” (yes, I let myself be reactive and pretend all my problems are because of my circumstances and not my choices) and just whine whine whine. I dig into how I’m feeling, even if the emotions are really silly, and I identify what is bringing those emotions about. This is super whiny and not about taking ownership of my life. It’s just about getting in touch with what is bringing me down.

2. …that turns into an empowering stream of consciousness.

As freeing as it is to admit all the silly things that are bringing me down (“I’ve had four bad hair days in a row and I just don’t feel pretty and after a day that just beats me down I look in the mirror and it’s the crappy icing on the crappy cake!”), I can’t wallow in that for too long. I start to move to a place of fixing the problems through a second stream of consciousness in which I start responding to what I wrote in the first. Four bad hair days and not feeling pretty? Why can’t you put on your favorite outfit, strike a pose and feel boss for a second, and then avoid mirrors and selfies and just get sh*t done for the day? The mountain of flagged emails feeling insurmountable? What’s really the most important? What’s going to happen if you don’t get to some of them today? Tomorrow? In the next four days? These aren’t all realistic solutions. It’s just about challenging the whiny, reactive voice and starting to recognize that I have the power to make changes to my situation.

3. I make a list.

If you couldn’t tell based on the sheer number of my blog posts that are in list format, I like lists. A lot. And my empowering stream of consciousness always transitions pretty quickly into a list of things I need to do to feel better. Work things, personal thing, stuff I need to clean, errands I need to run, sometimes people I need to call… anything and everything creating anxiety in my life, I put it on the list to take care of. I find that the root of stress is usually a combination of daunting work tasks and a messy apartment. My “fix it” list is usually mostly cleaning tasks, because once I make my space feel welcoming and positive again, it’s easier to have a positive outlook on everything else.

4. I do the easiest thing on the list first.

Theodore looks like he’s chiding me for going so long without getting my mail, but really he was thrilled to have things to shred.

Before tackling all the big, daunting items on the list, I pick the easiest one and jump in to get some forward momentum. It feels great to cross off that first item, and helps encourage me to take on the more difficult items. The first thing is always the hardest for me to start, but then once I do the simplest task – like picking up my socks from the floor and putting them where they belong – I find myself more motivated to do bigger tasks like taking care of the dishes, etc., and it goes quickly from there.

5. Then do the thing with the biggest impact on my happiness.

Driving to my office on a weekend and planting my herb garden after weeks of procrastinating made a profound impact on my happiness.

Once I’ve got the momentum from doing the easiest thing on my list, I try to resist the temptation of doing the next easiest, then the next easiest, and so on. I take that forward momentum and jump into the task that will make the biggest difference in my situation. It’s usually the most daunting task, but once it’s accomplished it feels like the biggest weight has been lifted off and everything following that is a breeze.

6. I rest and take time to myself.

One of the hardest parts of climbing out of this hole is telling friends and loved ones (who I really, truly want to spend time with) that I can’t spend time with them for a few days. But, taking a day or two to myself to come home and be alone in my apartment, cleaning and taking care of my to-do list and then sitting on my couch by myself is one of the most important parts of this process. I always feel recharged and ready to face the next challenge after I take a night or two to avoid all plans and just be alone.

7. I appreciate every little improvement as I work my way out of the hole.

Some of the tasks I accomplish on my way to being less stressed are really small, and I may still feel deeply stressed, or like I haven’t done enough. As I take care of the things I need to accomplish I try to appreciate that each accomplishment brings me closer to a better mental state. I try to focus on the little improvements I’m making until I’m in a place where I feel like I can breathe again.

If any of you are having one of *those weeks* and you just feel crushed by everything going on at once, I hope this helps you, and I hope you’re able to climb out of it and rest a bit easier soon.

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