I am so pleased to have Celeste Coffman as a guest writer today. Celeste is a licensed professional counselor who knows much about managing stress and anxiety, which is what we talk a lot about here on the blog. I truly appreciate her taking her time and talent to share with us some practical ideas on how to manage life when we are overwhelmed. Celeste has graciously offered my readers a MAJOR discount on her Stress Management & Anxiety membership community, Quiet Mind Collective. Details are listed at the end of this article.
Outside a bustling hipster coffee shop downtown you’ll see a black iron bench in the shade of a bushy pear tree. Every afternoon around the same time, you’ll also see the same slim, hipster guy seated on that bench, adorned with tattoos and most likely dressed in black.
He’s usually smoking a cigarette (which, I’ll admit, I don’t love) and he’s always totally focused on one thing: the pen and paper in his hands.
This hipster guy? He’s the barista at the coffeehouse downstairs from my office. Day after day he serves up my lunch (and everyone else’s) with a huge smile, the most endearing laugh, and a hearty dose of zest for life.
He’s like the neighborhood’s adorable little brother, making us smile to ourselves because of his cheerful antics and undaunted enthusiasm. He even raps every word to Gangsta’s Paradise when it comes on the radio. How cute is that?
But here’s the really unusual thing about Hipster Guy (HG): when he’s on the bench, there’s no fun and games. HG is decidedly “off” during that break every day, ducking his head down into his crossword puzzle or sketchbook and completely ignoring passersby.
When I first moved to the neighborhood, I was a little disconcerted by this. After all, we live in a tiny southern town where congenial small talk is a way of life. So when HG deigns to deliver even as the locals stare him down, I have to realize that it’s intentional.
He’s taking an intentional break from the grind. (Pun intended.)
See, HG clearly knows that in order to stay fresh and totally “on” during his shift, he also needs to escape that persona for a time each day.
How many blocks can you stack?
I encourage you to consider when you last took a true, intentional break from the work you do as a mother, a caregiver, an employee, or an entrepreneur. Was it today? A few days ago? Longer?
Stress is a normal reaction to the annoyances, issues and problems we encounter daily, but I believe that carrying stress is like stacking little wooden alphabet blocks. At first we can stack several – maybe 4 or 5 – all at once without much effort. After the tower gets to a certain height, though, we notice that it takes more care to add blocks. Eventually, the tower becomes too weak and falls, even though it was standing just fine only a moment earlier with one less block.
You see, if we don’t take time to reinforce the block tower by building a stronger base or providing more support, it will eventually topple with just one more block. It’s like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
The toppling of those blocks is a great metaphor for anxiety and burnout that can result from unmanaged stress. The problem is, we’re not used to caring for ourselves when we’re just a bit overwhelmed; we instead wait until something like true anxiety happens, leaving us defenseless and in utter panic.
Stress and burnout can be hard to recognize until it’s too late.
WebMD says that up to 75-90% of doctor visits are actually anxiety related, even though the patient believes there to be some actual physical cause for the ailment.
Research shows us that stress worsens or causes:
- High blood pressure
- Skin problems
- Intestinal distress
- Chronic pain
- Anxiety disorders, including panic attacks
- And many more
For me, stress comes in the form of a nagging ache behind my shoulder blades. It’s tough to recognize because every time the pain crops up, I automatically assume that it’s simply from poor posture.
I usually spend several hours trying to adjust my body position, stretch, or prop up on more throw pillows before I realize, Hello! This is unresolved stress! You would think that as a therapist I’d know better!
It’s time to stress smarter.
Face it: you have little control over how many blocks – concerns, worries, problems, issues – that life hands you.
Just like adding support can make us more successful in stacking our block tower, adding support to our lives can help reduce the harmful effects of stress even as we continue to address the concerns of life.
4 Strategies for Understanding and Managing Your Stress
Period Tracker Lite (free in the App Store). When clients visit my office for help with anxiety, one of the first tactics I’ll use is charting data on the feelings. Knowing exactly when and how stress manifests itself for the individual client helps us address the problem more effectively. Period Tracker Lite is an app that allows clients to quickly check off the moods they’re feeling each day so that we can look for patterns, such as increased nervousness on Mondays or excessive fatigue during certain days in the menstrual cycle. This mood tracker is ideal even for people who do not menstruate, by the way.
Care for yourself like a newborn. Remember your main goals when you brought home your baby? You were an effective parent if you made sure the baby was sleeping, eating, and clean. I cringe when I hear mothers report that they don’t even have time to go to the restroom. That’s horrible! Set systems in place so that you can eat, sleep, use the restroom, and shower as part of your daily routine. Letting your basic needs slip by unheeded can cause not just stress, but serious health risks.
Act like a kid again. As adults we often put aside fun because it seems so frivolous. However, one of the most widely used clinical interventions in therapy is to incorporate something fun into the client’s schedule on a daily basis. I encourage you to work in just 10 minutes a day of doing something that you remember as being fun for you as a child. Drawing, coloring, singing, exploring outside, or even watching cartoons can give you a healthy dose of nostalgia and relaxation.
Set a regular routine for self-care. One of the reasons I created QuietMindCollective.com was to give women a convenient, consistent way to learn about stress management and anxiety on their own time. Every week I diligently provide videos, articles and activities to help members understand how to stay well in an overwhelming world. When you set aside a little time each week to pursue information on these topics, you’re investing in your wellness.
Air travel teaches us a great lesson about self-care.
Remember that in order to serve your family, community, and customers well, you simply must care for your own well-being, too. Just like the flight attendant always warns, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before trying to assist someone else. Otherwise, you’ll lose your ability to help others or yourself.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my coffee break downstairs . . .
Celeste is offering Living With Real Joy readers their first month’s membership to Quiet Mind Collective, a stress management and anxiety community, for only $1! Use coupon code REALJOY at QuietMindCollective.com.
Celeste Coffman is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Thoughtful Journey Counseling in Florence, Alabama. She focuses her practice on helping women make small changes that bring big impact in the arenas of stress, health, relationships, and emotional wellness. Celeste’s stress and anxiety management membership site, www.QuietMindCollective.com launches this summer.