Yesterday was not a good day for me. I was stressed before I even left the house because I had ZERO clean clothes and a very messy kitchen (still do as a matter of fact) and ZERO time to do anything about it. By the time I got to work I was not in the best frame of mind to work and I got sidetracked till about 10:30am when I found out that I needed to deal with some budgeting issues. Y’all…I HATE math (but it is super important). So I had to struggle through piles of numbers and info that made no sense and try to wrangle it back under control. Submit a new (lower) budget. Then staff meeting with no time for lunch in between. Weekly email newsletter, planning meeting for a new Wednesday night program starting in January, Advent planning…you see where I am going. I was herding cats all day long and was getting pretty frustrated. I like to think that I can keep a lot of plates spinning at once but the truth is that I get antsy when I feel like people are stopping me from keeping them all spinning. Unfortunately for me this is what ministry work really is! People are going to need my attention while I’m trying to wrestle with budget numbers. And I need to be able to be, not just ok with that, but accepting and welcoming of that fact. So I was busy, stressed, and not being a very great minister. Bummer of a day.
Almost everybody I talk to on any given day, and for any given reason, is dealing with stress and a busy schedule. It’s just the nature of our culture. Most of the people I know are juggling all kinds of stressful tasks like crazy work schedules, loads of responsibilities, parenting, and relationships. All of these things can be super rewarding and satisfying but they can also cause us to have lots of worry and anxiety.
Weeds and thistles will grow for you,
even as you eat the field’s plants;
by the sweat of your face you will eat bread—
until you return to the fertile land,
since from it you were taken;
you are soil,
to the soil you will return.
Genesis 3: 18-19
I had always read this scripture from Genesis about “by the sweat of your face”, where God is explaining the consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as though God was saying that Adam was always going to have to work hard. But a couple of years ago I discovered that what the original language actually meant was that Adam would sweat with worry, anxiety, and fear. Adam was sweating it out. You know the feeling. That same panic and anxiety that comes when you are faced with a difficult situation or job. That fear or worry that you can’t or won’t get it all done or done right and someone will suffer the consequences. I’m faced with this pretty regularly and in my case it can be pretty dangerous sense stress can lead to some crazy issues for me. It’s not good for anybody to be dealing with stress regularly. So, just in time for Hump Day, here are my top 10 tips for dealing with stress and taking care of yourself.
Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert at any of this. These are just things I’ve done and do that help me to maintain some mental health.
9) Make your bed. This may seem like strange advice but I swear it helps. If you start a crazy day by making your bed you know you’ve at least accomplished one thing that day. Plus at the end of the day your bed will be a welcome and crazy-free zone, not to mention a monument to your awesome first-thing-in-the-morning achievement! Seriously, a little bit of cleaning or organization goes a long way to improving your mental health. If your space is cluttered your brain can register the mess as additional stress. Just doing one small chore, like making your bed, can go a long way to helping you to feel like you’re gonna make it.
8) Go for a walk outside. There is something about being outside, even if it’s just for a minute that I find very relaxing. Walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine are great forms of exercise but there is something about being outdoors that is refreshing for your body and soul. Exercise is a super important part of a healthy brain. Do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t make it work, but do your best to get some exercise at least 3 times a week. If all else fails do some good stretching before you go to bed and right when you wake up.
7) Get a physical and take vitamins. Seriously, you need to be taking vitamins. Not everyone needs a multi-vitamin though. It depends on your diet and what you’ve got swimming around in your blood stream. Make an appt for a quick physical with your doctor. They’ll check your lungs, heart, and do some blood work to make sure you’re doing ok and can give you advice on what kinds of vitamins you should be taking. I recently went in to my doctor who told me I should start taking a pre-natal vitamin. I politely explained that I was in no shape or form needing to prepare for the birth of a child and she politely informed me that pre-natals have vitamins in them that my body needs for my health…not just so I can bear children. I would have never thought about that unless I went to the doctor. It takes a couple of hours (that includes driving and waiting…it happens get over it) but it makes a big difference. You’ve got to take care of your body or else you won’t be able to do the things you need and want to do.
6) Eat real food. There are lots of great and quick options for real food that aren’t frozen, processed, or drive-thru. I’m the worst about this one because I crave the bad-for-me stuff. If you are dealing with stress and you eat a bunch of processed, junk food you are going to feel more sluggish. On the other hand eating a healthy meal will give you a boost both physically and mentally. It’s worth the extra 20 minutes. And make sure you drink some water. This is my standard line whenever someone tells me they are hurt. Your body is 80% water so make sure you are staying hydrated. Ryan Gosling told me it’s important.
5) Talk to somebody you trust. Maybe that’s a spouse or a friend or a therapist. I am a huge believer in therapy. It’s a great to have a 3rd party who is objective and non-judgemental to share your struggles with. You don’t have to worry that you are over-burdening them either.
4) Get a hobby…that is not related to your job. My job happens to also be something I’m very passionate about but if it was all I did or talked about 24/7 I would go crazy. Take up a hobby, any hobby, that will let you clear your mind and relax. I love to do different kinds of crafts. But I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to my crafts so I’ve been able to get a lot of satisfaction from it even when it doesn’t come out perfectly. Maybe your thing is gardening, knitting, collecting stamps, or photography. I don’t know what makes your little heart skip a beat but find something and do it. Here’s the thing though: you won’t always have time to enjoy your hobby. So find ways to stay connected to it without spending a lot of time on it. Maybe a book that you could read while you are traveling for work (or an audiobook that you could listen to while you are driving?). I have a Pinterest board for crafts and when all I have is the 3 minutes I’m left alone in the bathroom (is this an over-share?) I’ll look at a couple of projects that I want to try when I have a chance. Google is a beautiful thing.
3) Get some rest. I basically don’t sleep in the summer. From mid-May till September I run on about 4-6 hours of sleep every night…sometimes less. Even when I can and want to sleep my crazy brain won’t always let me. And that’s ok. Yes, sleep should be a priority. But don’t mentally flog yourself when you can’t get a full 8 hours. Allow yourself the time to rest, even if that doesn’t mean sleep. Practice some deep breathing. Lay down for however long you can in a room with NO TECHNOLOGY. That means no tv, radio, or noise (maybe white noise is ok but seriously can’t you just be quiet for a while?) Get comfy, close your eyes, and let your body relax even if your mind doesn’t shut down. Let your muscles take a break for as long as you can. You may fall asleep and you may not but either way you will be ok. And that brings us to…
2) Give yourself a break…and expect others to do the same. You are not a superhero even if you play one on tv. You are going to mess up, forget things, say the wrong thing, look a hot mess, and accidentally insult your boss. If you are super talented you may do it all at once (I speak from experience, folks). Cut yourself some slack and let it be ok when you prove to be less than perfect. I promise the world will still keep spinning even if you forgot something super important. Almost everything is fixable even if it is a super pain to fix. And if people are giving you a hard time feel free to let them know that a) you are doing the best you can b) you are sorry that you made the error and c) you would appreciate some support while you are dealing with lots of stress. If your boss is being a jerk and you can’t say anything to him/her I understand not wanting to sass them about not being supportive. But that doesn’t mean you have to internalize their negativity. Acknowledge it and let it go. You are doing the best you can. Give yourself a break.
1) Pray. This may sound like the Jesus answer but I promise you it is the best thing I do for my mental health. There was a time when my prayer life was more like a Christmas list. “Dear God, Please give me a good job and a hunky boyfriend (see Ryan Gosling comment earlier). I swear I’ve been mostly good.” But I have found that the more often I turn aside to pray, even if it’s just a couple of minutes, the more peaceful I become. For me this started by praying the Lord’s Prayer. The more I paid attention the words of the prayer the more I found that it had the power to refocus and revitalize me. If I’m praying for God’s will to be done I’m going to have to let go of my death-grip on control. If I’m praying to forgive others as I’ve been forgiven I’m going to have to start being kinder and more compassionate to people. And my favorite part of the prayer…Our Father. Sometimes the only word I can manage to pray is “Father” on a loop. And somehow just calling on my creator and knowing He hears me is enough to get me through the day.
I hope these tips are helpful for you. I’d love to hear of any additional tips or tricks you have for staying healthy when you are dealing with stress and busyness!