Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stress and “That” Busy Time of the Year

Do you have a particularly busy time of the year?  For me it is a time when everything seems to happen all at once.  My time is severely restricted and I feel like I don’t have much of a choice over my decisions and that everything is due RIGHT NOW.  I actually have a couple of those times of year but it seems worse at the end of winter and the beginning of spring because the weather is so terrible that my options for outdoor, stress-release, activities that I would prefer are severely limited.  I don’t mind training in the cold and the rain, but I do have goals for other weather conditions too, and it can be frustrating not being able to work on them.

There are a couple of things that need dealing with to survive these busy times.  My stress needs an outlet, the work still needs to be done, and I have to keep the right attitude.

Stress Outlets
These are the things that I’ve found to help reduce my stress and relax.  Depending on the level of stress I will employ different strategies.
  • Headache level stress - Go to bed early with a heater on my feet and a hot wheat pack on my face across my eyes.  Sometimes silence will be useful and sometimes loud music through headphones which plays a familiar but complex rhythm to distract my mind.
  • Irritable level stress - If I get to this stage it is because I’ve had too much input, either in the form of tricky questions, annoying noises, or complex issues or tasks to deal with.  In this situation I just need enough time and space to come down from the nasty overload.  If there is too much going on I will only become more irrational in my responses and more irritated at my inability to deal with things that come up.
  • General stress - some exercise, a nice meal, reading some fiction, having an excess of my favourite snack food, some time out listening to music, switching off in front of the TV, pretty much anything that enables me to switch my mind off to a degree and to get away from having to hold up my end of a conversation.  A particular favourite is lying in front of the TV while cuddling my wife.

The biggest issue with giving stress a healthy outlet is having the time (or money) to do so.  

How to get the work done?
This is probably the trickiest part of the mix.  I have to find enough time, head-space, and energy to be able to do the work.  Unfortunately, I also have to prioritise my tasks so that the most important ones get done first.  The most important ones are the ones that are due first, that have more people relying on them, that will make the rest of the tasks seem easier.  I like to get the big and awkward tasks out of the way early on if I can, but conversely I also like to do the time consuming and routine tasks that allow me to rest my mind.  Cleaning and tidying are a great way to relieve stress while still feeling like I’m getting something useful done.  Sometimes I have to accept that some of the work I do won’t be perfect and that I won’t be happy with the standard, but the priorities that I set dictate what is acceptable as a lowest standard.

What is the right attitude?
Take a deep breath and think extra carefully before speaking or doing anything.  Sometimes people must think that I’m pretty slow but really I’m just stressed and trying to think of the best course of action while quashing my impulse to lash out.  I try to offer something positive so that people leave me with a positive attitude themselves.  Basically, remaining hopeful that the stress will diminish and trying to be kind and reasonable in the midst of pressure to be otherwise.  It helps me to remember that the only outcome of lashing out in this situation is more stress.  I know that God will not give me more to deal with than I can handle and that Jesus knows how it feels as he “took on flesh” and suffered the same as anyone who is human.

Hebrews 2:18  For because he [Jesus] himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

How to avoid getting stressed in the first place?
This is hard, but should not be neglected.  Really, it comes down to self awareness of personal stress indicators such as reactions, headaches, emotions, and how people react to you when you are stressed and when you are not.  It takes a lot of practice and it is always hard to notice and then overcome.  Unfortunately, because stress cuts out your ability to self-reflect, you have to get stressed many times before you can learn to see the signs!

A couple of useful quotes to finish:
For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.  ~Lily Tomlin
The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.  ~Author Unknown