Twice in the past year, I have allowed difficult situations to get the better of me. Stress and chaos took over my life, I gave up on meal planning, exercise, and me time. The result? I felt more tired and crummier with every passing day. I felt depressed, and lost the energy to do anything beyond what had to be done. The weight I’d worked so hard to lose came back. I had to learn how to keep stress from taking over my life.
“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, & to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.” ~Mandy Hale
1. When Life Feels Chaotic, Planning is More Important than Ever
Managing my chaos is the best way I’ve found to get through it. Even if I can’t plan for everything, if I plan for everything I can, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to survive the parts I can’t, and to keep stress from taking over my life.
My father-in-law was recently hospitalized for 28 days. My mother-in-law was there 12+ hours every day. For about 40 hours every week, my husband and I were there, too. This was on top of working 40 hours each week (and commuting, in my husband’s case).
None of us were home long enough to do anything more than eat and sleep. Life got really chaotic, really fast, and I felt like I was spinning out of control.
I would wake up each morning with just enough time to journal, get dressed, pour a cup of coffee and run out the door. By the time we all came home at night, we were too tired to cook. So, we were eating restaurant food for every meal.
Life got crazy, and I quickly lost control of my meal planning, and taking time each day to care for me, my husband, and our home.
If I’d taken just a little time each day to plan, we may have maintained a little discipline in our lives.
2. Rest is Most Important in the Busiest of Times
During the hospitalization, we did manage to get some rest. Unless something of note was happening in the evening, most nights we were home by 7:00 p.m. This gave us time to watch a TV show and get some sleep.
None of us ever felt well-rested, though. Looking back, we probably would have been more useful if we’d spent a little time each morning relaxing with a cup of coffee before running out the door.
Lack of rest makes a person fairly useless to anyone they wish to help.
3. Exercise Helps Me Keep Stress from Taking Over My Life
Since we were spending the majority of our waking hours away from home, our morning walks got shorter and shorter. Eventually, we were simply walking the dog to end of the driveway each morning before rushing back to the hospital.
As life began feeling more and more messy, it got to a point where Hubs would walk the dog while I put on my makeup and attempted to look like a more professional version of the zombie I felt like.
When I finally had a personal training session after Dad was discharged from the hospital, I instantly felt my stress levels drop. (The next day I dealt with a serious case of jello legs, but that’s okay).
When pandemonium takes over, it is so easy to push exercise to the back burner. But, we tend to forget that exercise is just as essential as getting dressed in the morning.
Even if there is only time for a short walk to the end of the driveway, or a few push-ups, doing something to keep our bodies moving through hardship is key.
4. Eating Crappy Foods Makes You Feel Crappy
When someone you love spends a month in the hospital, you become very familiar with the hospital cafeteria.
My breakfast and my lunch came from that cafeteria almost every single one of those 28 days.
Yes, more than one cashier asked me if I worked there.
Anyway, on Days 1, 2 and 3, we all did a pretty good job of making healthy choices. We were actually making breakfasts at home at that point, and for our lunches we were eating things like salads and grilled chicken breasts.
By Week 2, we’d developed a “Screw It” mentality.
Life was tough and that rice pudding looked delicious. Okay, it tasted pretty damn good too.
We rapidly threw away our healthy eating habits in favor of everything we knew we shouldn’t be eating with regularity. And guess what? We rapidly began feeling more tired, more rundown, and just plain crappy.
Eating like crap may have felt good in the moment, but it mostly just made things worse, and made it more difficult to keep stress from taking over my life.
5. You Can’t Take Care of Anyone if You Don’t Take Care of You
We’ve all heard the analogy that on a plane, the flight attendants remind everyone to put their own oxygen masks on before helping anyone else. It’s a great reminder that we need to take care of ourselves, so we can be more useful to those who need us.
The other day, Steve gave me another great reminder.
The heart pumps blood to itself before distributing it to the rest of the body.
Blood goes to the lungs to collect oxygen, and then the heart pulls it all back to itself. Only then can push it back out to important organs like the brain.
Just like the heart, if you don’t have everything you need to perform at your best, caring for anyone who needs you won’t be sustainable for the long-term.
Never Forget to Care for You
Making yourself a priority is most important during the times when it is most difficult. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, and I know I’m not the only one who needs to hear how to keep stress from taking over my life.
Which self-care habits have you found to be the most important to maintain during difficult times?
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