I always feel stress in my body. I get canker sores, a stiff neck, a headache, and the tell-tale sign so evryone around me knows I'm stressed: zits. I can go for long periods with reasonable balance and calm, and then all of a sudden, WHAM! it hits me up the side of the head with a 2x4 and I realize I've taken on too much or been too worried about what I am doing, and I go from thriving to managing to barely hanging on by my bitten-fingertips in record time.
Some stress is unavoidable. If you work for a boss, you will occasionally have job stress. If you live in North America (or anywhere in the world, let's face it), you will have money (or lack thereof) stress. If you are married, your spouse will sometimes drive you up the wall, and if you are single, you'll be stressed trying to find a mate. And don't get me started on the new levels of anxiety and strain you will reach when you have children, and one of them is sick, or mouthy, or having a fit in a grocery store, or even just breathing (on the worst parenting days).
Stress is an insidious enemy. It sneaks in, takes over, beats us up and leaves us bruised and bleeding. We must manage it or it will ruin us - take us hostage and violently strip us of our joy, peace and sanity. You can control your level of stress, or at least a good portion of it. Say no more often. Try to avoid the things and people who cause stress. Stand up for yourself when someone is bullying you and making your life hell. If you don't fight for yourself, no one else will either. Value your time and your energy, as they are both irreplaceable commodities. If you haven't had down time in a few days, stop everything and build it in, before your nerves are shot to pieces. I'm talking to myself here.
Last night I stamped with my ladies group. They are all fun women and I enjoy being with them, but I felt the cloud of stress surrounding me, weighing me down with worry. Thankfully, a good friend stayed late to talk with me, helping me sort out my own life in a way I wasn't able to on my own. Sometimes, you simply can't see the forest for the trees when you are in the thick of too much activity. She helped me see that I'm struggling to keep up in my U of C Communications Theory class this semester. I can't stay on top of the workload, I'm not enjoying it, and I'm stressed about the weather on Saturdays when I have to drive 45 minutes to the University. At first I was concerned about dropping as I hate the label of "quitter", but my friend helped me see that the best thing I can do for myself and for my family is to know my limits and stay within them. When the con list is long and the pro list is short, I knew I had found the thing that had to go, while there was still time to drop it.
Today is a new day. I'm going to take slow, deep breaths in and out all day, and remember to count my blessings. If I signed up for too much or took too much on, it is my responsibility to deal with that, get out of what I can, and not waste the time I have been given in a 24 hour period. I cannot take out my frustrations on my husband and my kids. If I created a stressful situation I must fix it, make it better and be watchful to be sure it doesn't keep happening. Dropping the course is the first step today, and for me that will clear up a lot of time to write, focus on the writer's class at the library (which is not only full, but there are now 8 people on the waiting list, prompting a meeting to decide if a second class should be run in March!), and have a bit more down time for myself, my family and my friends. There is a satisfaction involved with taking care of myself, even if it means giving up something else I want. All of life is like that. Choices. It's up to us to make the best ones we can in the time frame we have.