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Getting Ahead of Stress and Staying There

There are always going to be things that cause us worry and stress; there's just no getting around that fact. The important thing is to learn to navigate the storms of life without getting completely swamped by the waves and capsizing.

In my last post, I shared how to sort through overwhelming thoughts and decide what to do with them--some may need to be acted on, some scheduled or delegated to someone else, and some we just aren't equipped to handle; these we just need to lay before God in prayer.

I have used this process, or some variation of it, for years, and have always been helped by it. Unfortunately I tended to use it only after I had become overwhelmed; once I felt "in control" of things again, I'd forget about doing the brain dump.

But I began to see a pattern of emotional upheaval that did not seem to be the result of a build-up of stressful thoughts and obligations. These upheavals seemed to pretty regularly come out of nowhere, sweep through my brain like a tornado, and like a tornado, often leave a trail of damage behind them.

You've probably guessed what this regular "upheaval" was--my monthly cycle. I should have realized it long before I did, but I hated having my feelings seemingly dismissed with the statement, "you must be on your period." I so wanted to be taken seriously, and I honestly felt (still do, to be quite honest) that what erupted during the monthly storm of emotions were legitimate issues; it's just that when my hormones were back in their box, the problems didn't seem so problematic.

Once I was able to see and admit what was going on, I did what I want to encourage you to do. If this happens to you, and you don't already do it, plan ahead. Make a note on your calendar of the days you wake up mad, accuse your husband, and think of everyone as stupid (or however your hormones manifest themselves). Put these days in the context of your cycle, and start noting this in advance, for several months.

When you're thinking of planning a dinner party, avoid those days. Planning a vacation? Just be aware. Don't schedule playdates or sleepovers on those days. Whenever possible, plan to hibernate on those days; give yourself some TLC. You might even want to double up on dinner prep in the week before and freeze the extras, so that you don't need to cook on those days. Whatever you find most soothing, plan to do that. For me, it was time alone, reading in a favorite place and sipping a glass of wine.

Also--very important--remind yourself to be careful what you say, and don't send any personal emails (about things you'd "like to share" or think your husband "might not be aware of", for example). If something comes up that you feel is clearer than it has ever been, and you're just sure you need to talk to your spouse about it, write it down, or send it via email to yourself. Look at it the next day or so, and decide if you still feel the need to bring it up. This will save you having to make embarrassing apologies; if what came up is indeed valid, it will help you clarify your thinking. At least, it did for me.

Now, here are some tips for maintaining your equilibrium. You probably know most of them, but it's always good to be reminded:

  • Learn to overlook imperfections. I had to learn to repeat, "It's okay. It's okay." when things weren't as clean and tidy as I'd have liked.

  • Do unpleasant tasks quickly, without thinking about them--those calls to AT&T, or the insurance company are a perfect example. Just do it.

  • Breathe deeply, exercise hard from time to time. When I feel like exploding about some frustration or other, I'll often vacuum aggressively. Running, a brisk walk, scrubbing something, jumping jacks, etc. are all good alternatives.

  • Put a hard end to your workday, and don't stay up late. If you can't get everything done you wanted to, choose to finish the thing that will bug you the most and leave the rest, or enlist the help of the kids/your husband; spend time in the evening with your spouse, doing something you enjoy.

  • Read your Bible. Pray. Start with ten or fifteen minutes, use a memorized prayer, but just do it. It's not important to feel inspired or moved, it is important to do it. Just trust me on this.

  • Spend time every week with your own hobby and your friends. When you are isolated, your brain does weird things, convinces you of things that you only recognize as false when you're with other people. You MUST do this.

Take care of yourself. Treating yourself well in this way is not self-indulgent, it is a matter of preserving your mental and physical health, and not only for your own sake--to neglect these things is to jeopardize the health of your family, who love you and need you. You'll be setting a good example for them, as well!

Do you have some tips to share? I'd love to hear from you! Go to my website and leave a comment, or email me at


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