Stress stresses me out. Like really. I shut down.
It’s been really interesting watching what happens to me when stress starts piling up. When five emails come in needing five different questions answered immediately even though I’m on deadline for something else and haven’t thought about any of those other assignments in weeks or months, I just shut down. I can feel the overwhelm start to cover me like a blanket, it’s the emotional equivalent of a storm moving in fast – the kind that turns the whole sky black. And then, I just go away. I don’t want to do anything. I want to eat cake, and bagels. And smoke. And drink. And crawl under the covers.
In the past, I wouldn’t even think twice about what to do in these situations. The answer was easy: take a break – smoke a cigarette or eat a cookie. But I’m not doing that anymore. So now I have to find other things to do – still taking a break, but breathing through it or taking a short walk.
Ideally, I wouldn’t have any physical reaction at all. I would simply note that someone needs my attention, put it on my running “to do” list and get back to the task at hand, likely shooting off a quick email reply that I will get to them as soon as I can. But the surprise of these requests along with the tone often make me feel like I need to drop everything and handle an emergency for which I am completely unprepared.
At this point, I just want to say that this is not any indication that people shouldn’t ask me questions. It’s not about the request or the person making it. It’s my job to be able to help my staff and my clients. I want people to think of me as a resource. I want to answer their questions. And, I want them to feel like my priority. This is not about them. This is about how I react when it feels like things are starting to pile up.
So, since I can’t smoke, or eat, or hide, I need to find something else to do in the moment to move on. I don’t carry a lot of stress with me in the sense that I can’t sleep or have stomach issues, but in the moment, stress can leave me feeling quite paralyzed to the point where I can’t even get back to what I was doing in the first place! So what are some things that I can do?
- Take a break – give myself permission to go breathe fresh air for five min (like smoking only not)
- Walk around the block
- Take deep breaths – maybe a five minute meditation
- Put it on a list where I will see it later and forget about it – get back to the task at hand. This would be the gold standard if I could get out of my own way.
I am not a multitasker. I honestly don’t know anyone who is. I don’t think multitasking is a real thing. Maybe walking and chewing gum, but not doing anything that requires focus. I need to give myself permission to stop checking my emails while I’m focused on something important. (side note: How do I stop those notifications in the corner of my screen?) I’m not doing myself or my people any favors by succumbing to feelings of overwhelm and becoming paralyzed.
I don’t have a go-to solution for this yet, but I am actually quite pleased that I can now observe how stress affects me, and my reactions. I think a couple of strategies for coping with it a bit better will go a long way towards changing my reaction to stress into non-reaction.
In the short-run, giving myself a break and getting out of my chair to walk around the block of breathe is a healthier equivalent of past habits. It will be interesting to see how my immediate reaction changes as as I continue developing my meditation habits.