Last week, my life took me on a turbulent ride. I bounced erratically between my three lives, as mother, working professional, and writer.* I felt I was chasing a never ending list of tasks, somehow forgetting to breathe in between. All three tugged and pulled at my focus and attention until I was left without an ounce of energy to spare.
By Friday night I was ready to collapse, preferably onto a couch with a remote and a few hours of mind-numbing television. I yearned for days past when I would come home, fall dazedly onto the couch and dine on two slices of toast and peanut butter.
Instead, I met my closest girlfriend for dinner. I unwound over Thai and a luscious glass of Shiraz. We chatted and laughed, and worked through so many issues I had on my mind. I left feeling at least human, if not completely recharged.
Interesting that on such a week I should read Stressed out? It may be better to kick back than dig in, a piece in Thursday’s Globe and Mail. I’m often struck by how articles like this have a way of finding us just when they are most relevant. As I read, I wasn’t at all surprised by the research that argues it’s better during busy, stressful times to take the break you need to recover some energy rather than to mindlessly plough through. Seems like common sense, however, as I thought about it later I realized its not at all what I do.
Take this week for example. I was busy with a number of time-sensitive projects at work, my youngest son has been struggling with a napping transition that’s wreaking havoc on our routine at home, and I decided to start writing a book. Did I see the storm brewing and take the time to use all of the tools I have in my tool-kit to refocus? Did I set aside time to meditate? Did I say no to commitments I probably should have? Did I slow down and take in the big picture? Absolutely not. I pushed through, reminding myself that the weekend would come soon.
It’s what we do right? Push through, keep on going, just do a little bit more, this one last thing.
The study cited in the Globe article looked at how working professionals and students cope with conflict and stress, and found that they generally fall into three broad categories:
Problem-focused people wanted to do anything they could to focus on issues and resolve them as quickly as possible. These people tend to put all their focus on the issue, even when they are not at work and may stay up late into the night to redo a report.
Emotionally focused people sought out support from others, calling a partner or talking through the issue with trusted colleagues. Talking it out, though, was found to neither help resolve conflicts between life roles, or make them worse.
Avoidance was the third type of response, with people saying they tried to forget about an immediate issue by going to the gym or a film, or watching television or getting a good night’s sleep. Their goal was to lessen the immediate stress and hope that the situation either resolved itself or they develop a new idea that will help them cope.
I tend to draw from two of these areas. If I’m really stuck about something, or need to accomplish or resolve a problem, I struggle to focus on anything else until it is resolved. I’m not good at stepping away. But I’m also very emotionally focused, as evidenced by how much better I felt after meeting with a friend and talking over the week and its various stresses. I think it’s also obvious from my enjoyment of writing and reading blogs. Isn’t that essentially what we do here?
If I’m being perfectly honest, I wish I could do a better job of avoidance. While I don’t generally advocate walking away from your problems, I do believe that sometimes that’s exactly what a person should do. And I can’t do it. I can’t let sleeping dogs lie. I stew and stew, toss and turn at night, worry and fret. It’s who I am. I think I need to work on this.
How about you? How do you cope with stress in your life? Do you fall into any of these categories? Would you prefer to handle the chaos of your life differently, or do you think you have good coping strategies?
*How telling is it that I naturally forgot to include a fourth, my life as wife. My poor husband.