Stressed out?

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.


15 thoughts on “Stressed out?

  1. Cathy says:

    Your post is so timely and actually works well with what I wrote today. I am such a dweller. I have to resolve issues when the arise – immediately – or I think about them non-stop. Time with friends is always helpful and good, but it doesn’t take away that which needs to be done or dealt with. Neither does avoidance. I am getting pressured (?) into being more of an avoider – to somehow learn to believe that all the stuff will get done if I don’t fret and stress. I am not convinced.

  2. ayala says:

    You had a rough week. I can relate to it most of the time I have too much on my plate to deal with. I tend to over analyze and it makes things harder. When I talk to my best friend on the phone I tend to vent and as I discuss the issue I tend to decide what to do. She’s a great listener so venting helps a lot. Waiting to deal with something makes it worse for me. As soon as I come to a decision I want to deal with it. Take care of yourself and remember- breathe.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I’m sitting here on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon … doing work for work. And I decided to take a break before switching gears to a new task, and here is this perfect post! I’m curious if the authors recommended that we try to balance all three areas? I’d say that for the most part, I balance all three…I’m just not so good at balancing my life! But I’d rather have too much – so that’s a conscious decision I make, as crazy as it feels.

  4. Tracey (MomRedefined) says:

    I don’t handle stress well at all. When I am overwhelmed I try to sit back and take deep breaths and tell myself, “everything is going to work out”, but the overwhelming-ness of stressful moments take my breath away.

    I am learning to say “no” though and I truly believe that is helping.

  5. Amber says:

    I tend towards avoidance when it comes to tasks that I’m struggling with or just don’t have the energy for. I wouldn’t have thought this was a good thing, to be honest. Who knew that it could be?

  6. Kelly says:

    No, don’t wish to be an avoider. I’m an avoider and therefore I put everything off until the last minute and then I plow through and am exhausted. It’s procrastination, but the procrastination is an emotional response. I don’t procrastinate the things that I enjoy — even if they’re stressful.

  7. harrietglynn says:

    Panic and then muscle through. But in my case, I tend to do a rather poor job of it.

  8. I’m jealous of the avoiders. I tend to plow through and it’s no bloody fun.

  9. Justine says:

    I think we’re cut from the same cloth. 8 months pregnant and moving in less than a week, and what do I do? I start a new blog! Yeah, great timing, and “avoidance” is definitely not in me. I agree that it would probably work to my advantage to be more focused but I find that I sometimes thrive on stress. Or is that something I tell myself because sometimes I just don’t have the choice either?

    If you find the answers, please let me know. I certainly need help in this department.

  10. Really interesting post. And as “Stress” seems to be my middle name these past months (Big Stress Wolf?), looking at this set of classifications is interesting.

    I suspect I’m a problem-focused person. My brain churns all the possibilities until I create some options. Day or night, in the background (like a maintenance program running on your computer), nonstop.

    Like TKW, I’m jealous of the avoiders, too!

  11. I’m definitely a problem-focused person. When stressed, I dig in and barrel through things. I’ve often wondered how healthy that is…:)

  12. Laura Ambrose says:

    I have an emotional response to most stress. I quickly follow the emotional response with an avoidance. Finally, I get to the active, doing phase. I find if I try to go from the emotional response to the doing, I am not very often successful. I need to de-charge my emotions before my analytical, thinking brain can kick in to provide the solution and the ability to complete tasks. Once I discovered this pattern (emote-avoid-tackle) I became a much happier person.

    I love your post and reference to the 3 types of responses to stress. Thank you.

  13. Chantal says:

    I am an avoider. Which means I don’t often lose sleep about issues (unless they are really big like health issues). It also means that I can trick myself into thinking a problem isn’t as big a deal as it actually is. I can often sleep on a stress, wake up relieved and forget about it until it becomes worse. So I need to work on that. I didn’t used to be as bad as I am now. I think because life is almost too full of stress my mind just blocks stuff out.

  14. Interesting insight into how people respond to problems. I am not an avoider, but would like to be (at least sometimes). I’ve always wanted to solve problems. So I dig in and keep shoveling until my mind is fine with the outcome. Sometimes though it turns out to be detrimental to my sanity.

  15. Leslie says:

    Isn’t it nice to be reminded that sometimes, you really SHOULD take a breather? I like to give myself mini-breaks during the workday, but at home I just plow through from one thing to the next. Sometimes, if I sit too long there, I get more overwhelmed than when I’m moving fast! (Of course, in my particular home, there’s a big mess to take in when I make the time to look around.)
    I take stress – its powers and dangers – very seriously, so I like to employ calming strategies for myself and to encourage loved ones to do the same. We don’t need to get older any faster!

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