Stress sucks

Written on November 22, 2020

Hello, I hope you’re well! With less than 40 days in this crazy 2020 year, I hope you’re staying healthy and happy. With holidays coming around and projects at work racing to get done, it can be quite a hectic and stressful season.

I’ve definitely had my bouts of stress and anxiety the past few months and let me tell you…it sucked.

It strained my relationship with my family, my co-workers and friends.

I personally didn’t anticipate how the mental gunk that COVID, the US presidential election and things that feel so out of the grasp of my control would weigh down on me.

Since getting into a rut, I had to be really intentional about taking care of myself in order to get to a healthier place.

This is something I’m not too good at doing. But I knew I had to try to change if I was to be in a better personal state.

I hope you never find yourself in such a spot, but if you’re currently in such a spot, I do hope you’ll be kind to yourself and take care of yourself.

Self care is so important and I didn’t know that until I was in a bad place.

In this article, I wanted to share some of the things that I did, in hopes that if you’re feeling stressed or anxious it could help you out.

Ask for help

I suck at asking for help. I like being helpful, but being in need of help is something I find hard to verbalize. But I’m learning that there are people that want to help, but they won’t know how to unless I verbalize it. Be it a professional like a doctor or personal like a co-worker, family or friend.

When I get stressed out I tend to get tunnel vision and when additional stress hits, I tend to clam up. What I found to help is doing the opposite. To talk with my co-workers and let them know I need help with my workload. Talking to a doctor about issues I’m seeing with my body and if they can provide any medical advice. Telling a friend or family member that I felt broken and didn’t know how to get out of the rut.

In my season of stress, I noticed I was experiencing really bad heart burn. Something I had not experienced before. I tried to be mindful of what I ate and my stress levels, but the irritation from the heart burn made me fixate on the pain, which would then make my mind spiral because mentally I was in a bout with stress and then issues with my body.

For this reason I started taking some over-the-counter antacids but only when I felt the symptoms and not consistently. It wasn’t until I spoke to a friend who is a pharmacist did I learn that for antacids to be effective, you need to take them for a few weeks consistently.

Once I started doing that, health-wise I felt a lot better and that alleviated the anxiety from my health.

Find and use a reset

A reset is what I define as something that takes you out of your mind when stuck in a certain negative pattern–such as spiraling context-switching or feelings of anxiety.

In the past few weeks I’ve implemented a few.

I did 20 push ups. Usually when I’m spiraling it’s because I’m in my own head and I need to get out. I’ve found that a physical reset really helps. So when I feel like I’m stuck, I immediately hit the ground next to my chair and do 20 quick pushups. Don’t even worry about doing it properly.

Go for a walk. No need to go far, I’ve found even walking over to get a drink of water helped. If you’re able to, walk outside. Again nothing strenuous is needed, even 10 minutes will do wonders.

Read a book. Being a knowledge worker, I end up with what Cal Newport calls, “cognitive residue”. By picking up a book, it helps me clear my head. Even just a couple of pages to a chapter will do the trick.

Look for mindful replacements for parts of your workflow. Email is a big source of anxiety for me since I can see several dozens of emails a day. I recently discovered an app called Tempo for macOS and it has help with my email anxiety tremendously!!!

It does so by forcing constraints and simplicity around how you interact and view your email.

By using the app, I’ve found that I’m actually faster at responding to emails and email doesn’t stress me out as much. And this is with checking email only twice per day.

Twitter is also another source of anxiety. As much as I love interacting with the people I’ve met from all around the world, the behavioral tendencies that result in consuming too much of what the platform had to offer wasn’t helpful.

For this reason, I bought Reeder, an RSS reader on iOS. The latest version of Reeder is quite amazing. For a single, one-time price you can purchase the app and have your entire subscriptions synced through your own iCloud account. Not only that but it provides you with an in-app read later feature.

Using Reeder has allowed me to subscribe to people’s blogs that I find valuable of my attention. I’m also able to queue up articles I find around the web and save it for times of reset or times when I wanted to wind down.

Cut out coffee

I really, really love coffee. And I didn’t know I could do it. But due to my acid reflux, I wanted to eliminate anything that I was consuming that could trigger it. Coffee being one of them. I replaced it with just hot water. And surprisingly I’ve been able to go 3 weeks straight without drinking a cup.

I may introduce a cup during the weekends, but I think I’ll keep coffee out of my workdays completely.

Journal to start the day with a clean slate

I found that journaling even if it is just 2 minutes before starting work helped clear my mind. I simply open up my note taking app, put the current date as the title and then just type away all the things that I have in my mind. The point is not to filter yourself, but to just let everything and anything flow from your mind and onto the page of your journal. Both the good and the bad.

I also found putting an emoji next to the title helped as well. This helped capture my mood on that day and it’s nice to see a little whimsical face illustration to start your day.

Highlight the good stuff

When stressed, it’s easy to fixate on the bad stuff or the hypothetical bad stuff. But take time to be mindful and highlight the good stuff too. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Even just being thankful for waking up in the morning and the air that you breathed is enough.

You might be surprised just how much good stuff there is in your life.

As part of my reset the other day, I went for a walk after lunch. While scurrying out the door, my wife suggested I take our toddler. I hesitated at first, but knew I wanted more presence in my child’s life. On our slow walk we stopped many times because she demanded that I stop and sit in the middle of the sidewalk and just chit chat.

As uncomfortable it was for me to be siting in the middle of a sidewalk, I did enjoy the moment. My daughter is such a funny kid and being able to say I was there for moments like this brings me joy.

I hope there were some helpful tips to help manage anxiety and stress from the list above. Your mileage may vary from mine but I hope you’re able to find ways to take care of yourself.

If you do decide to try out any of the tips above, please remember to be flexible. The things I’ve highlighted have taken time to implement and fine tune for them to work for me.

If you do something that you’ve found helpful in managing stress and anxiety, please do share it with me on Twitter @michaelsoolee. I’d love to learn about it.

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