Managing Stress

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

June 14, 2011

Levi at the Computer

Levi at the Computer

I’m writing. I have a glass of wine my husband kindly poured before I got home. I have an ice pack on my back.

Why would I – a young 30-something woman, mother, wife, employee, activist volunteer – need an ice pack on her back? Because my poor sacrum is not sitting in an exactly comfortable space. It’s sort of resting more towards my spine than out, not quite compressing but compressing into the lumbar region.

It hurts.

I have instructions to ice it three times a day. I have been encouraged, strongly, to get an hour long massage. I have been ordered to return to the chiropractors office for two extra visits this week, making it three visits for adjustments in one week.

But, how did my back get this way?

Because I can’t say no. I do, and I do, and I do until I am over capacity and then I forget. In part it’s because while I’m not doing, I am idle, so I accept projects to do so that I won’t be idle. Then, I accept a project, like a paying job, that ends up adding more time to the schedule than originally planned. Suddenly, I am flowing over in commitments.

Then, before I have a chance to blink, the time and attention needed for the other volunteer activities falls by the way side. Reminders aren’t sent. Notes aren’t kept. Ideas aren’t pondered. One of my strengths is coming up with ideas, but I need time to think about them! And, when I’m over committed, I don’t have the time.

So, how do I manage stress?

Obey the good doctor and order that massage and extra chiropractic appointments. Forgive myself for not going into the gym while I’m in pain and getting up in the morning has become a chore. Remember that not everyone else knows what I have committed. Laugh when my husband suggests making a “take a number” queue form to insert at my cubical at work.

What I don’t do well? Managing other people’s stress. Or, rather, my reactions to it. I’ve learned to manage my stress, albeit imperfectly. I feel largely unsuccessful reacting to other people’s pressures and preconceived notions. Usually, when I am faced with unrealistic expectations, demands, or bad attitudes, I simply want to reply with attitude. This is where my “grace under pressure” mantra is helpful, but lately, I’ve been forgetting it. I try to smile. I try not to snap. And, when I have a clear head, I will educate those who didn’t ask their question in the nicest way of methods that would be more proactive.

Overall, I feel lucky and grateful that I have a boss who understands shifting priorities and unfair burdens. I feel fortunate to have mostly a work team that is united for a common front. I am thankful for those with whom I volunteer who also understand over commitments in this time sensitive world.

We really can only get done what gets done in our waking hours. There is no healthful point of stressing over it.

The lesson I am eager to learn is delegation. There are some factors stymieing its progress, but those barriers are being discussed with the intent of removal of said barriers. We really can’t get it all done, so what’s the point?

If you encounter someone you suspect to have too much on their plate, I suggest you anticipate her needs. Ask her if she needs help. Carry the bags for her. Clean up the counter. If you need something from her because she has effectively replaced the person before, ask her if she has time. Did you realize that this was an intensely busy week for her? I doubt it since anticipating her needs isn’t part of your routine. So, step back for  a moment, think compassionately and say, “What’s on your plate? Do you have time for this thing? It’s really important to me that this thing gets done, and Betty Sue did it before you. I can understand though if you don’t, and I am willing to help this team out and do it myself.”

Oh, right, this last bit demands that you let your ego go, at least a little bit. It also forces you to recognize that you are part of the whole, not the sum of all its parts.If you can do that in your home, work, volunteer life – than maybe we can begin an amazing paradigm shift and start thinking more compassionately — say — towards those moron drivers that tailgate too much (ha, ha).

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