My totem animal is a platypus

I’ve been really stressed out lately. There are many contributing factors to my stress, from external things that I can’t control to my lack of stress management techniques.

It’s become such a chronic issue that I’ve had a low-grade migraine for the past three days, spawned from too much tension (and possibly triggered by the crazy weather we’ve been having). I’m anxious, irritated, emotionally over-wrought.

Did I do the cover letter right? Did I remember to spell check? What if I'm actually terrible? Please love me. Oh, God. Please.

I have been researching stress management techniques for the past week or so to get things under control. My research revealed two things  I do that I shouldn’t. Two giant, clanging, flashing alarms that make me more stressed out than needed:

1) I over-commit.

2) I am not myself.

I wanted to share this with you all because I have a feeling we’re all guilty of doing this once in a while, and some of us (ahem, like me) are making these mistakes so consistently it is literally affecting our health.

Over committing

This one is easy to solve. Simply practice the art of saying “no.” Don’t do anything unless you are truly enthusiastic about doing it—if there is a hesitation in your decision, politely decline.

Now, we can’t do this at work. We have to accept our work assignments, whether we like them or not, and get them done. We need the money, yes? Yes. But socially—socially is where we can make some changes.

If you fee like you need practice, start with the little stuff. Don’t go with your friends to that movie you don’t want to see if you’d rather, you know, make art or whatever. Don’t eat the asparagus if you don’t want to eat it. Work your way up to the bigger stuff. Decline, politely, an invitation to a party.

You don’t need an excuse, just say you are unavailable or can’t make it.  If your friends are the kind of people who ask “why not,” you can a) tell them the truth, that you’ve over-committed yourself and need some down time, or b) fib a little. You have another engagement. You have to work. You have to perform emergency gastrointestinal surgery on a rainbow-bloated unicorn.

Your friends will forgive you. It’s better for you to say no upfront than to flake out later because your stress levels are too high. If you’re like me, this is a hard concept to wrap your brain around. If you say no, that somehow means you are unreliable, or mean, or neglectful. This is untrue. We are none of those things for saying no.  Selecting your social activities carefully will leave you with more time, and energy, to attend those things that you really want to attend. Which isn’t to say that you don’t want to attend everything. Of course you do, you like your friends. But the reality is, sometimes you have to say no now to say yes later.

Right? Right.

Being Yourself

Okay, before I lose you all in this giant cliché I need to tell you something. I don’t mean, like, “be yourself at the party/on the date/in school/at work.”

I’m talking something deeper, more fundamental.

I’m talking about being true to you.

Find the shining core of your being and polish the glass around it so you can let the light out.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on a spirit quest. Your totem animal doesn’t need to guide your through this transformation. Most of it will be simple, external change. You’ll have to start with a bit of introspection to figure out what those changes are, but I promise, this won’t hurt.

Some of the stress management techniques I came across included: following your intuition; valuing what you believe in, “walk your talk;” feel your feelings and allow yourself to express them; and make changes if you are unhappy with your current situation.

For example, a small part of my stress was not having a private, dedicated space to write. My desk was out in a den, near a big window, vulnerable to feline attack and ambient television noise. So, I decided to move my desk into my bedroom, where I can close the door and the windows are curtained. Apparently, I like to feel cocooned. It’s amazing the difference that one change made. I am more willing to sit at my desk and actually write.

I used to believe that if I championed one cause, I would have to champion them all, as I am a closet tree-hugging hippie. But that’s not true either. I can pick one or two things to really champion and concentrate on supporting monetarily, vocally, or however. I can “walk my talk” without screaming my voice hoarse or breaking a hip.

I know we all have different masks, or personalities, that we put on in certain public places. Just don’t forget to take them off when you get home. Remember to find a sanctuary were you don’t have to worry about what other people think, or feel subject to scrutiny, even if you don’t care what the other people are thinking.

Find your hidey-hole, set it up the way you want, and guard it jealousy. Spend time there. I mean, don’t hermit yourself away for indefinite periods of time, but spend some time just being you in a place that is for you and nobody else.

Maybe get in touch with your totem animal.  Make the changes you want to make (within the scope of law and financial ability) as much as you can.

Shine your light. The rest will come.

“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” – S. Kierkegaard


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