I wrote about my own post-divorce stress in Tuesday's post, and even though I have already admitted that I am still struggling, I have found a few ways to combat my anxiety. The first and perhaps the most important component to dealing with stress no matter what the cause, is to admit you are under stress and suffering in the first place. This was the hardest part for me, because I like to think that I can do anything, and was working extra hard to prove how tough I was after my divorce. To prove my strength of will, I worked longer hours, I worked out harder, and I did everything I could to feel like I was really in control. But when my body started telling me enough was enough, I finally had to give in and start being kinder to myself. It has been a long process, but I have found some techniques that have actually improved my overall well-being, and hopefully you'll find at least one of them useful.
Everything in Moderation, Even Healthy Habits
As a disclaimer, I am not the kind of girl who goes to yoga classes or who meditates. I don't subscribe to anything that I perceive as too new-age, or too slow, physically, and I also avoid group activities. When I exercise, I lift heavy and use intensity to achieve results. But, one crucial change I had to make when I was experiencing the height of my divorce stress was toning down my intensity when it came to working out. I still did my Jillian Michaels routines, but I went from an hour long session six days a week to thirty minutes, four days a week. I used the remaining time for slow-paced, gentle walks outside. I made a point of taking in some fresh air, and walking is something that isn't demanding on the body, but still invigorating. And no, I didn't gain any weight when I made that change. That's because the body under stress is already producing cortisol, a hormone that encourages weight gain. Giving the body a little break for a while can actually encourage weight loss, because it isn't pumping out extra cortisol in response to the combination of mental and physical stress it is burdened with. So if you're like me and exercise intensely, slowing down just a little might help. However, I would advise anyone who doesn't exercise enough to start now, because not enough exertion can make stress levels worsen. Moderation is key.
Write it Down
Another effective change I made to calm my mind was creating lists. This sounds so simple, but I didn't realize that for months, I couldn't focus on work because there were so many thoughts and worries buzzing in the back of my mind. The only way to take control over my brain again and focus on a task was to rid myself of those worries, at least for a while. I bought a notepad for this purpose, and when I found my thoughts drifting to my worries and fears instead of concentrating on what I was doing, I wrote them down. I made a list – and it was always long - every morning of all the things I was worried about, or feared, or had anxiety about. I found that once I wrote them all down, I had a period of freedom from thinking about them. I felt more focused, and more relaxed.
Take a Nap
I know it sounds impractical, but if you possibly can, a short nap, even a fifteen minute one, can work wonders on the body during stressful times. I am not a napper by nature, but I noticed that after my father died, and then after my divorce, were two times in my life that my body seemed to want to sleep in the afternoon. The brain needs the extra downtime to process all it is experiencing, and sleep is the only time it can repair itself. Too little sleep is one of the worst things you can do to yourself, but especially if you're already going through an emotional and mental challenge. I know a lot of women who feel guilty if they rest during the day, because there is always something we could be doing. We live in a culture where rest is considered weak, which is strange, because not enough rest is what makes us weak. So, to feel both stronger and calmer, close your eyes and lie down for a while.
Make Time For Yourself
One of my main stressors immediately following my divorce was money. I was so worried about not being able to support myself as a single woman that I really taxed myself early on with way too much. At one point I was juggling four jobs, and even now I'm not sure what I was thinking when I thought I could ever find balance or peace in my life that way. I still work long hours, but I have since realized that I am only going to live one life, and every day is valuable. I had to give up two of the jobs and consequently some of the money, but it was okay because at least I could regain control of my own time, and that relieved an enormous weight from my shoulders. Scheduling in some time, even if it's only a an hour a day, to pursue something that gives me true happiness has made all the difference. We only have a limited amount of time in life, and we can spend it in a state of anxiety and constant pressure, or we can make every moment worth living.
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Lead Image Courtesy of Wiki Commons- Pablo Picasso's "Girl in a Chemise" 1905