Validation

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

ValidatedI really like to be validated. Is that crazy to admit? I really like when people agree with me, say I’m right, or tell me I’m on the right track. Really, I just love being complimented in general. That might sound really vain, but, I promise you, it’s not. Or maybe it is. But I don’t mean for it to be.

I walk around all the time second guessing myself. “Am I doing enough? Did I say it right? Am I good enough?” These questions and more float through my head a million times a day. So, when someone offers me some kind of validation, I lap it up. It’s evidence that I can use to shut out all of those self-deprecating questions constantly hammering away at me.

But, the truth is, I rely too heavily on validation from others. If I’m not getting any validation, all those questions nagging away at me get even louder and more obnoxious.  I start to feel like it’s true that I’m not enough, and, more than that, everyone else knows it too.

It’s not healthy.

I have to learn to be my own validation. To be kind to myself. To be compassionate to myself. To be supportive of myself. To encourage myself. To believe in myself. Kind words from other people will never have the kind of power that would come from genuinely loving myself.

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Keep It Real

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

masqueradeKeep it real. What do I mean by that? Basically, I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t have to fake it. I don’t have to pretend to like something I don’t. I don’t have to pretend everything is ok when it’s not. I don’t have to pretend I have it all together when I (probably very obviously to all of you) don’t.

The problem is, I’m always pretending. I’m not trying to be fake. I just don’t like to offend, upset, or inconvenience anyone. Because of that, I often go along with whatever I feel I must go along with. I’m not talking about merely being agreeable. I think, in a lot of circumstances, it’s probably better to be pleasant and agreeable. My problem is that I never, ever speak up about what I want or need. I just go with the flow, even when it’s to my own detriment, just for the sake of making things easy for others. I wish that I could claim that I’m some kind of big-hearted, generous person, but that’s not usually the case. I go along with whatever and then find myself stewing inside. Eventually, I get to a point where I’ve let so many things build up that I’ve got resentment bubbling out of my ears. Then I blow up. Usually at my poor husband. Whether or not he was actually the cause of said resentment. It’s not exactly a healthy cycle.

When I was growing up, I simply was not permitted to ever disagree with my mom. Her opinion was (and is) always right no matter what. I’m not trying to blame my mom for all of my faults. I’m a grown up, and I’m responsible for my own behavior. But, in this instance, I really do think that’s why I am the way I am. I think I was just trained to sweep my thoughts and feelings under the rug. (Or, at the very least, just never admit them out loud.) Now, that’s my default setting.

A lot of my stress comes from these kind of circumstances. Circumstances I could avoid if I would just speak up.

The flip side of this twisted logic is that I never ask for help when I need it. I don’t want to get in the way or be a burden or otherwise inconvenience anyone. I have a lot of really sweet people in my life. I’m sure if I ever reached out when I was in need, someone would be there for me. But I wouldn’t know if that’s true or not. Because I’ve never done it. At least not willingly.

If I look at all the times I don’t ask for help when I need it and all the times I go along with something or agree to do something when I really should have said no, I can find the source of the majority of my stress. If I can get myself to remember to “keep it real,” I think I can eliminate a lot of my stress right at the root.

Now that I think about it, I think I just figured out what emotional boundaries are. I’ve always been kind of confused about how to know where I need emotional boundaries. I think I finally understand. If I can remember to “keep it real” and actually act real, I think my emotional boundaries will naturally fall into place. I’m pretty sure this may be a life altering breakthrough for me.

I – “Is It Really That Bad?”

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

don't forgetI might be the queen of catastrophic thinking. I really hate to admit that. It’s one of my least favorite traits. Luckily, it’s not actually a trait at all. It’s just faulty thinking. With some work, I can change this about myself.

My extreme catastrophic thinking basically means I go from small problem to life-altering-negative-consequences in about 2.5 seconds. It’s not rational, it’s not providing a good example to my kiddos, and it’s certainly not good for my stress levels and emotional well-being.

To get started on breaking this habit, I’m going to start asking myself a simple question. “Is it really that bad?” When things seem to be spiraling out of control, I’m going to ask myself, “Is it really that bad?” When I seem to have made a fatal parenting error, I’m going to ask myself, “Is it really that bad?” When I realize we did the entire science project wrong or left a key ingredient out of the cake, or made a wrong turn, I’m going to ask, “Is it really that bad? Or does it just seem really bad in this moment to me?”

My most recent A to Z epiphany is that a little change in perspective can make a huge difference. I’m going to start really working on checking my perspective to make sure it’s realistic and rational. If it’s true that perception is reality, changing my perception can change my reality.

Remember those “W.W.J.D?” bracelets that were really big among church kids back in the 90s? I feel like I need to make myself one that says I.I.R.T.B? I guess it’s not quite as catchy, but it would remind me to check my thinking when I’m starting to freak out. Maybe I’ll just tie a string around my finger. One way or another, I’m going to find a way to remember to ask myself, “It is really that bad?”

H is for Hope

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

H was supposed to be for hydrate. When I am adequately hydrated, I have more focus, am less irritable, and have more energy. All of this things are good for keeping my stress levels down. I’ve also learned that it takes much more than the standard “8 glasses a day” to keep me hydrated. For me, it take closer to 3.5 quarts. Seriously. More if it’s really hot or I’m working really hard. But, for some reason, I struggle to keep myself hydrated. I was going to talk about ways to work on getting all that water in me every day.

Josh and Ben standing on the edge of Lookout Mountain. Chattanooga, TN

Josh and Ben standing on the edge of Lookout Mountain. Chattanooga, TN

But I changed my mind. Because, for me, at this point in the A to Z challenge, H is for hope.

I have learned so much about myself in the last couple of weeks. I had really dug myself into a deep, deep rut. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you might remember that in the past 5 years I have either been working outside of the home or attending graduate school while I homeschool my kiddos. For two of those years there was an overlap when I was doing all three things. I wouldn’t take those crazy years back for anything, but I really developed some bad habits during that period of my life. Apparently, those habits have stuck with me. My life was so frazzled and so hectic during that time. Things have calmed down a lot since I resigned and graduated, but I haven’t. I’m still acting like I’m running around with my hair on fire.

Working through this challenge and blogging about ways to reduce my stress has really caused me to ponder how I got this stressed out in the first place, what’s maintaining this level of stress, and, obviously, what I can do about it. Spending all this time thinking about these things has really been good for me.

I have felt like I have been drowning for so long. For the first time in a long time, I’m remembering that I know how to swim. I have confidence that I can conquer this stress and regain some sanity, both for me and my family. I’m finally remembering that I am in charge of my life, it’s not in charge of me. For the first time in a long time, I feel really hopefully about today and all the days to come.

F is for Fun

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

pack muleI almost didn’t want to write about this topic. It seems so “master of the obvious” to suggest one should have fun to combat or prevent stress. But then I realized I need to write this post for myself because, obvious or not, I missed the memo.

A few days ago I mentioned that I tend to cut out eating and sleeping to keep myself on schedule. That’s true. I eat standing up while teaching or in the car driving or in any other way that prevents me from “wasting” time on something so trivial as food consumption. If I can’t multitask my breakfast or lunch, I probably just cut it out all together. As far as sleep goes – I simply don’t allow myself the opportunity to rest or nap, no matter how exhausted I am, because I simply can’t afford to be so unproductive.

But you know what got thrown out the window long before eating and sleeping? Fun. I rarely give myself the privilege to just let go and have fun. But that’s absurd! Fun is not a privilege. Fun is a part of life. We are supposed to have fun and enjoy life. Responsibility is well and good, but it is not all there is. Responsibility should be tempered by privilege. Work should be tempered by leisure. They are two sides of the same scale. Life is made of both. Sadly, my scale is freakishly unbalanced, and it has been for a long time. It’s no wonder I’m so stressed out.

Fun is not optional, and I’m going to stop treating in as such. As I work to create better boundaries in my life, I’m going to ensure that fun is always on the agenda. I’m not saying I’m going to throw all productivity out the window, but I am definitely going to be reevaluating just how much “productivity” is actually required to have a productive day. In fact, having fun is productive in it’s own way because it keeps me emotionally and physically balanced.

I firmly believe that kids deserve to have fun every day. That’s one of the reasons we homeschool. I want my kids to have a childhood and to enjoy it to the fullest. I don’t know how I missed the obvious correlation that adults need fun too. I haven’t grown out of my need to have fun – that’s not part of human development. So I’m going to start having more of it.

Honestly, choosing to not have fun is an affront against my human dignity. If I just stay busy, busy, busy, and never stop to enjoy, have fun, and see beauty, I’ve reduced myself to some kind of labor animal. I’ve made myself a pack mule. I am not a mule, and I’m going to stop treating myself like one.

B is for Boundaries

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2014-01-30 11.31.04Boundaries. I’ve always heard I need to enforce them. Never knew how to get them in the first place.

If I think about money, boundaries make sense to me. Our household has a certain amount of money. With that money we need to do really important stuff like buy food and pay the electric bill. There is a lot of other stuff I’d like to buy with money, but the necessities have to come first. Then, when it comes to the fun stuff, it’s much better to live within our means than to go in to debt. All of that makes sense to me.

My time and my emotions are also valuable commodities. Wow! What an epiphany.

Now that I realize this, I can see that I need to make big changes when it comes to time. I have the same 24 hours a day and 7 days a week that everyone else has. I need to prioritize that time better. First comes the really important stuff like sleeping and eating. These are usually the first things I try to skimp on or cut out of my day when I’m running low on time. But, in reality, they are the really important stuff  – just like buying food and paying the electric bill are really important when it comes to money. Next comes my obligations to my family, like educating my children. Then comes down time – my children deserve free time with me and my husband especially deserves free time with me. All of this stuff needs to fit into my life. Only after I have all of this stuff working should I consider volunteering or helping out with some other project.

In some ways, this idea feels really selfish to me. The reality is: I like to help, and I have a really hard time saying no. Those two are a fatal combination. I need to set boundaries for myself when it comes to time. After I fit in all the stuff mentioned above, I can see how much time I have left. Whatever is left is the only time I have to share with others in this particular season of my life.

When I set appropriate boundaries with my time, my stress level will decrease because I will be giving my body the rest and nutrition it needs, plus I won’t be pulled in a million different directions and always on the go.

Somehow, this same principle applies to my emotions. I’ll need a little more time to figure that part out. Emotions aren’t concrete, but they have a real impact on my life and stress levels. I’ll be pondering how to apply boundaries to how I allow other people to effect my emotions. Do you have any tips for me? I definitely need some advice to get started.

A is for Action

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2014-09-25 11.06.30Initially, I was planning to write today’s post about art. I was going to talk about getting creative even if you’re not artsy (which I am not). I even read an article recently that talked about the stress-relieving benefits of coloring. “Coloring!” I thought, “That’s perfect! My kids love to color. I could color with them! They would be getting mommy time; I would be relieving stress. Done and done.”

I still may try that. But I decided to start with something more fundamental. If I really want to weed the stress out of my life, I need to own it. I need to decide to do something about it. I need to commit to taking action.

My one year old can’t walk, and it’s probably my fault. I’m not alarmed. She’s developmentally fine. But I carry her on demand. My 2-year-old wants to be carried more than most other two-year-olds. Even my 4-year-old asks to be picked up. I’m really bad about carrying my kids.

I think I’ve been approaching my faith life much like my little ones approach walking. I just reach up and beg God to pick me up. But the fact is, I’m perfectly capable of walking. I might need Him to hold my hand, but I need to put one foot in front of the other. I’ve been so stressed for so long, and I beg God to take it away, but the fact is, I haven’t done much other than whine about how I want to be carried.

So, today is a new day. Today, I begin taking action. Today, I am going to become an active participant in creating my life, not a whinny spectator wishing that things were unfolding differently. As the old saying goes, “Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” I’m finally going to take that later part seriously in regards to my stress levels.