Let Go of Your Life Raft--I Promise, You Won't Drown.

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last week just wasn't my week. Personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, I felt off. I was exhausted. I was stressed. I was miserable.
And for much of the week, I didn't tell anyone.
The week started off fine, but it quickly turned on me. One thing happened, then another, then  another. I tried to invoke the 90-second rule for dealing with emotions. I tried to breathe through it. I tried to use yoga to deal with it.
Nothing worked.
So I held it in.
And Thursday night, after a few "first world problems" (broken A/C, getting lost while running an errand, a weak wireless connection, and other inconsequential but frustrating occurrences), it all came to a head.
Though I had a mountain of tasks to do and even some social commitments, I found myself exhausted, in all senses of the word. I lay on my bed at 7:30 p.m., too tired to move, but not in any mood to sleep.

My mind was racing in circles, but my legs and body were too drained to get up (A run would have been great for my mind at that moment.) I started to beat myself up. Why couldn't I get it together? Why couldn't I do it all? Why couldn't I be a better friend, co-worker, athlete, yogini?
I'm a perfectionist. I'm hard on myself. My mom tells me I am so hard on myself that I end up coming down hard on other people, too. "Not everyone has the willpower you do," she told me recently. That "willpower" is sheer grit and determination to succeed. I've been depressed, I've been overweight, and I've been unhappy. And I don't want to go back there again. So, yes, I'm hard on myself.
But, the truth is, that even after all these years of finding happiness, being at my goal weight, and loving my life, life is not all peachy keen. That's not how life works.
Still, I'm hesitant to admit when I'm struggling. You see, I'm supposed to be an expert. I'm good at this healthy, happy stuff. And if I can't seem to get it right, what will people think of me?
I'm a student (and teacher) of yoga. I write about healthy living for, well, a living. And lately, in addition to leading with my heart, I've been trying to live by this notion, which I wrote about when I didn't run a marathon: "We don't have to make such a big deal about ourselves, our enemies, our lovers, and the whole show." --Pema Chödrön
So I had held it in all week. Then it started to leak out. I couldn't sleep well. I wasn't eating right (skipping meals, grazing on foods that didn't satisfy me later on, not eating enough some days and too much other days). I tried to brush it off, posting on Facebook and making quips to co-workers that I was having a bad day. I wasn't taking care of myself emotionally, and I was stretching myself too thin.

By Thursday afternoon, I found myself on the verge of freaking out, my breath quickening, and my blood pressure rising. I went for a walk around the block. Instead of giving in to the tears welling up in my eyes, I cleared my mind. I audibly breathed in and out, slowly, evenly, and deeply. It worked, for awhile.  

That brings me back to Thursday night, when I once again found myself feeling like I'd been pinned under a truck. I took action. I sat there with my foul mood. I made myself feel, really FEEL, those emotions, without reacting, without judging, without beating myself up.

I thought back on what I knew to be true, from my beloved author, Pema Chödrön: "…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we're holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we'd rather collapse and back away. They're like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we're stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it's with us wherever we are."

"Why am I feeling so terrible?" I asked myself.

"I'm stressed," I answered. (Not out loud!)

I know that stress means wanting to be somewhere else. Guess what? That can't happen. We can't change the past, we can't predict the future. We only have this moment, and we have no choice but to be in it. Sure, we can control our reactions in the present, but we can't wish them away.

My stress was due to some professional and personal deadlines that were necessary before some really wonderful things could happen. I sat there and sorted through those feelings, breathing and just letting my mind work out what it needed to.

I closed my eyes and breathed. I imagined my stress as a life raft, one to which I had been clinging for dear life. With every breath I drew in, I felt that life raft deflate ever so slightly. My life raft was sinking, but I felt better. "If I let go of the stress, will I drown?" I fretted.  "Nope. You know why? Because you can swim!" I told myself.  So I let go of it entirely.

We cling to stress in tough times because we feel it's our only option, when in reality we can release it and deal with life's problems much more clearly. Does not clinging to stress mean we're lazy or unmotivated? Nope.

In my case, by not letting stress take over, I was able to be more productive and work through the tasks that were causing my uneasiness in the first place.

Stress is like an ever-present, really annoying soundtrack. It's an inappropriate laugh track during an 80s sitcom. It's someone yapping on a cellphone in the library. It's like trying to have a serious conversation in a crowded restaurant. It's distracting.

By letting go of stress, you realize how much easier it is to cope, to evolve, to work, to study—whatever it was that stress was impeding in your life.

I'm still in the weeds and have a few more days of tough stuff ahead of me, but I'll make it through. Just writing this has been helpful, and it will serve as a reminder that I need to practice what I preach.

I slept better Thursday night than I had all week, and though I had a rough morning on Friday (I'm writing this Friday afternoon), I can see the light on the other side.
I am cutting myself some slack. I am breathing through it. And I am laughing at myself. Who do I think I am? I'm just a human, flaws and all, no better or worse than anyone else.  Life has its ups and it has its downs. And this blog is a reminder to all of that we can make it through.

Thanks for reading!

How do you get yourself out of bad moods? (In addition to my life-raft self-talk, I also cuddled with my kitties, listened to French music, and posted messages of gratitude on some friends' Facebook walls. It helped.)

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Thank you for writing this and for sharing it. For me, stress is awareness. It's a tension between where I am and where I want to be. Letting go and being in the moment - interpreting the best of the moment and the possibilities - and facing the fear, whatever it is this time, lets me keep moving forward. Stress is an uneasy companion I'm still learning to live with. Report
yes, its okay to let go, lose track, fall behind and its also okay to outsource your work to your va and live carefree. Report
Awesome post - thanks! I have a hard time letting go but find that a nightly bath works well. Report
I got it but didn't - if you know what I mean - I'm sure there is a good, powerful message here that will help me - but I'm not getting it like I think I should. So, I'm going to use my resources - got a great friend who I'm going to copy this to and have her interpret for me to get it. If I've learned one thing teaching - 2 or 3 people can state the same thing in different ways and different people will "get it" from at least one of them. Thanks for posting - I'm reading this a couple weeks later and am hoping that life is back together again for you now. Report
I do a lot of praying and meditation so I know where you're coming from. I use to make up guided meditation tapes for myself and friends. Why I ever stopped is a mystery of it's own. I think that my husband had something to do with that. Maybe you could do that on - line too. Report
This is an awesome blog!!! Stress can be a killer! And I know that we all have to deal with it in our own way. I am dealing with an aging parent. It isn't easy but I have made a "deal" with my doc...one hour each day is mine. I can do what ever I want. It just has to be mine and it is working. Thanks for voicing what so many of us are unable to say. Report
When I feel this way, it is usually because I have allowed clutter and chaos to take over...either my home or my brain. I turn on happy music...calming music...music that allows me to center myself. I force my self to focus on one task...it could be the least important task like clearing the kitchen counters, folding laundry, updating my SP...anything that allows me to move and accomplish something while being in the moment. inevitably, God steps in and helps me return to order in my mind so that I can take action in my life. It is wonderful to be human and be able to rely on God to move me through trials and triumphs. Thanks for sharing your day! Report
Thanks for being so transparent Stephanie! I like so many identified with your week. I recently took two serious falls within six days (2nd one I blacked out for 15-20 minutes) and have followed up with a doctor's appt. I will have to be seen by a couple of specialists to find out if anything serious is going on. In the meantime, I became lazy, disappointed, and just plain had a huge pity-party for myself. I understand I need to take it easy until the doc's check me out completely...but I don't have to give up (been giving into eating sweets late at night) on eating healthy, or exercising more moderately. I don't want to undo the 50+ lbs I've already lost with Spark. Thanks for being so honest and giving us all a real role model. Report
OMG!! I feel like you were writing that to and just for me. Thank you so much for sharing Report
I was having a week like that... too many responsibilities, an unexpected addition to my work week, procrastination on a major project, a dry well, a looming deadline... I prayed. Everything got done. "I had to let go and let God" before my creative juices would flow again. It made all the difference. Report
I try not to let the pressure of life affect me so negatively but when it does I take my dogs for a long walk and commune with the world around me. Slowly coming to the realisation that in the great scheme of things nothing is that important. Report
I stay in a happy mood each and every day, because I know this is the only life I will ever live so I am grateful for each day I have. Report
Thank you for writing this. Life does have its ups and downs. Too often we concentrate on the downs and miss a lot of up opportunities. Report
I read Pema Chodron when I'm overwhelmed. Report
I sure do understand the being hard on myself also makes me harder on others. I think I need to lighten up, but I hold people to high expectations because I believe they can do it. Report
Wow. It's like you wrote this for me, about me. Brought me to tears.

Seriously. I've been in a foul mood the past couple days and have been feeling overwhelmed for a long time. I just didn't recognize that I was feeling overwhelmed until this morning when someone commented on a blog of mine. It took a lot for me to write my blog because usually I don't like to admit that I am struggling.

Thank you for having the courage to share your struggles. Report
Thanks for sharing!

Its good to remember that current weight (either being at goal or a ways from it) doesnt mean that everything else in life doesnt happen.

Take care! Report
Wow, I think this was a great blog! I often wonder how others get a grip on themselves when everything seems to be going wrong. I'm still learning how to do this for myself. While I know I'll always be a work in progress, it isn't easy to accept sometimes! Report
What a relief, I was feeling exactly the same way! I felt like I was drowning in a sea of "problems" (Not REAL problems, but things that seem like problems: deadlines, stress from a bridal shower, a leak in our pool.....I mean come on!) I felt so selfish and guilty for being stressed about these problems. I'm letting go of my life raft and going to my first yoga class in a few months. My life is just better with yoga :) Report
Talk about perfect timing! Thank you!! Report
My kitty seems to know when I'm burning. She comes to me, meows in her soft sqeaky voice, and cuddles on my lap. It seems to soften my own mood. Report
Whenever I am stressed, I pray. That has NEVER failed me. Report
One of the best posts I have ever read on Daily Spark. Report
When I'm down, I do one of two things. The first is exercise because it usually takes away my blues and it's a stress reducer. The second is to list all the things that are good in my life - wow! It's always an eye-opener and lifts me up. Report
thanks for this!! Report

Thank you so much! I really needed this right now. It is amazing that your bad week can actually help me to deal more openly with mine. I don't like to admit when I am having a hard time or a bad day. I want to be all things to everyone, including myself. I stress out about worrying (lol) over the things that need to get done. And this week in particular I feel like a failure as my stress is leading to unhealthy choices. I too can swim and will make it through this! Report
As an overweight couch potato turned Sparker turned fitness instructor, I know exactly what you mean! Friends that have known me since couch potato days sometimes seem to believe that because I have lost weight and gotten healthier, that I must never have any bad days (and that weight management must NEVER be a problem for me now!) I can so relate to your blog, thanks for sharing! There's been plenty of stress in my life this summer, and I know I need to learn to deal with it better--what a concept, that I can just LET GO! I will work on that. Report
This is me right now! i'm learning to let go and not allow things to become a raft of stress in the first place. Recently I had a rough month or so, and I learned that I need new ways to deal with my stress. Ignoring it wasn't working and was in fact making me miserable. So I'm learning to let go of things, to pick my battles, and be emotionally detached from stuff that doesn't matter. Report
i was/am in a similar boat and i handled it EXACTLY the same way. i'm not out of the woods entirely but i walked an 18 minute mile the morning after not really being able to work out the last 2 weeks and it was an INSTANT mood booster. i figured out i WILL be okay despite swimming through some really crappy muck the last weeks. Report
You could not have written this at a better time for me! I NEEDED this. You are amazing and wonderful. Report
This is like a good book. I like it so much I'll read it again, because I'm sure I missed something the first time. Thanks for sharing. I feel better, and I want to feel even better. Report
Stepfanie ~ I had to check twice to make sure my name wasn't on this blog! The things you described, even the timing of it, so closely matched some things I was dealing with last week, that reached critical mass at the end of the week, and which I gave into emotionally over the weekend.

I liked your observation that you can make things easier by choosing to let go of stress, instead of clinging to it. I always find that if I acknowledge what I'm feeling and then accept my immediate, in-the-moment circumstances, it is easier for me to get on with it (whatever "it" is) and start taking action away from that hard, stressful moment. I would love to find a way to avoid stress instead of finding myself, once again, IN it, but I'm not sure that's completely possible in life. Sometimes the best I can do is try to remain fluid. Stress/life happens. Deep breath. Now...what do I need to do?

Some things that help me are: having a good cry; doing something physically demanding (and listening to music that pumps me up at the same time) OR deep breathing and slow stretching; taking a warm shower; getting a task done that I've been putting off; tidying up my environment and making it beautiful; lighting candles; aromatherapy; reading something either inspirational or totally engaging and distracting; remembering that nothing, not even this, is permanent; keeping a Gratitude Journal; getting outside to a beautiful place, preferably near water, as I find the sight and sounds of water very soothing.

Thank you for this blog! I'm not through my difficult time, and your words served as a reminder that I can lean into this temporary dissatisfaction and learn what changes I need to make and what I need to simply accept. Report
I just let it go and let God handle it. That is what is getting me through cancer treatment. Report
We certainly all experience stress. I have several "go to" approaches: Take a walk, do a devotion, spend time alone, light a candle, start something new, finish something undone, fold clothes, or escape and go somewhere--doesn't have to be far. Some times I just need a little break.
I am a notorious procrastinator--which ADDS to my stress!!

Thanks for your insight and sharing your life. Report
Git Er Done. Report
THANK YOU!!! I have been so stressed out since last week! I have a lot of work related stuff on my mind and it really took a toll on me over the weekend - I couldn't sleep, I was anxious, I felt like I couldn't tell anyone about it - even though I have a very supportive husband! I know that I'll survive, but sometimes the stress gets really tough! And it doesn't help that I tend to over react to EVERYTHING and expect the absolute worst!!! I've calmed down some since my supervisor didn't freak out over the situation but I'm still on pins and needles! Thanks for the reminder! Report
Excellet blog! Report
I enjoyed reading your blog. It seems the older I get the more reminders I need about handling stress. I recently lost both my parents and feel even more lost and stressed these days. Really wierd feeling that I'm next in line...I have a wonderful husband and 3 great kids. They are the reason I get up every morning and plug thru this life. I try and enjoy each day to the fullest and not sweat the small stuff. Thanks again for a wonderful reminder. Have a great day. Report
Thanks for the reminder, SR.
Just breathe!
elizabeth Report
Great eye-opener! I realized that change is within me and to accept the things that I can't change and have the wisdom God gave me to know the difference! Report
This really hit home for me today. I, too, have been very stressed lately & your blog helped me see that I can handle it. Report
Thank you so much for sharing. Your situation mirrors mine right now and I've been overcompensating with my food and mood. I appreciate the insights you provided and reminding me to "let go" This was exactly what I needed to hear this morning! Report
Words to live by!!! Report
PS! Thank you so much for the phrase first world problems. They are daunting somedays, but...

(some in the firstworld of course are living as if not. Terrible here or 'there') Report
i've never thought of it this way, but sometimes i feel like i am so tightly wound that if i move, just move-even to getinto the tub--i'll fly apart. i believe tht that binding is stress. EASE it off. Let it drift off as i get into and relax in the tub. or simply breath. Realize that i can cover myself up and make myself cozy if i need it. However that tight winding stuff is just about to strangle me and keep me away from the world that stresses me so. Sorry to pour out so, but this entry really hit me.

Thank you much Report
Thank you very much for sharing your personal struggles with stress in your blog. I deal with a great deal of stress with my family... especially due to financial hardships. I began taking Xanex to assist me in dealing with stress. This makes it very hard for me now... it's the first thing I turn to now if I am faced with a stressful situation. I've lost my basic ability to deal with stress on my own. Your blog reminded me of strategies to try... and for forgiving myself for the feeling of stress I feel. I heard someone say once anxiety drives life... too much and you won't get out of bed in the morning too little and you won't either... Thank you. Report
I have a wonderful boss - he keeps reminding me that "90% of things you fear will never happen." When I get stressed out I often don't realize it until it becomes overwhelming. I'm learning how to recognize the signs better. What helps me? Usually it's sitting down and making a list of things to do and a plan for tackling them. Suddenly things are a lot more manageable.

Exercise is a great stress reliever but if I have a lot of tasks looming on the horizon and no plan then I can't concentrate on exercise so that has to come first. Report
This was a great blog! It seems like the heat is making me feel more stressed out. I listen to my favorite music & dance or go to the beach & listen to the soothing waves. Sometimes I just go ahead & cry. Report
Thanks, Steph. Been dealing w/ depression myself. Report
Thanks for writing this blog. We all can benefit from it when it comes to stress. Report
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