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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Wow. Stress is a distraction. It fills you up (I'm fed up! or I've had it up to here! come to mind) so that you can't appreciate the wonderful things, or even deal with the bothersome things. So often we acknowledge and/or treat the symptom, "stress" thereby avoiding the underlying issue(s). Thanks for a thought provoking piece. Report
I have such a tough time letting go of stress... actually, the issues/items that cause the stress. Much of what you wrote I think/thought and feel/felt, thank you for writing. Report
Thank you so much for writing this. It was just the support i needed (tho' i too am still in the weeds.) This was a great perspective. Report
Thanks for sharing this. I am sure it will be of help to many of us during our times of stress to remember what you have said. Report
I knew there was a reason why I logged on today.....THANK YOU Stephanie for this post....you saved my day; and have given me some ideas on how to deal with the overwhelming stress that I have on my plate. I believe everything happens for a reason......thanks for being the reason :)
Excellent self awareness. Report
Thanks for writing this. Report
I go for a brisk walk or a bike ride, immerse myself in a relaxing tub and delve into a just for the pleasure of it book. Report
Thanks for sharing. The month of July has been this way for me. Through prayer and meditation I know there is a reason for everything....and I am trying to learn from these storms of life, instead of letting them over take and overwhelm me.

Thanks again for the motivation and encouragement. Report
Thank you so much for this. I really needed your message, I actually made myself quite ill last week from overwhelming stress.
Thank you for sharing ideas on how to handle it!
That sounded kind of like my week last week but then Saturday I became MOD. What a wonderful way to end an otherwise stressful week. Report
I loved reading this blog! It totally reminded me of some of the stress I am going through and feelings I am fighting with right now over life. Thank you for sharing and writing such a nice piece of you. It helps me put things in perspective for ME Report
thank you i have had weeks like that loved your blog Report
What a great blog!!!!! Thank you very much! Report
Stepfanie, I always love reading your posts. Thank you. Report
I go for a walk. The faster I go is based on the frustration I am feeling. Report
I completely get being so hard on yourself that you can be hard on others....I never see it that way in the moment, but when I read that I thought "I'm sure anyone who knows me well would describe me exactly like that!"

We can make our problems harder on ourselves sometimes, because we do have those expectations that we can find a solution or work through it all 'better'. But sometimes just feeling it, trying to clear your head, and then dealing with it is the best that you can do....as much I want them for some things there are no quick fixes. Report
Wow, did I need to see this!! I just got done letting myself feel without judgement about what I should be feeling. Thanks for the reinforcement! Report
I understand you completely cause my life has been full of stress related issues since October 2010, and especially since Jan. 2011. Stress is my middle name and I feel that I am reaching my boiling point. I am trying to loose the weight to help myself survive and be there for everyone else. You continue on your path and things will go your way. Report
This is definitely a blog I will save to help me HELP MYSELF. Thank you for such a well written and positive blog. Report
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