What We Talk About When We Talk About Stress

The topic of stress has been coming up a lot recently in my circle of friends. Jobs, relationships, finances, big moves, family drama … stress is everywhere, and the truth is that it’s unavoidable.

When I was younger, I had my fair share of stress and anxiety problems. I was an intense worrier, and easily able to imagine wildly unlikely scenarios about which I would inevitably get myself worked up. I displaced worry about big things onto worry about little things – because the little things I could control. The big things I couldn’t. But through all of that stress and worry, I learned a lot, and what I learned then – from my awesome parents, good books, guidance counselors, friends – still holds true now. Stress is hard to handle sometimes, but the following steps always help me:

1. DON’T PANIC. This was one that came from my parents. Our first reaction when we get stressed is often to panic before we really assess the situation. If we start out in a panic, it will be a lot more difficult to handle whatever situation is causing the stress – and it will inevitably make it seem that much worse.

2. Don’t let stress snowball. This one goes along with “Don’t Panic”, and I found it in one of the many books I own by Richard Carlson (author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff). The issue here is that we often let one stressful situation compound upon another one. Rather than dealing with just the present issue, our minds race to everything else that has caused us stress recently or may potentially cause us stress in the future, and we simply can’t handle what appears to be an insurmountable heap of horrors. In reality, what we are facing is one situation, at one moment in time, and in truth that is the only thing over which we have control – our reaction in this moment. It’s easier said than done to not let stress snowball, but even just being aware of the fact that our brains are doing that can be helpful.

3. Maintain Perspective. This is another tough one – in the midst of crisis, it can be difficult to look beyond the present. Stress grows from a tiny angry animal into a giant monster that stretches infinitely into the future. But this is closely tied in with the “Don’t Panic” rule. It’s important to look at stressful situations and ask if the stress will matter in a week, or a year – knowing that it won’t matter doesn’t take the stress away, but it’s a helpful reminder that it isn’t permanent, and it’s not something to lose too much sleep over. If the stress is larger, then it’s important to be aware of that, too, and figure out the healthiest way to manage it if it’s coming from a long-term situation. Stress is something we all have to live with, but it shouldn’t take over our lives.

4. Have a Laugh. Stressed at work? Take thirty seconds to watch a funny video, or go online and read an article on The Onion. If you’re elsewhere and have more freedom, take a walk. Look at the world around you and find one wonderful or funny or interesting thing about it. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own stress that we almost refuse to leave it behind. But as long as you can still laugh about something – a joke, a movie, a tv show – you can remember that stress can be managed.

What do you do to help relieve stress?

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My New Blog Launch: Rust Belt Wanderlust

I’m excited to announce the launch of my new blog, Rust Belt Wanderlust! Dedicated to life, style and adventure on the north coast of America.

Check it out for style and fashion photography that highlights all of the hidden gems and popular spots the Cleveland area has to offer.

http://www.rustbeltwanderlust.wordpress.com

 

 

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Disconnected Connectivity

When did rudeness start being defined as not answering a text quickly enough, instead of being defined as ignoring people around you in favor of what’s happening on your phone?

A friend was recently telling me about an experience she had in which someone got upset with her because she didn’t answer their text “quickly” enough. The reason? She had a guest in from out of town and was entertaining said guest. As such, she wasn’t as attentive to her phone. God forbid.

We live in a world now where we’re expected to be available 24/7. Even I find myself apologizing if I don’t answer a text or email fast enough – I think a lot of people do – and it almost seems as though that’s expected. “Sorry I wasn’t available, I was doing xyz”. We need reasons now for not getting back to people immediately, it’s not enough to simply say you wanted a break from your phone. It now seems more unacceptable to be late in answering a text than it does to be ignoring people you’re with in favor of your phone. And what does that really say except “I have something going on that’s more important and more interesting than being present here”.

I’m certainly guilty of this myself, but over the past few months I’ve made a bigger effort to be in the moment instead of staring at a screen. Because when it’s all said and done, I want to remember the fantastic time I had with my friends, not the texts I was sending or the pictures I was posting or whether or not I was getting service. Honestly, getting someplace and discovering that your phone doesn’t work is a fantastically freeing experience.

Call me old school, but I think unplugging is important now and then. It’s important to remember how insignificant technology and social media and smart phones are in the grand scheme of life, because it’s all too easy to let them become everything. 

After all, we’ve got a lot of living to do. And it’s a lot more fun without a phone in one hand.

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The Worst Thing Ever (or) Validation, Stress, and Negative One-Upmanship

Everyone in the world has something that they would classify as the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. Those things can vary from “The day the rebel soldiers murdered my family in front of me” to “the day my fish died”. The variety of the human experience on this planet is utterly and ridiculously unfathomable, and as such, so are the “worst” things that happen to us.

When I was an RA, we went through a few weeks of training before the start of the year. One of the things they talked to us about was the validation of feelings. If a student comes to you because they failed a class, and that is the worst thing that ever happened to them, you need to treat it as such. Likewise, if a student comes to you because their family member just died and that is the worst thing that ever happened to them, you treat it as such. One person’s struggles do not invalidate another’s, even if we’re tempted to believe that they do.

The examples above are extreme, but I think that too often we get caught up in the culture of negative one-upmanship. Someone may say “Oh gosh, I had the worst day – x, y and z just happened”, to which someone else may respond, “Oh, that’s nothing, that happens to me all the time,” or, “Oh, tell me about it, listen to this”. The thing is, there is no point in trying to one-up someone in misery or stress. What can be gained by that? Certainly nothing good or positive. It may lead to temporary validation of a negative mood, but ultimately it only feeds on itself. And the person telling you about their stress probably just needs to vent, rather than feel as though their issues are invalid.

Because at the end of the day, struggles are struggles. And what may seem minute to us may be mountainous to another, or vice versa. We cannot afford to entrap ourselves in a cycle of “I have it worse than you” statements that feed on and inflate our own misery while simultaneously tearing down the feelings of another. Instead, we should simply encourage one another. If someone is having a rough time and you think you have it rougher, that’s okay, but it doesn’t mean they have no right to complain or vent, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they are not deserving of comfort.

We all struggle, and we all need to be each other’s life boats from time to time. Instead of trying to swim further into the depths than someone else to prove a point, why not give each other a hand and get onto the boat?

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The Routine of a Writer (Or So They Say)

I was recently reading up about the routine of various writers – Vonnegut, Hemingway, Miller, the guy who couldn’t write without the smell of rotting apples, the guy who could only write with coffee – after awhile they all start to blur together.

Reading about their routines is interesting, absolutely. We always like to find out what brilliant people do every day, perhaps at least in the vague hope that we might find some aspect of their routine that we admire. Some aspect we can take upon ourselves in the hope that if we just do this the way Stephen King does it, maybe we, too, can be brilliant.

But it doesn’t really work that way, does it? And believe me, I’ve tried. Knowing me, I will continue trying. I’ll probably keep discovering bits and pieces of writing routines and advice that I try to take upon myself. Am I at my most creative at 5am? I don’t know, I’m never awake then. Maybe I should be.

The truth is, though, that a great and brilliant mind is a great and brilliant mind. How that brilliance comes about is almost irrelevant (although definitely interesting), because it can never be copied. Knowing a routine does not mean knowing a mind – and it’s the minds of these literary giants that produced the work we admire so much. Does routine play into that? Yes. But doing things the way Hemingway did them does not mean you can suddenly write like Hemingway, in the same way that doing things the way a stock broker does them does not mean you can suddenly work on Wall Street. I find reading these routines to be inspiring, but I always have to check myself in my enthusiasm to attempt copying them.

Because my routine is my own. I wrote my novel in a month, and I did it at night after work with a glass of red wine and my cat sleeping on the back of the couch behind me, a furry guard between myself and the draft of the old windows in my apartment. I honestly don’t know if I could ever pull that off again, or if my routine would be the same if I did.

After all, there’s a certain beauty in routine, but there is always a certain thrill to chaos.

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A Wedding? I Love Weddings. Sensibility All Around!

Wedding season is upon us, and as a shameless romantic, I adore this time of year. Happy Endings, fantastic parties, open bars …. but the thing is, people have really been cocking weddings up lately. And by “lately” I mean basically for as long as I can remember. So, here is a definitive list of what weddings should and shouldn’t be about. Because, you know, as someone who is not married and has no immediate plans to be married, I’m obviously qualified to put this together.

Weddings SHOULD be about:
– Celebrating the couple
– Avowing and celebrating the next 70+ years of partnership
– Family and friends
– Creating wonderful, lasting memories
– Having an absolutely fantastic time

Weddings SHOULDN’T be about:
– The bride alone. I’m sorry, I missed the part where she was marrying herself and the wedding should only be about her. Groom? Who needs a groom?
– Perfection. It’s one day, and things will go wrong, but that is OKAY! In the long run, it doesn’t matter.
– The spectacle. A wedding is the beginning of a long-ass partnership and you’d better be ready to work hard every day for that. Get married because you want the marriage, not because you want the wedding.
– Making people spend money. Have you seen this economy lately? $350 bridesmaid dresses, 3 bridal showers and a bachelorette party in Vegas is tough on anyone’s wallet. Do things right and do them well, but don’t bleed the wedding party dry!

Long story short, don’t get so wrapped up in planning a wedding that you forget about what you’re really committing to – a marriage that (hopefully) will last forever.
Now, someone point me in the direction of the open bar.

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The New Girl in Town

Ah, new jobs. Simultaneously exciting and terrifying –  like jumping out of a plane or not double-checking that your socks match before going out for the day (you rebel, you). I started a new job on Monday. Still copywriting, but at a different, and much larger, agency. I’d been at my last place for two years, so this is definitely a big change for me. Aside from no longer being on a boat, there are now 90 names to learn instead of fifteen, and a whole new set of clients and accounts. Frankly, I love it. It’s big and scary, but it’s also fantastic, and nothing is quite as rewarding as getting someplace and realizing that you’re exactly where you should be.

That being said, let’s cover a few of the inevitable situations that come with being the new kid:

1. There will always be one remarkably simple task that baffles you.
– In my case, I had to ask my desk mate how to turn on my lamp. Yes, that’s right, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on a light.

2. You’ll need to find your stall.
– A new place of business doesn’t really feel like home until you’ve figured out your “home stall” in the bathroom. It’s not usually a conscious decision, it just sort of happens. Think about it – you know you have one, too.

3. At some point, you’ll feel remarkably overwhelmed.
– New clients, new people, new projects about which you know absolutely nothing – you’re bound to feel overwhelmed. But remember the number one rule: Don’t panic. Everyone around you is there to help.

4. You’ll get the hang of it.
– It all feels foreign at first, but you’ll settle in and make friends – even if it takes a little while to get your bearings.

5. You’ll figure out where the snacks are.
– Because let’s be honest, NOTHING is more important than snacks.

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