the art of being a woman

How I Manage Stress When Balance Feels Like a Myth

The other day I was sitting at my desk, my fingers resting on the exact keys to start an email, and all of a sudden I felt a rush of energy from the crown of my head to my toes. I instantly knew it was from my familiar friend, Stress.

She comes around when I can’t seem to prioritize, when emotions are running high, when too many people need my attention and when I feel like I’m failing no matter how hard I try. She presses down on my shoulders and says, “You’ll never get up from this chair. You’ll never escape. You’ll never rest or feel free. You’re stuck in this rat race forever.”

My heart starts to pound, my chest tightens, my eyes feel pressure and the room starts to spin.

Before a couple years ago, when I felt this type of stress/panic attack, I thought I was going insane or needed to go to the emergency room for a potential heart attack. But thank goodness for personal growth, for mentors and for the wisdom out there, through which I’ve found a few nice ways to ask Stress to leave whenever she comes to visit.

1. I stop and remember that the juggle is REAL and redefine my personal concept of “balance.”

Many might disagree with me, but I think perfect balance is a bit of a myth, mainly because it’s quite undefinable. It’s that elusive picture on Instagram of a cozy chair in a corner with a coffee or a house with everything in place, an organized calendar and a smiling baby holding STILL.

As a business owner for over seven years, a wife for six and mother for one, I have to split my time so many ways through such different methods daily, that if I’m constantly chasing an abstract idea of “balance,” I’ll never reach it. I only end up feeling guilty 1,000% of the time.

Instead of balance, I focus on priorities. I have made a mental list of what’s most important to me and I try to organize my time around those things by time and effort. For example, my first priority is family and friends, my second is my health and spirituality, my third is work and my fourth is personal development and hobbies.

I live each day attempting to slot each of those in their proper position and it helps me feel like each day is a success. If I didn’t get to #4, oh well. Try again tomorrow!

2. I actively choose to realize that it’s not all that big of a deal.

Often when I start to give in to stress, I stop myself and ask, “Is this really worth my energy to stress over?” And 9 times out of 10, it’s really not: The magazine credits were wrong. I’m out of groceries. An error went out in an email. I need gas in the car. I didn’t approve something on time. I dropped my keys and my arms are full. So and so needs X,Y,Z NOW…it’s all happening, all the time and it all piles up, sure.

But in the grand scheme, often my small issues aren’t linked to anything vital for life — so I’ve learned to keep it in check. I take a deep breath, exhale it out and refocus again on the fact that I’m alive, I’m healthy and I’m loved, then I look around and think about who else I can remind of this fact.

I take a deep breath, exhale it out and refocus again on the fact that I’m alive, I’m healthy and I’m loved, then I look around and think about who else I can remind of this fact.

3. I embrace peace in my inner world.

Peace is harder to come by these days with the iPhone, the constant “on” with technology and the many ways we are being presented more and more information. But peace isn’t something that comes with a lack of stress, it comes in the midst of it.

I picture myself in the eye of a tornado, sitting there nice and still while I watch life swirl around me — a blur of images and voices and noises, while I’m choosing to let my heart be at rest even in the thick of it. Peace is only internal; it surpasses understanding, logic and circumstance of our outer world.

When I get overwhelmed, I picture a place of peace in my heart, a calm, beautiful and restful place — one where all my greatest cares reside and are as they should be. For example, if something is wrong at work, I picture it being resolved already and I surrender the problem to peace. If someone I love is struggling, I picture them healthy and restored and again surrender them to peace. This might seem like a hard exercise, but with hundreds of moments of practice it becomes a habit and a true weapon against stress!

What works for you in managing stress?

Images via Marshall Cox