It’s confession time, again: I’ve been feeling very stressed out lately.
I’ve got your normal, run-of-the-mill anxiety, typical to someone in her mid-20s focused on building an identity, a career, and a life. I’m working on, possibly, maybe, slowly, submitting the application to grad school I have been sitting on for five months now.
And by five months, I mean two years. And by “application to grad school.” I mean “entry form to throw away all your money and then some in exchange for probably unemployment.”
I just got promoted and I’m busier than ever at work, but I’m struggling to get my arms around what this means for me this year, and what’s going to happen in the long run, career-wise. I’m living with my parents to save for something, I don’t quite remember what. I’m having Relationship Issues related to long-distance-ness and possible divergence of the wants of two people. Someone just opened a credit card using my SSN and Amazon won’t call me back.
And then I also have some other stuff going on, most of which I can’t talk about because it involves other people. Suffice to say, the hospital, the state and the police play a not-insignificant role in my month-to-month existence, which is not how anybody envisioned things and which entails a lot of pain for a number of people, one in particular, and it’s not me.
Ew, I don’t blame you if you’ve stopped reading already. I’m going to get to the funny part soon, I promise.
In thinking about stress, I’ve mostly realized that I have NO COPING MECHANISMS WHATSOEVER to help me deal with it. Like, period. I don’t go to kickboxing after work to sweat out anger and annoyance, or sigh knowingly that God must have meant for my three-year-old laptop to stop working right as I was in the middle of updating a Web site with unsaved changes.
I don’t even go to therapy, because, though I know that I have problems and talking with someone impartial could help me, I just don’t feel like making an appointment and spending the long hours needed to acclimate someone well enough to my bullshit that she’ll be able to help me.
What I have instead is a collection of innovative avoidance behaviors, designed to 1) keep me from acknowledging or dealing with any unpleasantness that should befall me and 2) generate its own superficial diversions that will occupy my energy and time instead.
Anyway. Here’s how I “deal.”
1. Disengage entirely.
When I’m feeling pressed like I am now, my first move is to drop everything. Why? So I can focus on the growing pit in my stomach, the ever-present knots in my shoulders, and the deep down feeling that I’m fighting a losing battle and might as well just hold my breath and go under.
When my iPhone calendar alerts me to my recurring Monday morning meeting, I think irrational thoughts, like, "Faaaahck YOU, JOB, I don’t have TIME for work right now." Irrational because, duh, what I actually don’t have time for at 9 on the first day of the week is anything else.
2. Think about everything I have to do, or just write it in a list that I reorganize 16 times, until I don’t have time to do any of it.
Someone very smart who nonetheless owned a fuckload of cats once said never to confuse movement with action. Which I never do, because I can see quite plainly that what I’m doing is just movement. Sooooooothing, purposeless, borderline-compulsive movement.
For instance, when faced with a complex and time-sensitive assignment, I like to start by writing a to-do list, enumerating each individual task and sub-task and sub-sub-task, using all the options for outlining that Microsoft Word has to offer my anxiety-riddled self: Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, letters a-z, lowercase roman numerals, plain berger dots, etc.
Once the maximum number of outlining tools has been utilized, I move on to the critical task of rearranging items to my liking, stopping every two minutes to fix Word’s constantly occurring, frustrating-as-hell autocorrect missteps, thereby displacing my negative emotions from anxiety directed at life to anger directed at computer and resolving the nagging matter of what I’m going to do at work all day. So, healthy!
3. Become really diligent about Health Stuff.
I’m always kind of sick.
I have had my current sinus infection since October of 2011, which -- to put that in perspective -- is only three months fewer than I’ve had my dog. And in periods marked by stressers big and small, I end up going to bed late, waking up early and forgetting to do my sinus rinse or take my allergy medicine, and my sinuses/head/epidermis area may rise up in revolt.
My health also provides the perfect quasi-controllable life element toward which to direct my focus. It’s easy enough for me to earn a pat on the back from myself each day, just by remembering to squirt some saltwater all up in my nasal cavity in the morning, put lotion or body oil on after showers to prevent eczema-induced wanting-to-dieness, brush my teeth, and eat some vegetables, all of which actually do produce measurable improvements in my quality of life, as judged by Amount of Times I Have to Hock Up Something In the Morning, which is a medical statistic.
Accordingly, times of high stress are also marked by heightened incidence of me making the long trip to Whole Foods and the short one to the local food exchange to stock up on snake oil supplements and Awesome Foods Raw Green Smoothie, and local yams and not-local coconut milk.
As an added bonus, it takes 40 solitary minutes to get to Whole Foods, it’s a backroads drive, and I rock out the entire time, which is basically a Stress Relief Hat Trick.
4. Eat most of the M&Ms and all of the peanut butter.
Hmm. Well, this is awkward.
Here’s the deal: While my brain, in its super-infinite, Times Magazine-reading, label-scouring wisdom, directs me to eat primarily unfucked-with vegetables and roots that occur naturally as a consequence of the Earth, my taste buds are in charge of what I put in my mouth while I am not thinking, or while I am preoccupied thinking about something else.
And while I consider myself a sophisticated individual, my tongue, the philistine, prefers “food products” made from holographic livestock injected with human growth hormone and then breaded with a fine, tempura-style coating of cancer cells and served with a genetically modified corn syrup aioli, or fiberglass melted into a sheet of moldable putty, then tie-dyed red and blue using probably paint chips from old Camaros. (I’m talking about Fruit Roll-Ups if you’re not getting the picture here).
5. Stay at work late.
When I’m stressed out because of circumstances out of my control, my primate brain often struggles to get a solid grip on something it can control, something I can point to and grunt, meaning in my own primitive way to say “Effect! I did that!”
That’s how I feel when I stay at work late because shit is bad, or too real, elsewhere. It’s the only thing I can do to remind myself that:
- I exist.
- I have some kind of power over something and can be useful.
- Everything is not going wrong. Just ALMOST everything. And that makes all the difference.
6. Read about astrology!
Recently I noted in a comment on xoJane that I love astrology. Actually, I think I said something like, “Astrology is never irrelevant!” Not that I care about downvotes, but I got one for that comment.
I am a total fucking astro-creep.
Besides the fact that my birth chart is basically like a never-wrong map of my personality (More on that later. So much more. In fact, just call me personally whenever you have a couple hours and we’ll talk), I have also found that horoscope forecasts for spans of months and years are quite helpful in putting stressful, upsetting, bad, and “meh” events and transitions in context.
Basically, I type into my Google bar, “Dear universe, when is shitty going to end, kthxbye.” And usually I get something useful out of it. "Oh, Saturn is squaring my sun, I should feel better in two to three months," or, "Oh, Uranus is transiting my second house of finances and self-worth, sweet, only five years to go!"
Believe or not, these predictions at least give me something to ponder while I avoid avoid avoid.
None of you can ever say I’m not old-fashioned, because when I am stressed out, I act like a straight up 1950s housewife bitch. This entails:
- Saying things “icily”
- Taking meals in bed; wearing slippers and a housecoat, I mean hoodie at all hours
- Becoming “cross” with “the children” (I have no children, so I guess my friends will have to sub in.)
- Refusing to clean anything, cook anything, or assist anyone*
8. Considering doing something about it.
By virtue of non-coping mechanisms #1-7, by this point in my stress cycle, I have typically generated a number of additional, self-imposed stressers, including a sleep deficit, a cash flow problem from shopping at Whole Foods, a work backlog from being distracted and reading about astrology at work, arguments with the children because I’ve fired their nanny for no reason except that I am an unreasonable a-hole, and many more.
So when there’s nothing left to destroy, I start to think about maybe trying to dig myself out.
But, since I have vowed not to face that stress directly, and I never break my promises, even to myself, I fudge this one a little bit by finding something utterly unimportant and at the bottom of my to-do list to start working on.
During previous cycles of soul-crushing stress I have taken the time to: inventory my existing shoe collection and upgrade it by 30%; sand, spackle and re-paint the area above my window where my old curtain rod used to hang; detail my own car which no one should ever do; apply for upwards of six jobs in one day; WRITE AN ARTICLE ABOUT STRESS FOR A RIDICULOUSLY WONDERFUL WOMEN’S SITE where I know people will maybe, hopefully offer me some acceptance and gentle guidance, because I can’t take much else right now, hint, hint.
And I still have not taken the time to get a therapist. Anyway, off to Joann for some sewing supplies. Check ya later!
*This is more of a general MO, in truth.