“How do you cope with stress?” That was this month’s question from my Attorney at Work editors. At first, I laughed at the question, but the gentlest response I can give is, “Not gracefully.”
I’ve been open about my issues with depression and anxiety, and these are things that impact me every day. My officemate frequently hears me making non-word noises at my computer screen like “blaa aa aah,” and taking deep breaths that help quiet the constant mental chatter.
In my younger years, I did some pretty self-destructive things to manage my anxiety. For years, I cut myself. Thankfully I’m no longer plagued by that addiction, but I still have to be mindful that I am a success-driven, perfectionistic, anxious person. I try not to take on so much that I crash and burn, but it still happens on occasion.
So, How Do I Cope with Stress?
Here are some things I do these days that help keep my stress at bay:
1. Meal prep Sunday. What I eat has a huge impact on how I feel. I cook healthy meals on the weekend (like chilis and stews) that I can portion into containers for lunch at the office and freeze for later. I may only have to cook two days a month to have meals for the remaining days. Before I go to bed at night, I get my breakfast and lunch ready for the next day.
2. Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is ideal for people who have trouble sitting down and focusing on work. You turn off all notifications, eliminate other distractions, and set a timer for 25 minutes. For that short period, you only focus on one task. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in a little block of time. Some days I’m too anxious to sit and focus for 25 minutes, so I’ll set my timer for 18 minutes.
3. Banishment. I use this trick when I can’t get work done at the office or at home. I’ll banish myself to a coffee shop or library, and I’m not allowed to leave until a certain task or project gets done. Or, I’ll make myself work on a project for a set amount of time without distractions (no phone, no internet). I suspect some of my new projects will get done when I banish myself to the library for two- or four-hour blocks of time because my only job is to make progress on that portion of my Wall of Pain.
4. IB4U. Dr. Will Keim introduced me to the concept of doing an IB4U hour each day: my needs come before your needs. Sometimes this means running personal errands in the middle of the day, taking the morning off from work to go to the trampoline park, or sleeping in for an extra hour. The brain and body will naturally pull toward what they need.
5. Say no. This is easier said than done. I’m finally learning how to say “no” to people and things, and putting better boundaries on relationships and obligations. When I crash and burn, I either get sick or get so overwhelmed that I can’t do anything until I take a day or two just to rest. When I try to do too much, I set myself up to be unable to do anything for anyone.
Several people have suggested that I try meditation to cope with my stress. I’m even reading “The Anxious Lawyer” by Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford. I want the focus and creativity that people who meditate claim to have, but I’ll have to work up to attempting to sit still and quietly. (I can’t even sit still when I write blog posts. I wrote this post using dictation software while spinning in my chair!) The only time I hold still for any length of time is when I get acupuncture. (And I only go to acupuncture because it helps with my stress-related chest pain.)
I am no poster child for stress management by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m happy for this opportunity to share what’s working for me. What’s working for you?