Finding Peace in Stormy Times

A friend of mine has shared about dealing with stress over on his website, and he has some very good advice.

My life has been pretty exciting this year, so far (and I don't necessarily mean in a good way!)  I have suffered my fair share of what I call brain spin  and lost sleep and general anxiety.  I've felt angry. I've wanted to cry and run away and sleep and...just not deal with things at certain points of the year, but I have persevered, and I've gotten through some very difficult situations.

I recommend you give my friend's article a read.  Meanwhile, I'd like to share some of the things I do to cope. 

The very first thing I do is I let my feelings come out.  I allow myself to feel and release that first, powerful surge of emotion, whether it is anger, emotional upset, hurt feelings, or even jubilation.  I find that holding this rush of emotion in makes it really hard to concentrate on doing what needs to be done to deal with the situation at hand and to even decide on a course of action.  This may mean cancelling plans and going home, where I can vent these feelings privately, or it may mean simply walking away from the situation and maybe sitting in my car or even just stepping into the bathroom for a few minutes.  It doesn't have to be loud, embarrassing, and messy, but it's usually intense.  The emotions will linger as long as they need to, but there won't be that tension that comes from holding things in.

I talk.  A lot.  To anyone who will listen.  My phone is pay-as-you-go, and due to a couple of recent situations, I have really run up my expenses in this area!  I have been on the phone, almost daily, for the past couple of weeks (except when I was on vacation last week!) with just about everyone I know.  I've talked with Teachers, with friends, with peers, with colleagues, and of course, with my mom.  When I am home, usually it's just me and the boyfriend, and well...I talk to him a lot, too.  He's very gracious, but sometimes I think it can be a bit much for him.  Having a vast support network is really important. Sometimes, I don't need to go into everything or even most of what is happening.  I have friends and associates who will just shoot the shit or take me out for a beer.  This is just as valuable as those who listen and give advice, because it gets my mind off the situation, allowing me to step away for a bit.

I go outside, often early in the morning, and I sit in our garden.  I find the smell of the soil and the plants very relaxing and at the same time invigorating.  I am able to ground out any excess energy and come to a calm place, so that I can face my day effectively.  Quite a lot of epiphanies and decisions have come about in that garden over the years, and I've also experienced a few tiny but beautiful things:  A baby rabbit nibbling on our dandelion.  A pair of cardinals who came and perched on the fence.  Crows conversing in the neighborhood's treetops.  When I witness things like that, a lot of other things suddenly seem less important.

I do housework.  When I am at my best, I can be lazy about housework.  That's because I'm focused on achieving and doing and going places.  When I'm "in a state," my world becomes very tiny. My home is my sanctuary, and when I'm really having a tough time, I tend not to want to leave it.  At the same time, I'm usually too worked up to focus on my art or do any good writing, so I burn off excess energy and calm myself by focusing on my house.  Sometimes this means deep cleaning, top to bottom. Other times, I may just tackle small but necessary tasks here and there.  Two tasks I actually enjoy are washing dishes by hand and folding and putting away laundry.  Both are repetitive enough that I can let my mind wander and work on things, and the scents associated with both are soothing to me. At the same time, both are also very fundamental to our well being and comfort.  When I can look back and see a clean kitchen or drawers full of clean clothes (and no Laundry Monster!) I feel a deep sense of peace.

Sometimes, I shut myself in the studio and work on one of my multiple art forms.  Not often, though. As I said earlier, if I am too wound up, my art--even things like my handmade magnets--just seems too contrived.  Words don't flow well, if I'm writing--unless I'm writing about what's winding me up.  I'm rarely motivated to take my camera out and shoot when I'm wound up, either.  I don't see my subjects.  If I'm just sad and not feeling hyper (as I would when angry or anxious,) then being in the studio does help. In fact, it is when I'm either feeling normal and relaxed or depressed that I work on my paintings.  Some of my best work happens when I go inward. So, whether I go to the studio to find peace depends entirely on the nature of what I'm going through at the time.

I go visit Mom.  This is not just because she is my mom and she and my step dad live a quiet, laid-back life, though those factors do help.  They live in the country on several acres. You almost can't see their neighbors.  You can't hear the traffic out on the road.  They have a burn pit.  It is not unusual, either, to look out the windows and see wildlife.  It is a really quiet, calming, lovely place to be.  they also do not drop everything when we go to visit, so there are times when I go and they are not there.  It's just nice to be away from the maelstrom that is Suburbia sometimes.

One of the final ways I find peace (and frankly, my favorite) is that I lavish love on my cats or on any animal that will allow me to.  Today, I went to my groomer's, and while I was there, I had a really amazing exchange with one of her dogs.  This is one of those dogs I'd grab and take home in a heartbeat. His name is Ziggy, and he's an all-white Jack Russell terrier.  I reached down to say "hi" and pet him, and he got up on his hind legs, and we just stared into each other's eyes for a few minutes while I petted him and told him what a special dog he is.  It was like we were really communicating (well,we were.)  I sometimes have exchanges like this with my cats, too. Animals understand us much better than we think they do, and they have a way of taking our chaos and just grounding it out--if we allow them too and if we stop to be aware of our connection with them.

Everyone goes through very stressful times--both good and bad--and everyone has (or should have) ways of releasing the tension that comes about as a result. Without a healthy outlet, it is very easy to become ill.  I find it helpful to think of my various outlets as a release valve:  If I don't relieve some of that pressure, there's going to be an explosion, and I won't necessarily have any control over when or where it happens or the outcome.  To be willing to let stress go gives us a lot more control over our lives and keeps us physically, psychically, and mentally healthy.
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