“Stress-reducing activities help eliminate anxiety and promote better overall health – especially in extreme situations” (prohealth.org).
Some people exercise to reduce stress. Some eat. Some go for long night drives. Healthy activities that make your anxiety levels reduce are consistently advised to people enduring stressful scenarios. It took me a few years to figure out what, exactly, those were for me. I used to run and found that didn’t do it. I tried eating and that didn’t bode well for the waistline, to the tune of 14 extra lbs I worked hard to lose this summer. I even tried dancing – something I have always loved. Ultimately, I found that only 2 activities really help to curb my stress levels.
1. Acts of kindness. It sounds cliché, but doing nice things for other people really works for me. It allows me to focus outside of myself and put things into perspective. Plus, bringing joy to others selfishly spills over onto me.
2. The second thing is writing.
And so, here I am – someone who always preaches silver linings and second chances and better days a’comin - admitting publicly that this school year has been roughhhhh.
I am not sure 5 more understated words have ever been written, but that’s the truth.
Right from the start, it was three student funerals. It was walking straight into a traumatic experience at work for which I was wholly unprepared, even though I was so grateful to have been there for someone else. It’s been delicately managing a few really tough students who, at first, seemed wholeheartedly opposed to the love I want so much to give them. It’s navigating really difficult times with my own son, where my heart breaks for what I cannot endure for him. It’s 15 hours a week of fulfilling, but extremely challenging Doctoral classes and another 10 hours on assignments. It’s trying to make sure everyone is celebrated. It’s purposefully and intentionally bringing joy to places where darkness likes to reign. It’s facing hurtful, non-constructive criticism. It’s financial worry. It’s seeing social media repeatedly being used to implode a human spirit. It’s people being unkind with no regard for the absolutely catastrophic results. It’s worry about young people who need more than I can give them. It’s a fight with no mercy. It’s a player battling injury. It’s a levy failure. It’s a football loss. The list goes on…
Sleep became a distant memory and for about 2 weeks, I couldn’t sleep at all, waking at all hours feeling an anxiety and a worry that I couldn’t pinpoint.
Throughout, I have been acutely aware of the importance of self-care, which admittedly is challenging on a very limited time schedule. Thus, I have made do, with quick singalongs in my car, a fast toenail paint on a Sunday night, a hurried building of my Christmas tree 4 weeks too soon, preserving the sacred circle of positivity I covet, quick date nights with my best friend and text-exchanges with my besties to make me laugh. I have gobbled up every bit of bucket-filling I could find, in any place it was offered, quenching that thirst like a man in the desert.
But this is not unique to me. We have all felt this way. Rough patches are a fact of life – unavoidable valleys. I remember a student coming to me recently, upset after a bad breakup, and I told him, “I promise that right now, in this moment, is where you will learn the most about yourself. How you handle heartbreak and struggle will ultimately define who you will become...because who we are at our worst, is WHO WE ARE.” As I spoke to him, I realized that my own words applied to me too. The mindset you rely upon to get through hard times is a CHOICE. And in reflection, I am proud of my actions.
I have CHOSEN, every single day, through every single thing mentioned above, to be remain focused on my ultimate goal – making people’s lives better. That is why I’m here. That is why we all are here.
Yes, my last 5 months have been challenging in ways I could have never predicted… but in every situation, I have chosen to face it directly and remain kind in the process. I have not hurt others, even when I disagreed. I have reached out to people I think are hurting, even while battling my own demons. I have NOT given my energy to things that do not deserve it. I have intentionally given 100% of myself to my family, even on days I was emotionally depleted.
I don’t say this for accolades. I have certainly not always practiced this and my gut instinct was definitely not kindness, compassion and consideration. I do not need validation. It is my hope that if you are reading this, and facing similar worry or struggle, you know that you are NOT alone. If the ‘highlight reel’ of my online life looks in any way envious to you, I am here to say that everything positive I post is a CHOICE. Seeing the gorgeous sunrise or humor in a situation is a deliberate, stone-cold, relentless, daily choice. I certainly had the urge to dwell on something else.
Will you also make a conscious effort to DECIDE your mindset? Are you a victim? Or will you be victorious?
Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing. And I plan to win this thing.