Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tips From This Spoonie: Stress

This shaky photo of boats on the water reminds me of brain synapses straining to connect during stress

Beyond a doubt, the most severe threat to this spoonie's health, both long- and short-term, is stress.  While I work hard to stay healthy and have been fortunate, I could be at the top of my game, only to have it all undone in one stressful moment.  A shock to the system will typically send a literal electric shock sensation through my body and I can actually feel the damage in my brain.  A bad shock will send me to bed for a day or two, as cognition becomes foggy and exhaustion prevails.  It's as if a life force has been sapped.  Unfortunately, life is stressful by nature and avoiding stress altogether is unrealistic. While spoonies can't avoid all stress, there are things we can do to mitigate and minimize the smaller stressful moments we may otherwise endure.  Here are a few things I do to take care of myself.

1.  I only make right turns in traffic.  People may think I'm being ridiculous, but timing a left turn across two directions of traffic is extremely stressful for me.  I think the reason for this is that, with my worsening vision, I no longer have confidence in my depth perception.  Better safe than sorry, and better calm than compromised.  Incidentally, while I may be going "around my elbow to get to my thumb", I understand that navigation software has actually been developed for delivery trucks that prioritizes right turns in routing.  In many cases, especially in heavy traffic, the right-turn route is faster.  Also, the delivery companies get a break on insurance with this navigation system since there are fewer accidents with mostly right turns in the route.

2.  I "practice" an unfamiliar route the day before.  Knowing where I'm going is very important for eliminating stress.  If I'm not on a schedule, and can choose a time to find the location when there is less traffic, it'll be easier for me the next day.  The necessity of changing lanes in thick traffic at the last minute is terribly stressful.  I memorize exactly which lane I'll need and get into it well in advance.

3.  I avoid driving after dark.  It's just too hard to see.

4.  I aim to leave 15 minutes before I have to.  I'm otherwise notoriously late, since there's always something unforeseen to tend as I'm walking out the door. Even with this 15 minute cushion, I still usually get there only 5 minutes early.

5.  I try to limit errands to two locations per day.  More than that, and I run out of steam.

6.  I try to take notes and keep records on paper -- filed.  This sounds old school, but online banking is as cyber-savvy as I get.  I've found my bank's website to be useful, easily searchable and dependable, but I've had trouble managing separate accounts which only online-bill.  Since each account has a different system, it's hard for me to keep track.  My memory is unreliable, so I need a paper trail for most things.

7. I limit brain-intensive tasks to the morning, when I'm most likely to succeed.  There's no point in persisting after my head has run out of steam.  I'll just suffer, then have to check back later and redo it anyway.

8.  I go to bed when I want to.  I used to feel guilty, but my family gets it now.

9.  I try to be firm with boundaries.  Full disclosure, I'm terrible at this, but I'm working on getting better.  As an empathetic mom and wife, my default mode is to put everyone else's needs first, especially if there's a crisis of any kind.  Discussing boundaries with loved ones when it's not the "heat of the moment" may be a good strategy.  The best thing I can do sometimes is to remove myself from the equation.  This one's a work in progress.

10. Recharging is important.  Taking some time each day to be alone is great for clearing an addled mind, and creativity of any kind is food for the soul.  Nature is wonderful for maintaining perspective.

11. Meditation is excellent for minimizing stress, but it's difficult to do if we're already in the throes of it.  Maintaining a regular practice really does make it easier and more effective.  For the times when quieting the mind is a lost cause, swaroopa yoga is wonderful.  This type of yoga is really a guided meditation, tapping into mind, body and spirit.  I can't say enough good things about it.  There's no more effective reboot.

12. Remember humor.  When we face a stressful situation, it's sometimes hard to think of anything else.  The evolutionary cause of this mindset is likely to find a solution i.e. finding a way to evade the jaws of a saber-toothed tiger.  But our modern stress is often about things that cannot be readily solved.  When all we can do is wait, it's best to step out of a circular thinking pattern.  A belly laugh is amazingly good at snapping us out of a stressful moment.  "Drunk History" is a show that delivers to spectacular effect and is a great way to spend half an hour.  Youtube videos or satire in the form of literature, shows or movies can also do the trick.  The point is to distract ourselves until the worst of the moment has passed.

As I find more stress-busting suggestions for spoonies, I'll share them going forward.

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