This article you are reading right now isn’t the one I was going to post last week. That one was about stress and how often times we choose it. It started out with me explaining how when my plate is overflowing, I have to stop and realize that I put everything on it myself. I went on to explain how I could take everything back off. I had some really great tips about what to do when you’ve “yessed” yourself into being over extended. Those tips are really good. And maybe next week I’ll tell you what they are.
Last Monday came and went, and that article I meant to post never got posted—because while I was busy writing about how we choose stress, stress was busy choosing me. And while it’s true that there are plenty of times when we bite off more than we can chew, there are also plenty of times when we wind up with a mouthful that we never asked for.
I’m guessing that anyone who had to deal with that uninvited houseguest named Sandy is nodding in agreement. Natural disasters, illness, losing a job, death of a loved one—are all extremely stressful things that no one in their right mind would ever choose to put on her plate. And they aren’t the kind of things that you can just choose to take off either.
I live in Los Angeles, so no hurricane for me. Instead we had a death in the family, identity theft, and a dog that ran away from the kennel while we were out of town. This last one left me feeling extremely helpless. The kennel was between the freeway and the Santa Monica Mountains—coyote heaven.
So there I was with a heaping helping of stress on my plate and no fork. Where are the tips for dealing with that? Sometimes you can’t change the stressful circumstances going on around you. But you can still dial down the stress you feel on the inside. Here are a few things I did that worked for me.
1. Damage control. If there’s anything that you can do to put a stop to what’s happening, do it. In my case that meant cancelling my ATM card. I couldn’t make the person un-steal my identity, but I made sure they couldn’t continue doing it.
2. Do your best. You aren’t always able to make things better, but do your best anyway. I couldn’t make that little dog be safe and I couldn’t make him be found. But I did everything I could think of that might lead to that happening. I put out the canine equivalent of an Amber Alert. I was in a different state, but I’m fortunate to have really great friends who searched for him, put up flyers, and even posted information on Craigslist’s lost and found.
3. Be patient. Things change—no matter what. So if you’re in a crummy stressful spot and you have no choice but to wait it out, then just know that in time, that situation will change. It might resolve itself, new circumstances may unfold, people may hear about what’s happening and throw you a line, etc.
4. Go to your happy place. If you’re feeling desperate to escape your situation, do it. If you can’t physically leave, then close your eyes and imagine yourself someplace peaceful. If you can do it physically, then don’t hesitate, just go. I spent three hours by the pool at the Four Season’s (they have a great mid-week special on a facial that will buy you use of the facilities for the whole day) and it was just what I needed. When I ordered lunch by the pool I noticed this quote on the front of the menu: “Serenity isn’t freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.” —Unknown
5. Keep the faith. This is a hard one. When you’re in the middle of a stressful situation that you have no control over, it’s hard to trust that things will turn out all right. And to be honest, sometimes they don’t. But I feel that until there’s a reason to lose hope, why not just hang onto it? It’s free, and even if you don’t believe it helps, you have to believe that it can’t hurt. That’s what we did for five days until a very scared and very dirty little white dog was spotted in the hills. After much tracking and coaxing, he came out of the bushes by the freeway, and collapsed in my arms.