Do you know someone who knows the secrets to managing stress?
Is it that girlfriend who never gets too riled up or seems to always have her act together. What’s her secret?
If you are anything like me and you are in perimenopause or menopause, stress is your constant companion. Do you subscribe to the theory of personality types? I’ll share mine: Type A, first born, and perfectionist. Crap, am I doomed?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve acquired some darn good life skills related to managing stress. Yet, these strategies came at a high personal price. Sometimes I had to crash and burn a few times over the same issue for these hard fought lessons to stick. I’m sure you might be able to relate.
Let me paint the picture for you. A few years back, my stress soup consisted of a tension-inducing career choice fueled with 24-7 volatility. Sounds super fun doesn’t it?! And the funny thing, I loved it. I confess, I’m an adrenaline junky. But, as you climb the corporate ladder or advance in your career path, you tend to neglect yourself. We all do it. And, it’s dumb.
My stress soup ingredients included the high expectations of executive management, my own need to be perfect, and my crazy desire to make sure everyone felt fulfilled. This stress and my contributing behaviors adding to the mix almost killed me. Sound familiar to anyone?
Let me share some of my secret ingredients for managing stress. Warning, a little straight talk and tough love coming at you.
Accept responsibility for managing stress
Let’s review your current sense of overwhelm. Is it because of commitments you make without even thinking? You need to stop and do some forensic review. Your present position in overwhelm land is due to the commitments that you make on a daily basis. YOU get yourself to this point of crazy.
You can argue that your choices come from kindness, a sense of duty, responsibility or even guilt. But, the bottom line here girlfriend is, you do it to yourself. Don’t play victim or martyr. Put your big girl panties on and own it. Learn to say “no” or “not now”.
Decide to change – boundaries are your best defense
To move from “overwhelm and over-committed” to “adequate breathing space and balance” you need to establish boundaries. I know, it’s easier said than done. But, what’s the alternative? Before you agree to one more thing, just stop. Think of yourself first a few more times than you think of everyone else. Start to stack the deck a little in your favor once in a while.
What do these boundaries look like?
Be selfish with your time. Don’t give up your time to exercise, meditate, get a pedicure or whatever is important to you because someone needs something from you. One of my favorite boundary setting statements is “your poor planning is NOT my emergency.” Even if you just say it to yourself, it helps with boundaries. Sure, you can still help out and meet the needs of others but put yourself first once in a while.
Face your fears
So, you might be thinking, what if I establish a boundary and stick to it? What’s the worst thing that will happen? People might respect you because you have a backbone? Realize that you have some of your own priorities? Damn right they will. Those who don’t, maybe get angry or whiny, aren’t worthy of your most precious resource, your time. It’s time to start retraining everyone around you.
Making yourself a little less available is a way to ease your way into establishing a boundary. Your family, friends, and co-workers, will figure it out when you say “not now” or “I’ve got other another commitment”.
I love these quotes. “Let your fears fuel you.” And, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I try to live by them and also instill this type of fierceness in my twenty-something daughters. Bottom line here, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
It is in failing that we learn our most important life lessons. At times, we are unable to see clearly until we look back. There are a lot of “aha moments” when we stop to appreciate where we have been. Embrace the concept that each day brings the opportunity to forge a new direction of boundary setting to protect yourself and lower your stress.
Triage your calendar
Over commitment is as much of a calendar thing as anything. Be selfish with your calendar. It’s YOUR calendar. When you are planning your week, put some white space in there for yourself.
For instance, try not to schedule any meetings for the first thirty minutes in the office. Give yourself time to get organized, time to think or better yet, treat yourself to a special coffee drink and savor the flavor and the experience. Breathe. Focus.
If you can control the scheduling of stressful meetings, figure out when you are at your best. Personally, I feel pretty invincible first thing in the morning and crash around 3. Figure out what works best for you and be strategic about your meetings and appointments.
If you tend to run late, for goodness sake, build in time cushions. Being late is a huge contributor to your stress. You can overcome this habit with boundary setting and appropriate planning.
Manage expectations of others
One of the worst things I did when I had a large staff was to be accessible…all the time. I would respond within the hour if not minutes when they needed anything. In my mind, I thought I was a great boss, providing answers, support and guidance 24-7. In reality, I was a fool.
I had no time or access boundaries for my staff (just ask my poor husband!). Although I cared deeply about them and the work we did, I was short changing myself in the process. The lesson here: you train people to expect a certain behavior from you. If you respond instantly to emails, they come to expect it. If you move heaven and earth and your calendar to accommodate theirs, this flexibility becomes the norm.
Take this lesson and apply it to your own situation. I’m not suggesting that you put up walls and deny access to yourself. Quite the opposite. Make sure that you are at your best when you do have interactions with your staff, partner, and children.
Get the right rest
7-8 hours of quality sleep is critical. You need your sleep! Without establishing boundaries, you’ll end up on either end of your day making up for your lack of discipline. You’ll spend time attending to what you’ve neglected throughout the day because you have been helping everyone else.
Hot flashes, night sweats and other menopausal symptoms affect our sleep quality. If you are able to, naps, can do wonders. Look at this article from Harvard!
Let’s wrap it up!
I’ve reduced my tension over the past few years through adaptation of these strategies. But, menopause is the most stress-filled time in a woman’s life. As our hormones help our body prepare for this transition, challenges with our symptoms can get dicey. Built up stress only makes it worse.
That’s why getting some control of your stress is critical. Of course, you can’t eliminate all stress. Consider some of these ideas for managing stress. They may help bring some peace, balance and sanity to you in menopause and beyond.
What’s your favorite way for managing stress?