“Are you under a lot of stress?” my doctor asked.
“Not really. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been my whole life.”
“I didn’t ask if you were happy,” he laughed. “I asked if you were stressed.”
That’s when I realized I had been working under a faulty definition of the word “stress” for the last decade (or two). Not only was I under a significant amount of stress – I was addicted to it.
It wasn’t long after this conversation that I found myself hospitalized and diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that boasts treatments but no cure. My husband was overseas for work, my mom was taking care of my two kids, and I had no choice but to drop balls and spinning plates left and right: my nephew’s birthday, church responsibilities, homeschooling, my job. It’s not too hard to let go of things when you’re in a small room, hooked up to wires and IVs and can’t even go to the bathroom without the help of a nurse.
Choosing to let go of more when I got home – for my health and the sake for my family – well, that was a bit more difficult. Trading the things I loved for the things I needed and swapping a full calendar for the ability to be still and rest felt lazy and irresponsible.
How do you let go when you’re essentially the glue that’s holding it all together? How do you choose which spinning plates to drop or pass off to someone else when you’re addicted to the high of constantly being on-the-go and doing ALL THE THINGS?
I think, as women, we’re more alike than we are different when it comes to over-commitment, people-pleasing, and placing the needs of others before our own. Here’s how I trimmed and re-prioritized and replaced until I found room to breathe:
I SAID “NO”
I said it to myself, my kids, their school, our church – ugh, it was awful…for about 3 seconds. And then it was over! Everyone (even me!) understands that I will be in a season of “yes” again someday, just not today.
It’s one thing to commit to not taking on any new responsibilities. It’s quite another to ask yourself, “What can be cut?” and take a chainsaw to your hobbies and social calendar. For me, this meant dropping intense exercise 3-5 times per week, saying good-bye to a social media job I loved but took too much time, and taking a break from homeschooling. Letting go of these internal and external stressors gave me a good 10-15 hours of my life back each week that I could now use for things of more immediate importance.
I CHOSE PEACE
Sometimes you can’t say no or wiggle out of a commitment. Some stressors are entirely out of your control, and you have to work around them. My husband travels frequently, and while that’s not stressful in and of itself, solo parenting for long stretches of time with a chronic illness as a work-at-home, homeschooling mom definitely can be. Deliberately choosing and pursuing peace has been a game-changer. Carefully selecting a diet that supports my disease may mean more time planning and prepping (and more saying “no” to myself!) but allows me to function at a more optimal level with fewer symptoms. Starting my morning with 20 minutes of yoga on YouTube calms me down and sets the tone for a more peaceful day. I have a full queue of funny, encouraging and uplifting podcasts ready and waiting to give me a boost when I start to feel down. Life is stressful – we can’t control that. What we can control is how we handle it.
I SAID “YES”
Humbling myself and admitting I couldn’t physically make it to the grocery store – let alone cook dinner – was hard. If someone offers to bring you dinner or clean your house, allow them to love you in that way. They probably see your stress and are eager to do something meaningful for you to show they care. When friends asked to do my grocery shopping or watch my kids after a chemo treatment, my first instinct was to decline – but I needed help more than I needed to appear like a magical martyr/unicorn holding it all together. The more I said “yes” the easier it got – and the more connected we felt to our friends and family. My children saw what it meant to have a community surround them during a crisis, and I saw that the world didn’t come to an end when I let them. Now we’re constantly on the lookout for ways to help others – and for ways to let them help us when we need it.