Hello. How are you? It’s so typical of me to talk about myself, I’m sorry.
(If you tell me you don’t like that song, I’ll know you are lying.)
I’ll share with you the unfinished (now finished-and oh my how much has happened since I wrote most of this) last post I was working on months ago before I landed in a big pile of survival mode and had to stop blogging for a bit. I think it is timely now, because though the holidays can be joyous (seeing Christmas through your child’s eyes cannot be described in earthly words) and full of love (I’m sorry to tell you all that my husband is the very best there is), they can be utterly stressful (like when you are so preoccupied you leave your car in neutral…and it decides all on its own to hit a nice new Cadillac across the parking lot) and they also can bring sadness and depression (when you know others are suffering or if you are suffering yourself).
In terms of work, December is typically a stressful month in most industries, and publishing is no different. This says it all:
Being under extreme stress—whatever that stress or accumulation of stresses may be—for a lengthy period of time puts you in survival mode. It feels like being in the middle of a rushing river, not seeing any nearby flotation devices, not sure how to swim to the side to escape, knowing you have to find a way out by yourself, and not sure how much longer you can hold yourself up before sinking. Once out of the river, there is a time of reprogramming, where you are still feeling the effects, like weak knees after a roller-coaster ride.
Then, renewal. This crazy thing starts to happen when you live beyond survival mode. You remember joy. It happens slowly and it feels delicious. It could be a little butterfly of excitement for something coming up that makes you pause, because you haven’t had that feeling in a while. It could be a noticeable way in which you treat those around you or even a flurry of creative ideas that had been repressed because of the heavy, blinding snow that blanketed all of your happy green thoughts. Or it could be the moment you let yourself be free of it all, throwing the to-do list and heavy thoughts to the wind to watch an episode of Curious George inside a child’s tent covered in Storm Troopers in a half-painted living room with the new dryer letting you know with a sing-songy alarm that your clothes are now dry. Hearing “Momma, you are my friend,” while in the tent, well, just makes the choice that much more reaffirming, don’t you think?
I’m being a bit dramatic and first world here, but stress is valid and stress is real. It is also dangerous. Some stress is unavoidable. On a small scale, for example, I feel anxiety when I’m stuck in the Sumner Tunnel because of road work. On a larger scale, I push thoughts of moving my son from his town and his school out of my mind because they make me feel a sense of panic. On an even larger scale, I hold my breath on the days my mother has big appointments, like MRIs and CT scans and chats with an oncologist who holds her life in his hands. I can’t change the worry these things induce, and in some cases (in particular relating to things I care about deeply such as my son or mother), there is no amount of yoga in the world that would reduce the adrenaline flying around my body.
When day-to-day life is minimally stressful, we can physiologically handle the additional stress life may dump in our lap. By minimally stressful, I don’t mean “no stress.” No stress would mean we don’t actually really care about anything. I’m just referring to “minimal” as “healthy” or “able to cope with.” When I think of myself and those around me that have used the term “survival mode,” it often relates to career, or more specifically, life balance. Working moms strive for this myth of a “good work/life balance” and in truth, it is never evenly balanced if you are working full-time. It may sway one way or another in waves, but it isn’t really ever “even.” If the scale is swaying so far to work and so far from family and life, then it has to change.
I’ve had a rockin’ career, but faced career crisis after my son was born. In the span of three years, I left a leadership position at a company I was at for nearly 10 years because it was very demanding for a brand new mom (and in many ways, I cared about those I worked with like family, which means their worries affected me a bit more than they should have for me to remain objective); a job I loved but was too far from home; and a job with a great salary and location but left me feeling like I was in a burning building that I had to escape from. No matter what, no position felt right because, at the end of the day, I wasn’t with my baby enough and all situations left me with unacceptable work/life balance. Out of the sky fell the position I recently landed in and it is totally fine and a catalyst to many other life changes my family and I will make. The workload is high but not in a psycho kind of way (usually), and what I’m doing is interesting. It is also on par with what I did about 8-10 years ago, and I’m OK with that right now because life should be more important than work. My eyes are always wide open (and yes, Rodale’s and Storey, I will someday make you hire me) but at least now I’ve learned not to fear change. Those of us who work full-time spend more time at our jobs than we do with our children during the work week, so if work is miserable, change it! If you are miserable, you are not contributing like you should be anyway. You are a far more productive when you don’t hate what you do each day. Even though I’ve changed my mind a few times in the last few years, I wouldn’t hesitate to change it again for another situation that may work with my life even more or make me happier. Happy = successful (for the most part).
So, back to the whole stress thing. If it manifests in physical ways (rash, high blood pressure, more-than-usual crying spells, weight gain or loss, extreme fatigue, freaking out on people you love, insomnia or any other of the million ways stress manifests itself – and I’ve experienced all of these in the last 12 months), stop what you are doing and just say these words out loud: “I have to do something about this now.”
Routine (or long-term) stress is very hard on the body because the body then gets “no clear signal to return to normal functioning” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Continued routine stress “may lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other illnesses.”
According to officevibe.com, 33% of you out there feel you are living with “extreme stress” in relation to work. I, too, at various points in time would have considered myself one of this 33%. It isn’t fun.
Stress creates cortisol. Cortisol lowers the amount of calories we burn. It also encourages your body to store fat. Basically, stress makes us all fatter. Literally.
Stress creates cortisol. Cortisol suppresses libido. No elaboration needed here, folks.
Stress affects the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland affects the ovaries. Stress ensures you’ll have the wackiest periods ever according to Dr. Logan Levcoff (Huffinton Post).
According to the American Psychological Association, stress weakens the immune system, which means stress makes us sick.
For those of you with GERD (aka acid reflux), stress increases the pain receptors and makes the GERD more painful. Pair this with exhaustion and the reflux is even worse. (Read more about this at Healthline.)
Chronic stress gives you headaches, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Stress, by way of a domino effect, causes depression. Psychology Today shares a one-sentence vignette that truly gives us a sense of how this happens: Stress at work > overworking > the person doesn’t go to yoga class, go running, read before bed, or catch up with close friends as much.
According to UC Irvine’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, cortisol is also linked with Alzheimer’s Disease. Read more about this interesting correlation HERE.
Do I need to keep going? OK, I will.
Stress accelerates aging according to Science Daily (shocker – it’s that cortisol again) by shortening telomeres (the outermost part of a chromosome).
Stress damages DNA and reduces overall longevity (by 4-8 years according to this article).
I will just stop here, but you get the drift.
I’d love to now list a bunch of things to beat stress, but I don’t have this list for you. I’m learning how to manage it myself. The one thing I can say is that your job title doesn’t define you and try to let go of the fear of changing things up. Our lives (“our” meaning moms, working parents, and people in general) have become so fast-paced. We’re constantly connected, more spread out, we all have big life events such as moving or job changes, and having children while working full-time is chaotic. On top of technology and lifestyle changes, the world is stressful. Watching the freaking evening news alone is enough to sink us all into a depression.
This is something I’m exploring quite often lately (this quest for peace, if you will), and I’ll share what I learn along the way (or I’ll write to you from the institution).
Just ending this note with a gift to you: a quote I have hanging on my wall. It is just so true.
You’re Doing the Best