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When Stress Amplifies Fatigue

When Stress Amplifies Fatigue: 10 Things You Can Do 

Like many ailments that arise through no fault of the individuals who suffer them, stress is often compounded by forces outside one’s control. Every injured or disabled person knows to make accommodations to help them cope and to help them recover as much as possible, but sometimes even the best strategies cannot protect us from the agitation delivered by other people and circumstances.  So, what can a person who is already struggling with health issues do when additional stress arrives?  Here are ten things that work for me:

 1. Rest:  Many problems lessen with a level blood pressure and clear thinking.  Even a crabby mood can be indicative of being tired, so make sure that you take to the hammock if anything is causing increased stress. By checking out and calming down, you will renew and strengthen whatever cells your going to need to face whatever music is playing all around you. Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically.  Just rest, as often as possible, particularly if tough times get tougher for any reason whatsoever. You don’t have to hibernate as if rest is all there is. You just need not to forget that rest does help whenever we feel overwhelmed.

 2. Educate Yourself:  While you unwind, pick up a book or an article having to do with whatever you are facing. The more you understand about your condition and the more you learn about whatever challenges crop up, the more you will be able to make sound decisions and seek useful assistance, should you need any. Or, read something unrelated, say a poem or a short story. Try to keep the reading nourishing, not anxiety producing in any way–you are reading to return to center, not to aggravate yourself further.

 3. Eat Healthy Foods/Drink Plenty of Water:  Your body cannot repair itself if you fill it with low quality fuel.  The better the nourishment, the better you’ll feel and the stronger you’ll get.  Last year I drank warm lemon water every morning all winter. I never got a cold until May, despite my husband having a cough nearly all season long. Later this year, I added one apple a day to my diet.  I was amazed at how filling this was, how satisfying (eat fresh ones, obviously) and how it helped me cut down on snacking.  Don’t even get me started on salads–I am a salad fanatic; I like them as much as candy, and make them so that they are actually better than candy (not sweet, just yummy, fresh and healthy).  I also added to my diet red grapefruit, chilled to perfection. This is a satisfying treat whenever I’m feeling dehydrated, which is often, no matter how much water I drink. As for water, I fill a glass every time I empty one, and basically drink water all day long. Yes, this results in many potty breaks, but it also helps me think clearer and have more energy. Did you know that before an exam you should drink water to make sure your braincells are hydrated?  This was a trick I used as a student, and one I passed along to my students. It makes for clearer concentration stretched over a longer period of time.

 4. Change the Air:  When stress erupts, so does anxiety.  The best thing to do for anxiety beside rest is to vent by talking, go for a walk to get your blood flowing and muscles moving, write to release what is inside, or just open a window to let in a breeze or some sunshine. If noise bothers you, turn things off or close the windows (I even got myself earplugs, and I take them with when we travel); if silence drives you crazy, put on some soothing music or even a tv show. Small adaptations make big changes. You do not have to go stir crazy in the atmosphere that stress induces. Do whatever little thing you can to enable yourself to clear your mind. Of course, exercise, meditation, shopping, calling a friend, or a trip to the library work well, too.

 5. Give Yourself a Mantra for the Day:  To combat the negative feelings I have that have basically been imposed on me by negative people and negative situations, I try to bolster my wounded self-esteem by creating a mantra to help me focus on the sort of inspiration I feel lacking.  I might say, “I am generous, thoughtful and good,” or “I am strong, honest and true,” to combat anyone doubting my motives.  Or, “It doesn’t have to be done. Reading is doing,” or “I can rest when I need to” on a day when fatigue has me in its grasp and I cannot hardly sit up, let alone tackle the universe. If someone throws a brain injury insult my way, such as, “You’re crazy,” or “I told you, but you forgot as usual,” I tell myself, “I understand my journey better than anyone. I know where I have been,” to center myself in the fuller truth.  People like to judge one another unfairly, so write down inspirational statements to yourself and keep them at the ready for whenever you start to feel lost or unloved.

 6. “Have a Dance Party” /or/ Have a Pop-Tart Party!:  I say this in quotations because you get to decide what having a dance party entails.  It may be just you, it may be yourself and others, it may be you and your cat, dog or turtle. Thepiano music is all up to you. The only requirement is that you include music. I cannot hear upbeat music without picking up the beat in my head, body, fingers, limbs. Find a go-to song that will get you going whenever you know this will work. My pick is “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. I just can’t hear that song without reverting back to the 16 year old I was when it was popular. It brings back memories of many dances and always gets me hopping.  Likewise, when I am grief-stricken, I have a favorite CD I always play that soothes me. I rarely share it with others because music is such a personal choice, but it’s by a pianist who writes instrumentals for movies.  His name is Dustin O’Halloran, and I first heard him playing back up for K.D. Lang in Nashville, TN. Here is my favorite album of his, which you can find online and listen to on Soundcloud or wherever.  I have enjoyed this CD so many times, usually while trying to fall asleep, or when home alone, recovering.

A note about the dance party:  Many years ago I knew a woman who had a young son with special needs. His speech was clear, but he had some emotional challenges resulting from brain damage at birth.  One day the boy became frustrated, as he frequently did. Since he was learning to try to work through his anger, he tried to calm himself down, saying to his mother through his tears, “Could we have a pop-tart party?”  The boy wasn’t a big eater, but pop-tarts made him happy.  So, whether you like pop-tarts or not, you can also think of this one as “Have a Pop-Tart Party!”

 7. Put On the Blinders, Put Up the Schmuck Shield:  Since a lot of stress comes from other people’s behavior, you have to become adept at not looking and not listening. It’s not all that easy to ignore hateful, rude, petty, or otherwise annoying and hurtful people–but the more you can, the better you’ll feel.  EVEN IF you falter and take the bait when they are with you, and EVEN IF you do or say something you regret (we know how easily provoked anyone is who isn’t feeling well in the first place) just do your best to let it all go as soon as you can. If you are embroiled in the moment–being unfairly accused or criticized–you have to do your best to follow the words to the source and let them remain there. None of us can do a thing about what others say or think about us. Even if we try to, they will just go ahead and say and think whatever they want once they are out of our influence, anyway. Some people even thrive on this sort of behavior. So, know this and let them have their opinions. Of course this behavior is likely to be hurtful, that’s partly why they may be doing or saying it in the first place–to bring you down and to elevate themselves. OR, they are doing it to release some of their own intense anger or frustration–in which case, you can begin to have compassion. Most of the time, however, you cannot help people with their anger. You are too busy trying to cope with your own. So when someone comes at you with the Schmuck Truck, do what you can to make things better if there is anything that you can do…but mostly, just practice being deaf, dumb and immune–put up the Schmuck Shield, by envisioning a thick impermeable plastic shield that nothing can cross. I’m not all that good at this myself, but I want to be. So, I’m telling you what I tell myself.  And I hope one of us listens.

 8. Extreme Self-Care:  Whenever you are stressed, it will help you to do whatever you need to treat yourself the way you wish others treated you. Create a list of go-to things for whenever you need a way to care for or comfort yourself. Include things such as: floss my teeth, clean my dresser, color, make a craft, go to a bakery, take a walk, buy flowers or plant some, watch a baby babble, sign up for a course.  Virtually any small thing or big that will make you feel taken care of.  If you have not tried this, I can practically guarantee that you will be amazed by what it does for your spirits. My favorite self-care story is about a time that I was so ill I hardly could get out of bed…but I was home alone and freezing cold. I lay in bed for what seemed like hours, shivering and so uncomfortably cold. It finally occurred to me that I could get out of bed gently and actually get myself a pair of socks. When I put on the socks I took from my dresser drawer, I felt an instant comfort like I had never quite known previously. It was as if I had finally learned to take care of myself the way I would care for others! I warmed up and finally fell asleep.  To this day, that small act is one of my happiest memories of the smallest of blessings that made things feel so much better.

 9. Find Your Happy:  The best thing you can do when you are stressed is find a way to experience joy.  I wrote about this, for example, both here and here.  In addition, you can write a thank you note or read one you received, create a collage or just flip through photos in a magazine or even in your photo file.  The sky is the limit with this one. Facebook is full of groups with challenges that also work toward this goal, so you can do it online or just in your home. You can also do some brainstorming to unveil where your interests lie–try creating a bucket list, a vacation list, a set of goals, a series of fun to-dos, or even add to the list, “read The Artist’s Way,” because it is a book that will set habits of taking Artist Dates and other fulfilling adventures that will enrich your life in remarkable ways. The key here is to gift yourself with anything that brings you joy, the smaller the better, until it becomes second nature. No worries about over-indulgence, this is a strategy for when you are hurting and need to feel some relief from pain.

10. Show Love:  This category also takes whatever form you wish.  The purpose is to show your love or share your heart to anyone you see fit.  You can write a love note, send a text message or, one of my personal favorites, create a package. Sometimes, just finding a sticker or small package of something that reminds you of someone is all it takes. One time, my daughter said she was so busy she’d become short on makeup, so I sent her a shoebox full of new makeup–nothing too costly, just some things I knew she could use. It made her feel loved, and it got me in touch with my love (even though mean people were trying to make me feel awful.)  In one of my online groups, we’ve started sending feathers to one another. Because it is a social media group, we each have a growing bundle of feathers from across the oceans. We find the feathers outside on the ground (so, they themselves are free), save them, then send them when the spirit moves.  Remember, it doesn’t take much to show someone you have thought of them. Plus, whatever time you spend will be a gift to yourself as well.  One of my favorite things to do is to send a book or a card to our granddaughters, the baby especially. Here she is one recent morning, receiving the Halloween card discovered by her parents in the mailbox late the day before. She still has her rag baby with her as she sleepily examines the envelope. It’s one of my favorite photos, and brings me joy every time I look at it:

photo 2

Similarly, one day I sent our granddaughter a short video of myself and my husband just saying hello, telling her we love her and miss her. Thanks to the remarkable technology of cell phones, her father sent one in return, of just her trying to say the same things to us. I cannot tell you the number of times I have watched that video. She’s not quite sure what’s happening, but predictably gets the “bye bye” part down really well.  It adorable, and it’s a grandparent’s dream.

I hope this post helps you find new ways to cope with stress.

Which of these strategies will you try?  Please leave me a note in the comments and let me know if it worked for you!

Feeling sluggish or blue, frustrated or hurt?  Dance it up with me:

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This is Day 27 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

On Going Off Facebook

IMG_0085_Fotor Dorothy

Something odd happened to me today.  I no sooner got finished telling someone how happy writing makes me, than within hours I felt sick of it.  I thought maybe I would drop out of this challenge, even though I never had that thought before.  I thought maybe I don’t really like the activity of writing so much that it eclipses all other activities.  I thought maybe I don’t really want to publish a book, after all.

I got busy with my day and didn’t think too much about it again until I sat down to write my post just now for Day 13.

A question came up on Facebook on our Write31Days group page, and yet again the very defensive administrator with a lot of bravado was rude in response to my follow-up question.

I decided just to think about her retort; perhaps to address it tomorrow, if not disregard it altogether.

Then I poked around for a bit, and independent of the thought of her curtness or any other specific impetus, I decided on a bit of impulse just to deactivate my Facebook account.

I’m really surprised I did this.  And yet I am not at all surprised.

Ever since I started this challenge, and the actual putting into practice-do as I say Breaking Free from Fatigue-I have really been too busy for Facebook.  And I also have not been as reliant on it…

Facebook was a perfect go-to when I was fatigued, but now that I am trying so hard to push past the rest it required, I find I not only don’t have the time for Facebook, I also find I am losing interest in it.

For one thing, I have a stack of books I want to read, a party to plan, a bunch of writing to do, and a house to prepare for guests, along with meals to prepare to feed them.  Plus, I am still trying to walk 5 miles a day.  Just the party prep could take me the whole of the rest of this week.  I wonder what life will feel like without the daily connection that is Facebook?

Actually, as this 31 Day Writing Challenge continues, I think going off Facebook is the perfect thing for me to do.  It’s such a perfect idea, I really don’t know why I didn’t think of it in the first place.

Perhaps it was because at the time this writing challenge launched, I was involved with 100 Days of Happy Photosand wanted to finish that challenge, which was also initiated on Facebook. In fact, tomorrow is our last day: it will be exactly one hundred days that I’ve been sharing in the group, mostly daily, photographs of things that bring happiness my way each day (the featured photo above is one I took for this group).  I feel a little badly about abandoning the 100 Happy Photographs project, but I can always post my photo(s) here, if I want to. Or, I can explain when I return.  I will go back on Facebook in time–I just don’t know when.  Perhaps I will wait until this 31 Day Writing challenge is over.

Most importantly, being off Facebook will give me more time to focus on the new habits I am trying to build, in order to replace the physical rest that dominated my days.  This will be a great day for me, if not being exhausted ever occurs–a day I’ve long awaited!  In addition, I feel burned out on the pettiness that happens on Facebook, which I try most of the time to ignore.  I get tired of the superficiality and some of the practices that goes on there.  I feel as though I am looking for deeper, more meaningful connections, as I have always had in real life, since I try to avoid wasting time frivolously.  When I was fatigued, I had a lot of reading time but not always the best concentration.  Facebook was great for little blips of interest, even though I often fell asleep laptop in hand.

Yet, being as communicative as I am, it is difficult for me to spend five minutes and then disappear for six days–or worse, just to post a photo of a contorted cat that says, “Hang in There,” or some such thing, and then move away.  I don’t think in soundbites.  I may be too expressive for Facebook.  Too contemplative, maybe.  I don’t like the rituals that remind me of junior high/middle school, even though, again, I rarely let myself be bothered by them.  I’m just aware…and I need a break from all of it, apparently.

Besides, now that I am finally beginning to feel like a normal person, I want  to return to in person relationships, not just virtual.  I think this break is going to be beneficial, although I will probably miss all sorts of important news and changes in people’s lives.  I guess someone will have to call me, or I just won’t know…

This move is a big change for me, as I have been reading Facebook posts nearly daily for the whole latter five years or so of my recovery.  The operative here is “move.”  Alas, movement!  This has been my goal for so long.  It is exciting to be finally achieving such an important goal (even as my head hurts just a bit still).

Indeed, while almost completely unanticipated, going off Facebook feels like a huge evolution.  I mean, I knew I was aggravated with it at times, but I never realized I would be able to make such a swift, clean break.  I also guess I never let myself realize just how aggravating it has become.  I always tend to focus on the positives, and there are many positives to social networking.

Perhaps blogging fulfills a similar sort of social need that Facebook does?  There certainly is not the same amount of interaction.  Same with tweeting, I suppose, which is also different from the Facebook culture.

I do worry somewhat that people won’t know what happened to me, since I made no announcement of my leaving, and maybe even that I will lose “friends” I don’t want to lose.  But anyone who cares should know how to find me here; at least they say they are reading my blog.  All and all, if they really want to connect, I’m sure they will be able to find me some other way other than Facebook.

I don’t think anything urgent will happen while I’m gone–except, OOPS, I was supposed to go pick up a Halloween costume for $6.00 for our granddaughter from someone I don’t know and will no longer have contact information for.  Oh, my.  Like I said, I really didn’t think it all the way through.  At the time, it just seemed like the perfect thing to do.  Surely it is better than stopping my writing challenge, no?  Better than giving up writing for good?  And by for good, I mean for forever.  If I have to choose between writing, moving and Facebook, Facebook is going to lose every time…

I do wonder how much time will pass before I return to Facebook.  I’m hoping that I at least take the rest of this month off.  It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes.

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?

This is Day 13 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

How to Call Up Your Happy: On Writing and Identity

BUGLE CORPS

What do you do when something terrible happens?  When the bottom falls out, and you just can’t imagine a worse case scenario?  How do you get through?  How do you restore yourself?  Do you have good resources available that you can count on, or do you fall prey to self-destructive habits that only make matters worse? What if there are no answers?  If it just is what it is?

I have suffered a heartbreak this summer, and along with that received some rather devastating news. Whenever things unravel in these ways for me, I think hard and fast about how I am going to hold on, how I am going to get through the necessary adjustments.  It’s never easy, but one thing that always helps me is to write.

I have been wanting to get back to journaling for forever, and when one has fallen behind, trying times are always the perfect place to start anew.  In addition, blogging helps because it requires focus and creativity, and it renders a kind of artwork that feels like an accomplishment.  It takes all sorts of courage to share a blog post.  Yet somehow all it takes is the mere completion of a post to make me feel back on track.  Like I’m going somewhere, moving forward somehow.  When I am lucky I might also get one or more kind words about something I’ve written, which is more than enough to make any writer’s day.  The exchange of writing to posting, you might say, pays dividends.  Something about the simple delight of sharing electronically–so fast and so certain.  While one creates, one provides.  That is the sort of zen of all artistry.

In providing for others, we can heal ourselves.  As I enjoy journaling–which is for me alone, no one else–I also enjoy blogging.  Perhaps I just like placing words on paper, typing words on screens.  The fewer words inside, the lighter both my head and my heart feel.  I also enjoy scrapbooking.  The more design we add to images, the more they tell a story.

When we’re hurting, it is important to hold on, dig in our heels,

and try to do what we enjoy.

One of the first things I did after the horrible news came was to plant flowers.  Flowers can be therapeutic, just as mowing the yard can be.  Planting flowers always reminds me of my grandmother and other soothing memories filled with sunshine.  Planting flowers somehow feels like one of the most liberating acts we can do. Like giving life when we feel dead inside.  Cradling our creativity in an earthy collection of color.  I love yard work, so this week I mowed, picked up sticks from the storms, and planted flowers even as my throat tightened and my chest heaved heavy sighs.

Another thing I decided to do to find strength was to join an online photography group, where starting today and for the next one hundred days we share one photograph from that day that brought us joy.  The idea is that what you focus on multiplies.  So, if you’re always looking for something to delight you, you will experience more delight.

Lord knows that when a heart is broken, one needs all the balm it can find.  As today was the first day, I thought I might blog on some of my discoveries in the days ahead.  That way I will be looking for happy photos, AND blogging about them.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 to allow same sex marriage in all fifty U.S. states, my husband and I have been honoring marital privilege by trying to spend more focused quality time together each day. Because this ruling occurred before my bad news hit, some of that quality time together has been spent simply by holding each other while I cry.  My husband is a compassionate soul, but much as he tries to understand what I am feeling, it is really my burden to carry.  He aches for me, but he can’t change the circumstance any more than I can.  All he can do is be witness to my heartache and try to help distract me from it.  One of the things we started doing to help is to walk five miles per day.  That is how much I walked daily before suffering a head injury that changed everything; it has been a long anticipated goal of mine…and at this point we really need one another to stay motivated to complete the distance.

Today, we incorporated our walk with my photo sharing     group.  I started in town by taking this photo of some potted flowers by city hall.       The colorful arrangement brought instant happiness to my eyes, and I was grateful for that.  I leaned in to get a closer look.  We continued on our way in 90 degree heat, making our destination my high school alma mater, which we are near only because we moved back to town temporarily to help my aged parents.  As we approach the 40th celebration of my graduation in 1975, we were enthralled to see the construction at the local high school for installation of an underground pool.  So much so, I thought THIS might be the photo I would share with my 100 Days of Happy Photos group:

swimming pool construction

But then we came home and I checked my Fitbit dashboard.  For the eighth day in a row, we had completed a walk of three miles or greater.  My body had various aches and pains, but I had managed to lighten some of my heartache.  Reaching our step goal made me feel hopeful.  I found myself posting this rather pedestrian photo for my first day:

How can anyone not be cheered up by those lime green smiley faces with their big, happy smiles?

After I posted to the group, this meme appeared in my newsfeed:

15 Writing Ways

It reminded me that I am first and foremost a writer.

It reminded me that I am inspired.

It reminded me that I have #1 in the bag, as I have already started looking for things to smile about by participating in One Hundred Days of Happy Photographs.

It reminded me that I do, indeed, feel pain deeply–that this is what writers do.  And this slightly lifted the burden of my devastation; maybe it’s okay to feel distraught…depending on circumstances…at least for a time.  Maybe I could hold on.  And maybe this is how we write, by waiting; by knowing; by enduring.

It reminded me that I am always going below the surface of things, that I rarely live on the periphery–that my heart and my imagination drive me right smack to the middle, whether it is the desert or the garbage dump, I am all in.

Perhaps most importantly, I smiled again.  As I read #4, I had to admit that I do, indeed, study people.  It is something I always do whenever we are anywhere, particularly in restaurants.  While others are on their cell phones, I am inventing profiles, scenarios and dialogues with the people I observe either nearby or across the room.  My husband and I always laugh about it.

Sometimes I share my observations, but when I am silent and deep in thought, my husband will occasionally interrupt, saying with an emphatic smile, “Oh, you’re writing…”

“Yes, that’s what I do,” I admit proudly.

“That’s just who I am.”

 

When we feel gutted, when we feel lost, it is at least good to know who we are.

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                                                    © Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.