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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

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

Look, look, look! A book! A book!

Kgroom

While speaking in depth recently with a new friend about my writing and the challenges of finding one’s voice and genre, along with the complications of writing what’s right and true to one’s experience vs. the need to protect those in our story, she made my day by recommending a few books that might help me to answer these questions.  Then she made my day even better by saying she was going to send them to me. When they arrived in the mail this week, my heart and psyche did some unanticipated healing.

As a reader, there isn’t anything better than receiving a book you truly want to read, except reading it.  So, when a huge wave of fatigue visited last evening as I continue to write and walk daily, and I was left taped to the bed, committed to staying off Facebook at least while I focus on breaking my fatigue in new ways, I reached for one of the two books she sent.  Within five minutes of reading, possible fewer, I was dead asleep.  When I awoke shortly after, panicked and most likely from not breathing, I thought, “I should put on my CPAP.”  As is often the case when I am fatigued, I was just too tired to reach down for the mask, to turn on the machine,  I fell back to sleep wondering if this would be the night I died in my sleep.

I didn’t want to die, but I knew I could, just as I always know. After all, I believe I had a friend die this way, not long before sleep apnea was commonly understood; “He died peacefully in his sleep,” they would say. He had gained a significant amount of weight; I could hear him breathless after climbing the building stairs; he probably did not understand why, probably dieted as best he could–or at least thought he needed to start, likely chalked it all up to smoking and/or even drinking.  So jovial, intelligent and big-hearted was he…yet, he likely had no idea that sleep apnea was the bigger culprit. Only now do I presume it was.  No one ever really said–I’m not even sure the coroner knew.  One day, after having yet another great conversation with him in the parking lot before leaving work, just as I watched him drive away, he was within moments gone, never to return.  That was seven years ago, almost to the day.

I slept deeply for about fifteen minutes when another episode of interrupted breathing again awakened me. This time when I awakened, I was more alert, refreshed from having slept, yet so much so I no longer felt sleepy.  I decided to get out of bed to go read in the living room.  As I passed the study, I saw the mounting mess upon my desk–the mess I’ve been wanting to clean all week.  When I was in sales as a young woman, I was taught never to leave work with a cluttered desk.  The idea later echoed by a rhetoric professor in graduate school, who warned us about the limitations of writing in texts.  You always want to return to both with a clear mind, refreshed, with a new way of seeing, in any small way uncluttered or possibly improved, both the professor and the sales manager would say.  My clean desk at the university, taken from my experience in business, contrasted with those of my less focused colleagues, proud of their messes, unaware of the advantages, not at all interested since they saw such feats as either impossible, unnecessary or anally retentive.  With all work experience behind me, the sight of my cluttered home desk on my way to read in the living room sickened me, made me feel like the failure I sometimes feel I’ve become, the woman who returned from death to begin back at square one to evolve, yet again.  The powerhouse of energy who is no more.

The book I began reading stunned me with its exquisite prose.  The perfect example, as my new friend said, of poetry fashioned into memoir.  I was able to read the first fifty pages, before turning in for the night, again too tired to hook up myself to the breathing machine.  This is as self-destructive as I get; I’m just too tired sometimes to function.  Fortunately, last night was not the night for me to go in my sleep, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.  Around 5:00 this morning, my sweet husband lifted the accessory tube to me to put on, asked how to work the machine, and I muttered, “You just have to press the button on the left twice.”  Too tired to feel embarrassed, I drifted back to sleep, while in my thoughts beginning to compose this post on my grateful introduction to “I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl.”

Let me tell you that I am bowled over by the writing in this woman’s story, just as my new friend said I would be.  So beautiful, so anxiety producing, so heart-breaking, so perfectly paced and so well-crafted, so happily self-examining, revealing and insightful.  I am startled by the contrasts in our life experiences, yet how they appear to end up in much the same place. The writer, with experiences much different from my own, led an early life of promiscuity and self-destruction.  She works at fighting alcoholism and goes to rehab only to end up the self-professed “Queen of Going Back Out.”  I have never been much of a drinker–you can’t even really classify me as a social drinker, although I am not a teetotaler…and though I’ve read about Alanon and attended a few meetings, I mostly attend lectures and go on spiritual retreats.  I am more like the nun in her story, who tells her that no matter what she’s done it isn’t her fault when in fact it pretty much is, the nun who wants her to choose hope, the nun she does not return to see.

Yet, I walk a parallel line in my own life’s experiences.  At the very least, I share the same keen perception and attention to detail that she maintains even during fog-infused blackouts from drinking too much. During the worst of my head injury, I was similar to her in her drunkness–still able to take in so much from any given scene that, despite our deficits, much of it remains unapparent to most.  She has been raped by three men at once and had countless sexual encounters with many others, while I have not, yet when she writes, “I need to be touched in a non-violent way,” my head and my heart explode with recognition.

This is what good writing can do.  It can bring into the universal that which is private, personal, exclusive. You might think it is the plot that carries this story, but the specific experiences are not what capture me. While some readers may look for this sort of adventure, titillation, intensity, the action of it rather repels me; not morally so much as psychologically.  It’s almost as if the appeal for me is the moment where the writer takes or gets a breath, some ease, a glimpse of rest.  That she survives it all and wants to keep going… and so much more, too soon to be articulated.  Mostly, undoubtedly, it is the level of the writing that makes this book stand out.

My new friend warned me that I would not be able to put down the books she was going to send me.  Her statement is so true, that I hope we can be friends forever.  Regardless, I greatly appreciate and will never forget this gift she’s given me.  As I read, I carry forth in my head what I want to write, what I really want most to say, but until now have felt I could not, should not. It is such a balancing act, and Kelle Groom succeeds, masters it.  I am still afraid, but now feeling somewhat liberated. As if the possibility of sharing “The Worst Thing That Can Happen” (Chapter 6 in Groom’s memoir) can be done with grace and precision, and to benefit readers who will empathize without judging, and judging all characters, not just my own–which is part of what I do with others who may not deserve any sympathy or empathy.  This tolerance and perspective that comes naturally to me (at least in most cases), which I haven’t worked out from a writing standpoint. The quandary that keeps me from feeling I can draw my characters fairly, objectively, roundly, whether they deserve it or not.  Kelle Groom writes boldly, and I really cannot wait to read more to see how the book continues.

This is Day 15 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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