Posts Tagged ‘stress’

I am tired and irritable, so let’s grab hold of a silver lining and use this as an opportunity to talk about strategies for recharging, shall we? Because they are certainly on my mind right now as I try to implement them.

I first noticed I felt socially tired around the end of March, ie when I was in the middle of moving. Not a huge shocker. I thought it would pass once I’d completed the move and had some time to relax. But while it held relatively steady for a while, it also wasn’t dissipating. And then instead it began to build.

I noticed I was feeling more stressed about common occurrences in my life, like scheduling and driving. Soon thereafter, I also noticed I was just generally more irritable. Doing things that are challenging for me in the best of times, like setting boundaries, saying no, and handling lots of last-minute changes became ridiculously hard. My tolerance for receiving repeated unasked-for advice and not being listened to–hot buttons for me in the best of times–fell even lower than usual.

And then I attended the Nebula Awards Weekend. I knew I was in a danger zone, so I was very careful to take plenty of time for myself, and I have to say, everyone I interacted with was lovely. I am so grateful for the respect and kindness with which my colleagues treat me. The weekend was in some ways like taking a nice warm bath of social goodness.

But I entered this week still feeling irritable, with an added side of exhaustion. And since I’m ahead of schedule on Beast Girl, I figured I could take a little extra time to recover from my social burn-out. Here’s what I’m trying:

1. No scheduled social events for several days in a row. (Well, except for one hour-long family thing that was important and already scheduled.) So far this has been BLISS. I’m finally getting a chance to really rest.

2. Avoiding particular stressors. I’m deliberately driving less and have even taken some days during which I don’t have to drive AT ALL. I’m not scheduling things for the future, either. I figure most things can wait a week or two. Basically, whenever I feel stressed about something, I ask myself, “Is this important right now?” If it’s not, I postpone it.

3. Being gentle with myself. I’m refusing to do most planning and decision-making type things. Of course, this doesn’t mean people have stopped asking me to plan and make decisions. Also, I’m still irritable, which means the occasional spasm of irritability reaches the outside world. Castigating myself for not being as perfect as I want to be isn’t going to help the situation though, so I’m trying my best to be kind to myself instead.

4. Making music. I love singing and playing the piano, and I haven’t been doing much of either lately. That has changed this week, as I’m learning two fabulous Moonface songs and getting slowly back into practice. I love the physicality of singing and playing and how it brings me back into my body.

5. Reading. Because there aren’t very many activities more soothing to an over-socialized psyche.

6. Taking hot baths. Except for this.

7. Watching educational videos. Because feeding my brain makes me happy.

8. Spending time with Nala. Because unconditional love makes me happy, and watching Nala blissfully flop around the house reminds me of what it means to be relaxed.

Nala looks pretty relaxed.

Nala looks pretty relaxed.

9. Being grateful. I’m so glad I can take this space, and it gives me time to think about all the people and activities in my life that I love.

What do you do to recharge? How do you know when you need a social vacation?


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The blog post that I have found to be the most influential on my life is James Altucher’s How to Deal with Crappy People (and its follow-up How to Deal with Crappy People Part 2).

I don’t remember when I read it, probably a couple of years ago, and it was a revelation to me. Just the bare fact that there are crappy people who exist and we’re allowed to acknowledge this as truth was amazing to me. And that we are actually allowed to do something about it besides silently suffering? Wow. Heady stuff.

Then I read this article last week on The Problem of Being Too Nice (an issue I’ve written a little about myself). And I realized why receiving permission from that James Altucher article to call a spade a spade was so important.

Here’s the problem. If you come from a certain background, a background that generally includes at least a few influential and crappy people (usually but not always involving a dysfunctional family), then you become more likely to attract other crappy people. You turn into a Crappy People Magnet. And you’re so used to being around crappy people, and dealing with them, and having crappy things happen, that it all becomes normalized. You assume everyone is like that, and it’s all on you to make everything work out anyway. You can’t tell who is crappy and who isn’t. They just all blur together into an incoherent pile of people.

Photo Credit: jessicalsmyers via Compfight cc

With so many crappy people involved in your life, though, things never stabilize. There always seems to be stress and drama. You’re so rarely getting what you need that you get more and more tired. It takes all your energy to keep your head above water. And the worst part is you might eventually become a crappy person yourself. After all, it’s not like you’re learning healthy behaviors.

As a young girl, it was strongly instilled in me that everyone else was good and I should tolerate most behaviors. Even now I find writing about crappy people to be really uncomfortable. The people pleaser in me wants to make a million excuses for them. But the fact is, there’s a real difference between being an imperfect human who makes mistakes sometimes and being a crappy person. Maybe the crappy person is only crappy to some people. Maybe the crappy person won’t always be crappy. Maybe the crappy person has extenuating circumstances. It’s good to be compassionate. But…

It’s even better to take care of ourselves first.

I know there are plenty of happy people out there who mostly know other good and happy people. I am so glad they exist because they are excellent role models for those of us who have more of a struggle. But this post is not for them.

This post is for those of you who do have crappy people in your lives. This post is for those of you who need permission to call a spade a spade. This post is for those of you who might need to make some difficult decisions in order to take care of yourselves.

There are people out there who are kind and care about what you need. And life without so many crappy people? It isn’t perfect. There are some things about it that are sad.

But it’s also like being able to take a full breath of air for the first time.

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Here is a beautiful thing.

In the midst of stress, there is connection. In the midst of sorrow, there is laughter. In the midst of fatigue, there is anticipation. In the midst of loss, there is appreciation. In the midst of chaos, there is the act of kindness that matters because of its mere existence.

In articles about dealing with stress, the idea of gratitude is repeated over and over again. Whether or not it is an active strategy, I find that gratitude and its cousin appreciation bubble up so easily these days. Perhaps because I need more help I have more to be grateful for. Or perhaps the contrast makes my appreciation keener. Or maybe I’m always this way and I just don’t usually pay as much attention. It is hard to know.

I stood in the grass at Shoreline Amphitheatre this weekend, my vest zipped up against the cool evening air. I watched Passion Pit play their song “Take a Walk,” and I was so happy to be there. I watched a friend of mine win the Andre Norton Award on Saturday night, and in the middle of tearing up, I was so happy to be there. I ate a late evening snack at my favorite local crepe place with a group of friends old and new, and I was so happy to be there.

My Taos buddies and I at the Nebulas this weekend. Photo by Valerie Schoen.

My Taos buddies and I at the Nebulas this weekend. Photo by Valerie Schoen.

A friend told me this weekend about a friend of hers who read my blog post about stress last week. Apparently it had a big impact, being the right post at the right time for this friend, who has been going through a lot herself recently, but she was embarrassed to write and tell me. I laughed and said, “I was embarrassed to write that post too.” I am so happy I decided to write something that mattered to someone.

I am so happy that so many of you have reached out to offer support and tell me it’s totally fine to spend some time staring at trees. And I completely agree. Staring at trees can be pretty great. So can eating pie and reading fluffy novels and petting little dogs and wearing a fantastic dress.

I am so happy to be here right now.

I am always looking for reasons to be happy, and I found so many of them this weekend. And perhaps that’s what I feel the most grateful for: my ability to find those reasons, and your willingness to create those reasons with me.

Thank you.

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Last Thursday I was eating my lunch when I heard a horrible crunching sound in my mouth. I pulled out a small piece of white porcelain, confirming that yes, I had just broken the crown with which I had so much trouble two years ago.

I spent some time shining a flashlight in my mouth and staring at the damage, followed by some aimless wandering around muttering “Okay” at periodic intervals. After calling the dentist and making an appointment, I ended up laying on my study floor with Nala and staring at the tree outside the window.

I wanted to lay there looking at that tree forever.

My Tree

My Tree

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that he didn’t seem to have energy to do even simple tasks, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t depressed. I suggested it could be related to anxiety. I was speaking from personal experience.

The last two months have been among the most stressful of my life, coming at the end of perhaps the most stressful year of my life. And it turns out the symptoms of high stress that you hear about are actually true. They include:

1. general fatigue/exhaustion (I was so tired on Friday, I got lost in a familiar part of town.)

2. lack of ability to focus (my speed of reading has fallen drastically)

3. muscle tension (in my case, particularly in the back, shoulders, and neck)

4. less effective immune system (I’ve had the flu twice in the last three and a half months)

5. insomnia

6. memory loss/unreliable memory (Two weeks ago I double booked myself. I still can’t believe that happened. I am usually a scheduling goddess.)

7. easily overwhelmed

8. tension headaches

9. appetite changes

10. easily triggered fears/worries

I haven’t wanted to write about any of this for a number of reasons. But on Thursday, I felt like breaking my crown was too much; it was the last straw. I considered lying there and contemplating the tree forever. It seemed like a pretty good idea, until the thought wiggled its way into my consciousness that I should write about this. And eventually, buoyed up by this thought, I got up.

As a child, I was taught to try to be as perfect as possible. If I was going through a hard time, I was supposed to hide it.

But this belief contributes to the problem. Not only is it isolating, but it strengthens the idea that if we don’t handle everything perfectly, we are failures, when in reality we’re just the same as everyone else. Everyone has struggles. Everyone goes through hard times. Everyone has moments when they stare at a tree (or the road or the ceiling or the screen or their feet or the dark when they can’t sleep) and want all the difficult things to go away because they seem like too much.

So I’m going to be honest. I’m tired all the time. I prioritize my to do list carefully every day because I can’t get as much done as normal. Nala is always at the very top of that list, and everything else comes after. Sometimes it takes me an hour or more to figure out how to respond to a typical situation or request. I can’t always be there for my friends the way I want to be, and sometimes I have to cancel plans.

I’m not depressed. I love life, I love the world, and I am optimistic about my future. I have so many projects I want to work on, so many books I want to write, and so many people I want to spend time with, some of whom I haven’t even met yet. I get frustrated by my energy levels because I still want to do all the things.

But realistically, there is only a certain amount of stress any of us can handle before it begins to affect things. And I am past that amount. I look forward to a time when that’s no longer true. Hopefully it will be here soon.

And in the meantime, sometimes I will spend some time staring at my tree.

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Photo Credit: chiaralily via Compfight cc

The scene: A spring afternoon on a concrete patio with metal tables and chairs, close to the train tracks. A slight breeze keeps me worried that I should have brought more than my thin sweater, worried enough that I order a hot drink in spite of the sunny weather. A large dog lays with his head between his paws, gazing with eyes big enough that many of his actions automatically become characterized as mournful even though that’s not his personality at all.

My friend is telling me about a conversation she had with a customer service representative over the phone. After explaining recent events and how they pertained to the issue in discussion, the woman told her, “Don’t worry, now you’re getting the chance to start over.”

I say, “Don’t we all start over at one point or another?”


I have thrown away a bowl full of leaden gingerbread dough. I have discarded ten thousand words and started a novel from scratch (and felt grateful it was only that many). I have graduated, I have moved, I have ended relationships, rekindled relationships, started relationships. I have obtained employment, lost employment, quit, and changed careers. I have opened and closed a business. I have walked out of a lobby at a convention and sat for twenty minutes in my hotel room before coming back out and starting again. I have spent months recovering from physical injuries, only to re-injure myself and go back to the beginning of the process. I have rebooted my computer, my phone, huge strands of my life.

So I guess you could say I start over a lot.


A friend of mine moved recently, and in the process, she got rid of a ton of stuff. She hardly has any books left (she mostly reads electronically these days), most of her kitchen cabinets are empty, she’s getting rid of big pieces of furniture. I thought to myself, “Wow. This is the way to start over.”

By contrast, when I start over, I tend to carry everything with me: my experiences, my memories, my baggage, and physical mementos from the past. It’s certainly the bulkier way to go. But there is no one right way to start over. There is the way that feels right at the time.

My kitchen cabinets are full. But I do have an empty bookshelf.


The title of this post suggests that I’m going to offer up advice or maybe a list of ten bullet points summing up the process of starting over. But this time I don’t have a list for you.

Starting over is hard. A lot of that is because of the fear that often comes with it, the fear and the not knowing and the what if game. And starting over is stressful. If you look at the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, you’ll see that almost all of the most stressful events in life have to do with change: beginnings, endings, and starting over.

So really when we’re talking about how to start over, we’re also talking about how to be kind to ourselves and how to be resilient and how to deal with stress.

When have you started over?

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When I was entering the job market in my early twenties, I tried to be proactive and prepare for the inevitable interview process. The hypothetical question that all the articles told me I had to be ready for that freaked me out the most was the perennial: What is your greatest weakness? I still hate this question. I mean, there you are, trying your best to sell yourself in a high pressure situation and then you’re forced to talk about your less than ideal points? Plus, according to said interview advice, what you were really supposed to do was choose a “weakness” that you could spin as a positive, meaning that the entire exchange was just an elaborate test of whether or not you could bullshit effectively. Ugh. Anyhow, I chose perfectionism as my flaw, which was one of the examples used on the internet as a good choice. Because perfectionism (I thought) shows that you are actually very diligent, hardworking, detail oriented, and competent.

I never got asked that question in an interview.

Which is just as well, because after having spent years and years of my life as a recovering perfectionist, I can say with authority that the negatives far outweigh any positives. And if I had answered the way I’d planned to anyone with insight into human character, it might very well have cost me the job.

Nothing and no one living is always perfect. (Photo by jfh686 on flickr)

Not convinced? Let me draw your attention to some perfectionism highlights:

1. Freeze/block: Yes, perfectionism can cause things like writer’s block. I know because to this day it gives me trouble while I’m writing. Once a perfectionist realizes there is no way to get a given job done perfectly, it becomes oh so very difficult to do that job at all. At least, if we actually care about the job at all. The less we care, the easier it is to avoid the freeze.

2. Inefficiency: Unless the perfectionist’s target IS efficiency, of course. Because it’s so hard for us to leave something alone and actually call it done. If we just made another little tweak…or a hundred. If we only had time to start over. You’d better hope your perfectionist is feeling perfectionistic about deadlines, or it’s all over. (Happily, I am in fact a perfectionist about deadlines, so at least I get to finish, whether I like it or not.)

3. Stress: If you aren’t a perfectionist yourself, just imagine a world in which everything you are even tangentially involved with has to be perfect and go exactly as planned. And if it’s not perfect, you have failed and it is All. Your Fault. And if it doesn’t go as planned, then life is ruined. And if only you could be a little better, maybe all the problems in the universe would disappear. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

4. Obliviousness, otherwise known as self denigration: Because perfectionists hold ourselves to such impossible standards, we often fail to notice, or give ourselves appropriate credit for, the awesome things we may accomplish. We may not notice positive character traits, and if we do, we think they’re no big deal. If we achieve something big, we focus on what we didn’t achieve yet, something we failed at, or explain why it isn’t important: Well, but I’ve only made one pro sale. Well, but I’ve only sold one novel. Well, but I was only able to succeed at x because I failed so spectacularly at y. Well, but I’m not that intelligent because I don’t have a PhD/don’t have a deep understanding of quantum mechanics/don’t speak six different languages fluently.

So yes, all is not fun bright times in perfectionism world. While perfectionism does often create driven personalities who go on to achieve great things, I think there are ways of being driven and ambitious without being quite so hard on ourselves. One of my favorite parts of The West Wing was when President Bartlett had dealt with a problem, often less than perfectly, often when there were no good solutions or easy answers. He’d always turn right around and say, “What next?” What next allows us to focus on what we can do instead of dwelling on our inability to be perfect.

Any other perfectionists out there? Any strategies you use to help you work through it? Any aspects you find especially difficult? I’d love to hear from you.

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