Welcome to Spring #1 of Making Time. Each week, I share a seasonal perspective on the creative process. This month, my theme is Space to Create. If you’d like to follow along on this year-long experiment, you can subscribe for free.
Happy spring! I forced tulips indoors for the first time this year, and they’re starting to bloom!
The other night, I got in bed, turned on my lamp, grabbed my journal, and started to write:
I began: “I really don’t want to write right now.”
I was feeling exhausted and depleted, but I kept going. Ten minutes later, I finally began the process of emptying my brain. After twenty minutes, I felt noticeably better. After thirty minutes, I knew I’d be able to fall asleep.
I’ve been carrying a lot of anxiety lately. This is a familiar place for me – although anxiety is not exactly a normal state for me, it’s a frequent visitor. I spend most of my time managing things perfectly well, and then the stressors of life seem to reach a tipping point and everything just spills out all over. It’s a dramatic shift in my state of being, like I’ve switched into another mode.
Once I’ve reached that point, I have to claw my way back to equilibrium. The main problem seems to be that anxiety feeds on itself. It leads to all sorts of avoidant behavior, mainly due to feeling overwhelmed. I can’t bear to add one more thing I “should” do onto my plate, even though I know it’s something that will make me feel better.
So, it’s a cycle that’s hard to escape from once I’m in it. I’m too full of fear and dread and exhaustion to take care of myself in any meaningful way.
But the thing is, I can see it coming. I’ve gotten much better at noticing when I’m stressed before it reaches that tipping point. The question is, what can I do about it?
Building a Stress Resilience Kit
I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a sort of stress resilience kit for these moments. While I’m terrible at taking care of myself because I “should”, I’m very good at following rules and agreements I’ve made with myself.
It would also take some of the decision making out of the equation, one of the most difficult things to do when I’m stressed. Instead of making a choice to spend time on my mental recovery, I could simply follow a prescription I’ve already laid out in advance. When I notice the stress rising, I take out my kit and address it then and there.
So what would this stress resilience kit look like?
I’m imagining a list of several options to choose from, with a variety of time commitments. Perhaps they could be laid out like a bingo card, or even in a card deck of some kind. I’d include things like:
Go for a walk outside for 10 minutes.
Take an afternoon off work.
Take a 15 minute stretch break every afternoon for a week.
Spend 30 minutes making something with your hands.
Pick an upcoming creative project you’re excited about and spend 20 minutes planning and designing.
I’d have to choose a certain number of these – maybe 3? – and do them.
The important thing isn’t so much the activities themselves, which are laughably small, but the signal to my brain that it’s ok to enjoy things again, that the world won’t end if I slow down for a little while.
What would you include in your own stress resilience kit? And how would you organize them? By time commitment? Activity type? Let’s share ideas!
The winter pilau I mentioned last week, from the cookbook East. Must make the spring version next!
Head, Heart, Hands
Things to make us think, feel, and do.
Wish you had more self-control? You should hear the downsides. One of the things I’m learning lately is that many of the traits that have brought me praise and success in life have very deep emotional costs. I do wish this article had explored that more, rather than talking about the ways other people might perceive you (that part didn’t resonate with me, as I don’t think many people would describe me as “robotic”, ha!). But perfectionism and self-discipline have made me very harsh toward myself (or maybe it’s the other way around?)
VIDEO: Kumihimo silk braiding. So peaceful to watch.
The lasting power of good memories and why we made fewer memories during the pandemic
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You reminded me that I have a list, Getting Unstuck, of small easy things to do when I sink into a mood and just can’t find a way to join the world. So I read the list, and chose something to do (taking care of my indoor plants) and put aside my mind numbing game of online solitaire, and my day opened up again. In other words, tool kits work!! Thank you for reminding me to use mine. I hope your stress tool kit works for you.
Hi Sarai! I love the idea of a stress tool kit. That sounds super helpful. In mine, I'd include going into the woods, reading for an hour, and cooking something new. It was SO tempting to add things that help me de-stress but are on my to-do list (dishes, cleaning) but I noticed what I was doing and stopped. May you take the time to follow your tool kit this week!