It’s very late, I’m in my bed, my cat is curled up besides me. The night feels quiet and calming. I just spent a couple of hours painting flowers, a lovely and soothing activity, full of beauty and colours. I needed it badly to recharge after a long and draining week.
I look around me lately, and am amazed, as I am every year, by how many people go through a lot of personal changes at the same time, me included. I love that quote :
“Autumn is here to remind us of the beauty of letting go”
Every year at this time, I get a lot of anxiety because there’s a dip in my professional appointments, some people disappear. It usually starts in August.
And even if year after, for the past decade, in October I always get busier again, until December where it gets very very busy (pre-holidays mental preparation?), my anxiety always gets very high in September.
This year though, it was different. I felt the change coming. The fire from within, the invitations and opportunities from the outside. I felt the anxiety the days I had less appointments than usual, and decided to focus on making my stress useful.
That might be puzzling as a goal. So many of us feel like anxiety is a problem, an obstacle between us and what we want.
I love so much the research gathered by Kelly McGonigal in the Upside of stress. It completely changed the way I am doing my work.
We treated stress for decades as the enemy. But stress is a part of our biology, it is a response giving us energy to focus and do the things we need to do.
There are also very different sorts of stress, but I won’t get into that right now.
What I’m getting at today is that it’s completely normal to be stressed out in transitional periods. What we can do, instead of fighting stress, is using it to our advantage, get better at it.
There are a few ways of doing this.
I listened a lot to my body this month. I often avoided my phone to avoid being tempted to use it. Spent quite some time alone, reflecting, meditating, just chilling. I needed it badly. I still haven’t done enough of it, but it gave me a lot of clarity. Social media and technology are bot big stress factors. The lack of solitude and quietness is another.
I also used the time I had since working less and the energy stress gave me to start things that were important to me. It was hard, but by reminding myself that this free time could be an opportunity if I let it, I actually became thankful to not have that many appointments. So I felt the stress, and did my best to remind myself as quickly as possible as my body was giving me energy.
I also reminded myself that stress and excitement feel exactly the same physically, so I could tell myself that I was excited when I was feeling stress, and could rewire myself that way, thanks to Kelly’s work. I’m not saying that’s easy, it’s not, but it’s a practice, and we get better at it when we train to do this.
Both strategies are called reframing : nothing changes in that scenario but the way I am dealing with what is happening.
I also remembered stress can be about asking for help and noticed some of my anxiety was about not feeling like I could “make it” (achieve what I am fighting for right now) by myself. So I took some new risks and joined a community of people, under the guidance of a coach I was finding inspiring. I asked for the help I needed. I made stress more meaningful.
All of those little things, powered by my attention to making them happen, didn't really changed my life this month. But they greatly changed the way I felt about it. Which is more important in the end.
Stress comes under many forms, none of them are problematic. Like our feelings, they are information and have an important purpose. Usually not the first one that comes to mind. It’s often less about acting to control or avoid them (the urge to act that usually comes first) than acting grounded in them.
Don't react, respond.
We need to start by feeling them, before we can ask ourselves why they are, and what we can do about them.
Our culture tells us discomfort is a problem, when discomfort is a part of life, and an important one at that. Discomfort asks us to stop, pause, and listen to our body. Dismissing it by running around avoiding to feel is like drinking coffee when we’re hungry. Sure, it will feel like sustenance… But not for long, and at a price…
Dear warrioring hummingbird, take good care of your feelings, they’re not good advisors, but they make for great informants.