I think it’s pretty safe to say that literally everyone is stressed right now. Most of us are worried about ourselves and our loved ones getting sick or dying. There’s also the not insignificant stress over losing jobs, paying bills, shortages of necessities, keeping kids happy and educated, and being stuck inside for long periods of time (even the introverts are getting stir crazy). Meanwhile, a very special group of people aren’t bothered about any of that because they’re too busy stressing over their stock portfolios. Priorities.
I’ve always been a worrier. I have anxiety and a tendency to get emotionally invested in the world’s problems, even when I can’t do anything about them and they don’t necessarily affect me. Being stressed all the time isn’t fun. In fact, it’s incredibly bad for your health. I’ve tried all the usual suggestions for lowering stress levels: meditation, deep breathing, exercise, yoga, relaxation techniques… Did any of them help? Meh. Some of them actually stress me more (how is being bored supposed to relax anyone?) I’ve also found that things like reading, TV, or hobbies are a good distraction, but aren’t very effective once I stop doing them. I got to the point where I gave up trying to de-stress (which actually helped a little in and of itself).
Then I found something that actually helps. It wasn’t intentional– I started doing it because I had to, kept doing it because I enjoyed it, and then eventually realized it was making me feel better. I don’t remember ever seeing “make plans for the future” as a suggestion for relieving stress, and maybe it’s not something that works for most people, but it’s exactly what I needed.
Because my life’s been in a holding pattern for a while now, I’d stopped planning anything. I figured there was no point until something definite was in motion. That was a mistake. Even though I don’t know where I’ll end up or when I’ll get there (especially with the way things are now, thanks to a certain pandemic), it’s important to think about what might happen, what I’d like to happen, and what I can do to make it happen. Maybe it’s even more important when everything is up in the air. Although there are no rules on how to make plans, this is what’s been working for me…
Figure out what to plan for
Since my SO and I had been intending to move before real estate shut down in Toronto, I’d spent weeks packing (now regretting being so quick to put away most of the books and all the DVDs). From there I naturally started taking stock of things that needed to be repaired/replaced and what we’d need to buy for a new home. And as we started getting an idea of the kind of place we’ll likely end up in, I also started thinking about decorating, something I love doing. I have no idea what kind of space I’ll have to work with, but I’m enjoying thinking about what I might do with it once we’re there. Thinking about decorating has also led me to think about a future garden and just generally what I’d like my life to be like once we move. Maybe it’ll all work out, maybe it won’t– but it’s so much better than not thinking about it at all.
Pick something you can do right away
Because we’ve been in limbo, I’ve put a lot of things off until “after the move.” That’s a good idea to a point, but planning without doing can get frustrating after a while. One of the things I’d planned to do later was take classes. Once self isolating began I decided to go ahead and start taking them right away. So now I’m enrolled in a free online class at The Open University, with plans to take more. Being able to act on some of my plans right away makes me feel like I’m living my life and not just passing time.
Pick something you’ll probably never do
Being practical all the time kills joy, as well as imagination. But if you’re a fairly practical person like I am (no, seriously), making plans for something that can’t or won’t ever happen is a good outlet. I love thinking about the farm I’ll (probably) never have, future home of rescue animals and a huge garden. But as a city person with allergies to everything from hay to sheep and most of what would be in that garden, I’m pretty sure this is a dream that won’t make the transition to reality. And that’s okay. I still find it relaxing to name the donkeys and plan the flower garden and debate whether I should get guard geese.
Lists not only help me organize my thoughts, but I enjoy writing them (and all the people who say lists are bad can mind their business). I add a visual component to my planning by saving pictures and making Pinterest boards. Talking about plans can be fun too, when my SO is feeling cooperative. Anything that keeps my enthusiasm up and helps me refine my ideas becomes part of the process.
The best part about making plans is that a large component of it is daydreaming. You can do it anywhere, even while you’re busy with other things. I think part of the problem with other stress relieving techniques is that they require you to take time out especially for them and focus just on them. Who has time for that? Or more accurately, who wants to spend time on that? I need something I enjoy doing in order to actually de-stress; something that’s easy to do, that I want to do, and is also productive in some way. For me, making plans is all those things.
What helps you de-stress? Share in the comments…
Aspasía S. Bissas
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