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February, 2020:

How I Manage Stress

Yesterday, my coach asked me how I manage my stress. I instantly responded:

Poorly.

That’s actually not true all the time. When I feel solid and secure, I can be so confident it’s uncanny.

I know that feeling.

I’ve felt that feeling.

Just not lately.

Always Been High Strung

My standard response when someone asks me how I handle stress is, “Not gracefully.” Usually, I find a way to muddle through, but it’s not pretty. I’ve been living with anxiety since I was a wee one – like before age 10.

For as long as I can remember, my modus operandi has been to have a plan for escape – physically, emotionally, and/or chemically.  A lot of my -isms (alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and self-injury) were ways to self-medicate. When I got into recovery and took away those vices, I still had to deal with my emotions and life’s challenges.

Here are some of the things I do lately to manage my stress.

Sweat

Starting in gymnastics and now as a triathlete, I workout 5-6 days per week. Working out gives my brain an endorphin boost it needs, and it gives me a break from the rest of my life. There’s not much I can do while I’m in the pool except swim.

It also gives me a safe way to vent emotions. The day after I got my California Bar Exam results (I failed), my coach had assigned a 17-mile run. I ran one of my fastest paces to date and I got flash of inspiration about how I was going to tell my friends. Pounding pavement for those hours gave me the much-needed break I needed.

Sweat keeps me sane.

Lists

My life is managed with lists:

  • Weekly to-do lists – x2
  • Daily to-do list – on my whiteboard
  • Medication checklists – one for the hooman, one for the hound
  • Workout checklist
  • Program checklist

If I didn’t have my lists, I’d never keep track of who took which medication or whether I did everything I needed to do on any given day. My stress is related to anxiety and depression, both of which make me forgetful.

My lists also give me a semblance of control over what I’m doing, which is reassuring since lately I’ve been feeling out of control. There are days I wish I could emotionlessly work through my lists without dealing with my feelings. Thankfully, I have loving people around me who remind me that I’m not a robot.

I love this photo of Jeff and me from an Ignite Phoenix #17 Speaker Bootcamp. Photo by Brandon Larkin. (Creative Commons License)

Selective Peopling

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an avoidant and an introvert. I’m not a fan of people in general, particularly in crowds or places with a lot of noise. However, I selectively like individuals. These are the people I want to spend time with, and from whom I’ll ask for help. It’s so reassuring to be around and/or text with people I love. They get me.

Every year, I have my jar on my nightstand and I add happy memories to it throughout the year, and then on New Year’s Eve, I read through them. One thing I noticed when I reviewed the memories from 2019, was that a lot of them had to do with hugging people.

Hugs keep me sane too.

Short-Circuit

On rare occasions, my stress gets so bad that I emotionally crash and burn. I panic to the point where I have trouble focusing and I can barely eat. (That’s how I managed to drop 10 pounds in law school.) When my appetite drops out, that’s my tell that I need to take swift deliberate steps to counteract my stress.

Sleep

Sometimes the best thing I can do when stress hits hard is sleep. When I’m asleep, it means my muscles are relaxing and I’m taking deep breathes – two things I need when I’m stressed. (A friend recently suggested I add massage to my self-care routine, probably for the same reason.)

Stress is exhausting.

An hour-long nap can make a world of difference.

Rosie’s Rules

I didn’t realize how many rules I have for the care and feeding of my 12 year-old, blind, arthritic basset hound in the early stages of doggy dementia (canine cognitive dysfunction – CCD), until I had to document them. I have to be gone overnight, and my neighbor volunteered to look after her for 30 hours.

Blind Dog Rules

Don’t leave clutter on the floor.

If you need her to get up, making the kissy sound or the clicky sound with your mouth or saying, “Up up” in a high voice is your best bet.

If Rosie’s going to walk into a wall or other stationary object and you can’t reach her in time to stop her, warn her by saying, “Bump.”

If the skin tag on her nose bleeds after she bumps into a wall, it’s not a big deal.

You can use your legs to help guide where you want her to go – acting as a bumper for her.

All pills and treats are offered from the left side of her face.

Be careful she doesn’t walk off the curb or into cars during walkies. She prefers to walk on your right side.

If you need better control over her during walks, pull directly upwards from her harness and walk her like a marionette puppet.

Sleepy Rosie and her Reflection

Arthritic Dog Rules

Arthritic bassets can’t scratch their ears, necks, or noses. You have to do it for them. Bonus if she makes happy mumble-grumble sounds.

Morning meds (3 pills) are given on a spoon with peanut butter. If the peanut butter drips, try to get to land on her paw so she can lick it up.

Her CBD tincture is squirted into the left side of her mouth. Stand just behind her shoulder blades, one foot on each side when giving her this.

Sometimes Rosie gets “stuck” temporarily in the downward dog position when trying to lay down. Resist the urge to push her butt down. She’ll do it on her own as her muscles are ready.

If Rosie picks up one of her back paws and holds it in the air, she has a cramp in that butt muscle. Give it a good scratch to relax it.

Dementia Dog Rules

If Rosie walks in the wrong direction at mealtime, slide two fingers under her collar to guide her to her bowl.

If Rosie starts pacing as if she’s lost in the house, give reassuring pets and tell her she’s a “good girl.”

If she has an accident in the house, it happens. Towels are in the kitchen. Rug cleaner is above the washing machine. Hopefully it happens on the concrete.

Before bedtime, dip the end of a treat in peanut butter, top with half of a puppy sleeping pill, and give it to her. Otherwise she could be up-and-down all night.

So many rules for a dog who sleeps 18 hours a day!

I’m also going to sleep in the same shirt for three nights and leave it behind in Rosie’s bed, so she has something that smells like her hooman.

Benched

“One of my favorite meditation spots” by Jay Thompson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

My hip pain flared up at the end of last week, and Coach David benched me for three days. I don’t even have a good story. It just started hurting. Only things I can do are stretch, heat, and strength work that doesn’t engage the hip. (My apologies in advance to anyone I converse with while I’m on the sidelines. I get moody and opinionated when I don’t workout.)

Yes, this is the same hip injury I’ve been dealing with off and on for over a year. It’s the one body part I didn’t blow out as a gymnast (except for a few pulled groins), so they’re making up for lost time.

Coach David has been increasing my workouts painfully slowly – like increasing my running distance by ¼ of a mile each week. (The standard is a runner can increase their mileage by 10% each week.) I’ve pushed myself hard the last few weeks, but I didn’t think I was going too hard.

As always, Coach David uses a practical and logical approach to dealing with injuries. It’s better to take a couple of days off now – over six months before race day – than to push through and be triaging a worse injury closer to race day. This morning David lovingly said, “Your body needs a vacation.”

Thankfully, I was already ahead of schedule in regards to my training, so taking a few days off isn’t a setback in terms of that. It’s just a challenge for me to be forced to sit on my tush.

I’m starting to wonder if the line between pushing hard and pushing too hard is razor thin. It’s frustrating to constantly have to deal with the possibility that my hip could flare. I felt like we were doing everything right. I was slowly gaining speed, strength, and confidence.

I was pushing myself, but not that hard.

Challenging myself, but not killing myself.

Over the last week, I spent a lot of time sitting as I was sending 500+ emails promoting my first online course on the legal side of photography.  I wonder if that has something to do with this most recent bout of soreness.

Rosie’s trying to teach me how to relax.

Regardless of the cause, I’m spending three days sitting on my heating pad, trying to get the muscles to relax and the joint to calm down. (I have two heating pads – one at home and one in the office.)

I’m on board with the plan that it’s better to deal with a minor setback now than to deal with worse pain later.

The goal is Ironman Mont Tremblant, not killing myself getting to the starting line.

New Swimming Accessory: Choker Necklace

Yup. I’m wearing a choker.

I don’t like things touching the front of my neck.

I don’t own turtlenecks.

I don’t wear kerchiefs or fashion scarves around my neck.

When I go to the salon, I ask them to make the drape one snap looser.

Sometimes I can’t even wear crewneck t-shirts because – you guessed it – the edge of the shirt barely touches my neck.

When I picked out my wetsuit, I got one with the lowest neckline I could find. It still touches my neck. Actually, my wetsuit is snug around my neck. It’s snug around every part of my body. That’s how wetsuits work.

When I’m wearing my wetsuit and I go from being vertical and walking into the water to horizontally swimming in it, the discomfort becomes more intense as going face down puts extra pressure across the front of my neck. (If past lives are real, I’m pretty sure I either drowned or was strangled in one of them.) Add in being hit by other swimmers and unable to find my swimming cadence, and it’s enough to make me panic.

Heading into Ironman Mont Tremblant, I’m trying to work on this. I don’t want to start this race with a panic attack.

I can’t control how choppy the water is.

I can’t control other swimmers bumping into me.

What I can do is force myself to get used to swimming with something snug around my neck. (I know some athletes cut their wetsuits to lower the neckline, but I don’t want to do that.)

My chokers, courtesy of the junior section at Target.

I bought myself a set of five stretchy choker necklaces, popular among tweens and young teens. I look like a person having a mid-life crisis when I wear them.

Before I leave the house for the pool, I pull one of these things on, and I don’t take it off until I’m back. I figure the more I wear it, the sooner I’ll get over the heebie jeebies of having something touching my neck.

For my first day wearing a choker to the pool, I opted to wear the red one so if the feeling of it touching my neck was too much and I ripped it off mid-lap, I could easily find it in the water and not litter in the pool.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. I don’t notice it when I’m swimming. Once I’m fully used to wearing one necklace, I may try wearing two, then three, at a time, so I can get used to the material covering more of my neck.

Hopefully, this exercise will teach me that I can have something snug against my neck without feeling like I’m choking myself.