Undoing of stress

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For months I’ve been battling an ongoing stressful situation. I’ve been shouting and complaining, emailing and phoning and still the problem wasn’t resolved.
Everyone said that it would be fixed and things would get better.
But I just couldn’t imagine the light at the end of the tunnel.
And every time some somebody told me that it would be okay I would get angry and frustrated at them because it’s easy for someone who is not going through the the same thing to tell you something like it’s going to be okay without actually having a clue about what they are talking about.
And then yesterday, just like that, the problem was solved.
It was solved despite my stress and despite my complaining and even without me being arrested (kidding)!

It has been a huge lesson in the concept that I am always preaching: being graceful in dealing with life’s ups and downs.
Sometimes you need to be graceful in accepting things for what they are, for knowing that some things are going to be out of your control and for letting time take care of things.
We don’t know why things happen but we can deal with them in a way that is as stress free as possible.

Stress is horrible, unsettling and pushes you way out of your comfort zone but in the end you are going to deal with this and things will change (for better or worse).
I know that you can deal with this!

Be here for me on my cloudy days

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A lot of people are fascinated by the job that I do – for many people it makes for great dinner conversations: “tell us about your crazy patients!” or “tell us about how you got threatened your bipolar patient…”
It is like I have some kind of brilliant and exciting job like a performer who gets shot out of a cannon every night at a circus (now that is a job that I wouldn’t mind having).
It just shows how so many people are ignorant about what mental illness really is.
What makes it worse is that most of you are constantly dealing with family, friends and colleagues who think that you are:
– crazy
– difficult
– attention seeking
– overly dramatic
(pick one or all)

I swing between the idea of standing up for yourself and educating others or just being quiet and ignoring their ignorance.  You need to be honest with the people that you trust though and make it clear that you need their support more than you need their advice, their criticism or their need to be able to “fix” you.
I found this beautiful piece by one of my favourite poets, Tyler Knott Gregson:

I cannot promise
I will never become restless,
that I won’t ache
in ways you don’t know
how to help.
There are clouds in me
and they roll in
from time to time,
I hope you learn to love
the dark mornings,
instead of always
fumbling around
for your umbrella.

In an ideal world, you would be surrounded by people who will love or respect you even on your cloudy days.  Unfortunately it will not always be that way but if you can find one or two people who really respect you for being you, who will see beyond the depression and the stress, then those are the people who you should be with.
It may even be worth sharing this poem with the people in your life.

Be proudly you!  Demand respect by starting with being respectful to yourself.
You know that you are worth it!

Coping with feeling overwhelmed

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Stress can make you feel so overwhelmed that you feel like you are going to blow up or that you want to hibernate or run away forever.
There isn’t an easy answer to dealing with such huge problems but there are some manageable steps that you can take:

1. Remove yourself from the situation.  If you can get away from the room or the building that you are sitting in or stay away from your computer or phone for a few minutes then do it.  Take a short walk (slam the door on the way out if you really have to), regroup, breathe deeply and return.

2.  Stay away from social media for a while.  It really doesn’t help for you to see people whose lives seem to be awesome when yours feels like it is falling apart.  You also don’t need to be part of anyone else’s drama.

3.  Declutter! Clear your desk, delete emails and messages (not the important ones), get rid of the things around you that are unnecessary.  When your mind feels cluttered with your problems, you don’t need physical objects cluttering your space too.

4. Talk to somebody.  It doesn’t mean that you have to offload all of your problems on them but just tell someone that you are not coping and that you are stressed. They might be feeling the same way too. If there is absolutely nobody to talk to then write it down or illustrate it so that you can still express yourself.

5.  Make time (no matter what) just to do something for yourself.  It might just be a few minutes but it is essential that you do something nice for yourself (I’m not talking about buying another pair of shoes! Though who am I to judge you?)

6.  Find a project that will keep you motivated.  Do you have a room that needs painting?  Sort out your photos.  Create something quirky.  Learn a new skill.  Play a game.  Take up a new sport…

I know that you feel so tired and stressed and overwhelmed right now but it will pass.  Just do the best that you can to cope in this moment.
I know that you can do it!

Is it your disaster?

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It’s easy to get caught up in all of the drama of the disasters and bad news in the world.  And the media delight in sharing the worst of the news with us.  Social media also drives us into a mass hysteria or mass sympathy.
So this week was again filled with bad news and disasters, one after the other, and it is really easy to get depressed by it all.
If it did not affect you directly, it is not your story.
You have your own story.
Do what you can to avoid getting pulled down by what you hear about or read about.  You have no power over those things.

If those incidences like the fires and the floods and the deaths that happened this week have affected you directly, I am really sorry that you have had to go through that.

If it didn’t affect you directly then what can you do?
Firstly – count your blessings.  Take a moment to give thanks for being safe, for having your family with you.  Be grateful for the roof over your head, a home to go to (no matter how small or inadequate it may be), a warm cup of tea and a cosy blanket.
Secondly – if you feel that you need to help those affected by disasters, don’t spend time on social media using hash tags.  Rather find out where help is needed and what you can do for them.  Donate a blanket or some food, volunteer at an organisation that is giving support.
Thirdly – celebrate life.  Celebrate the times when you are healthy.  Celebrate the little things – things as small as sleeping through the night, eating an enjoyable meal, doing something that gives you pleasure.  If there is one thing that we can learn from all of this bad news, it is that life is short.  Don’t wait for one day.  Don’t wait for the big events to celebrate.
Take pleasure in what you have.
What you have is wonderful.

Finding the beauty in tragedy

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This week started horribly with the death of my granny.  Although she was 100 years old, it is still sad to lose a loved one.
Something so beautiful came out of her death though.
Distant cousins who I had lost touch with years ago reached out to me in our shared grief.  People had such nice things to say and I realised who actually really cares about me.  I spent some quality time making an art work memorial for her and found some peace in doing so.

Then later in the week the world was once again thrown into a state of tragedy when we woke up to the horrible news about the bomb in Manchester.
And once again, there was beauty to be seen everywhere.  One awful person causes devastation, thousands of people retaliate with only goodness and kindness.  From the taxi drivers who offered free rides to people who opened their homes to strangers.

It’s easy to forget how amazing the world and people around us can be when we face loss, stress and trauma.  The kindness of people doesn’t really lessen the devastation and pain but it does give a level of hope.  It is a hope that things are not actually all terrible.  That there is more good than bad in the world.  That we can survive tough times.
Open yourself up to the potential of beauty in every moment.  It will make things just a little bit better.

Chocolate cake cure

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My 13 year old son has an autoimmune illness and he deals with frequent anxiety.
It is a constant battle for him to deal with his issues and he swears that chocolate cupcakes still warm out of the oven are a cure-all for a bad day.

This is what he writes:
How chocolate cake makes everything better

When you are feeling down or depressed and you need something to make you feel better – eat chocolate cake.  Cold, warm, hot, all of them are delicious.  Every bit of soft, spongy, rich chocolatey taste gives you the sensation where the taste is so good that you enter your own space.  It is like the world of stress doesn’t exist and all of your problems and worries are gone.  Afterwards you can focus on your work, your mission, your goal.
Life lesson: Eat Chocolate Cake!

I can’t argue with him even if I am not the world’s greatest chocolate cake lover.  But just spending a few minutes calmly enjoying something that you love is going to make a big difference.  Particularly if you are becoming overwhelmed by stress and anxiety.  You are seriously not going to get anything done while you are panicking.
Rather watch your manager’s expression while you sip your tea and eat your snack as they stare you down expecting your deadline to be met yesterday (don’t tell them I said this…)

So here is my son’s favourite chocolate cake recipe.  It sounds crazy but that is because it is called a crazy cake but trust me on this.  It is a fast and easy way to make cake.  You can make it into one large cake (enough to share with everyone in the office) or make 24 cupcakes – freeze them all and take one out each day to pop into your lunch box….

3 cups flour
2 cups white sugar (stop right here if you are diabetic or a health food fanatic)
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½  cup cocoa powder

Mix all of these ingredients into a large bowl and then make three wells and add:
¾ cup sunflower oil
2 tablespoons vinegar (really!)
2 teaspoons vanilla essence or extract (or be daring and use a different flavouring – I’m quite partial to caramel)
Put each one into a well (don’t worry if they overflow or the wells collapse.  It works anyway)
Top the whole mix with 2 cups of water and mix well until there are no lumps (I do this in a mixer but you can do it by hand)
Pour into a prepared cake tin (or in a foil roasting tin that you can just throw away when the cake has been eaten) or into 24 cupcake cases (put them in muffin tins because the mixture is really runny)

Bake at 180 C for about 40 minutes for a cake and 25 minutes for cupcakes

Fighting the anxiety monster

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When you get stressed or anxious, one of the feelings that you may feel is being overwhelmed, feeling that your life is out of control or that you feel distant from the world around you (almost like you are living life in a bubble).
If you experience any of these feelings, the impact on you can make you feel even worse and it could escalate into panic.
Common symptoms include having chest pains, difficulty breathing, tightness in your throat, dizziness, sweating and numbness or tingling in your body.
I know that these are also symptoms of a heart attack but let me tell you this:
You are probably not having a heart attack!  And if you genuinely are concerned that you may be having one, stop reading this and call for an ambulance.  But you probably are not having a heart attack.  A large majority of people who go into doctors and emergency rooms with any of the symptoms mentioned here are most likely to be having a panic attack.
It’s really horrible when you think that your heart is about to give up and the doctor tells you that there is nothing wrong with you!  The less informed doctors then categorize you as a GOOMER (get out of my emergency room!) instead of offering or referring to psychological support (a little pet hate of mine….)

It is definitely not easy to control anxiety but know this:
You’ve felt this way before and you have survived and there is a really good chance that you are going to survive this too.
Try to sit quietly and acknowledge the anxiety for what it is “I am having an anxiety attack.  I AM NOT DYING!
And then really focus on the here and now.
Zone in on your 5 senses –
What am I looking at?  What sounds can I hear around me? Breathe! What can I smell? What am I touching? (including the feeling of your bum on the chair, your feet on the floor) Breathe!  Sip some water, notice how it cools your throat.  Sip some tea, notice how it warms you.  Breathe!  You are alive! You can do this.  Squeeze your stress ball or a tissue balled up in your hand.  Breathe!  Close your eyes for a few seconds, centre yourself in the now.  Breathe!

I know that you can do this.  Now you have to believe that you can do this too.
You can have control over this!

Calming memories

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Yesterday was my grandmother’s 100th birthday and with the celebration came a rush of memories.
I have so many good memories of my grandparent’s house in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
The ones I remember most are the ones that are etched in my senses.  The taste of the tea with way too much sugar and far too much milk in it which was deemed sensible for children’s tastes, freshly squeezed orange juice from oranges just picked from the trees in the garden, the smell of woven baskets and polish, the sounds of certain birds.  My grandmother was the queen of making fudge and biscuits which she would hide in the grocery cupboard.  The smell of the soap stored in the same cupboard will always make my tongue tingle because I knew that the fudge had to be somewhere in there.  Sometimes we were lucky and we found it, other times not so much….

Now in my old age (well, old enough to have a grandmother who is 100), just the thought of these things makes me happy.  And even better still, sipping orange juice or sitting down with a cup of tea (now with no sugar and far less milk) can calm me down in an instant because it creates a flashback to happier times of childhood.

Hopefully everybody has some happy childhood memories.  You might not have had a perfect childhood but I’m sure you have one or two memories that make you smile.
Can you recreate those memories in adulthood?
Is there a snack that you can eat or something that you can smell in the middle of a stressful day at work that will have the ability to calm you down?
Can you create some time to do the things that really used to make you feel happy?
You may be surprised at how a simple thing can just settle your heart rate, slow down your breathing and make you feel that all is right with the world even if it is for just 5 minutes.  And if that means an extra spoon of sugar in your tea (or a dollop of condensed milk) than who are any of us to argue?

Be nice – always

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This week’s mission:
Say something nice to a horrible person.
Yes, that is what I said.
It’s a difficult mission especially when you have spent so much time fantasizing about revenge but stick with me here.

First you need to understand that there are many reasons that a person would be horrible to you:
1. They are genuinely horrible and nasty and they get pleasure from upsetting you.
2. They are indifferent to other people’s needs so they seem horrible but they just don’t notice what others are going through nor do they understand others emotions.
3. They are really stressed and their irritability is making them moody and nasty.
4. They feel bad about themselves and can’t handle anyone else being happy so they pull you down to their level to feel better about themselves.

So how does it help to be nice to any of these people?
If they are genuinely horrible, you counteract that by being genuinely nice. You are not going to change them but you can change your own attitude towards them – killing somebody with kindness?
If they are indifferent, you might be the one person to show them that the world and people in general might be better than they thought and give them a more positive outlook in life.
Somebody who is stressed needs love, care and attention. Be the one to show that you care and that you understand that they are actually nice and this is not their true self. You disarm their anger with kindness and might make a difference in their life (or at least in their day).
And for the person with a low self esteem, by being nice you are showing them that you are ok enough to be yourself. You won’t allow their negativity to pull you down because you are a nice person and you are happy with yourself.  Maybe one day they will be too.

You might learn something about somebody who you previously had disliked. They might learn something about you that they come to like.
Always choose the nice option.
Always be nice.
No matter what. Trust me on this one.

Am I free?

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Happy Easter and a good Pesach to everyone!
As usual, when Pesach (Passover) comes along, so does the conversation about freedom.  During Pesach we discuss what it meant for the Jewish people to be free from slavery in Egypt and we compare it to our lives now.
The question is are we really free?
We may not be actual slaves although many people express that they feel like slaves to their kids, to their partners and to their jobs.  Are we free to spend quality time on our own without limitations?
Are we free because we have a lot of material things or are we slaves to our phones and our possessions (and what it takes to pay off the debts that those possessions create)?
Are we free to express ourselves without being labeled or put into a box by stigma?

We can focus on all the reasons that we are not free or we can learn to appreciate all the reasons that we are free.  So many of us are free from hunger and cold.  We are free to be the person that we want to be if we stop worrying about what everyone thinks of us and we stop worrying about pleasing other people.

We need to create a space to be free.
Whether it is just going outside and taking a deep breath or going for a walk and watching the world go by.
Pause to appreciate what you have.
Celebrate the little things that make your life a bit better (thanks Haagen Dazs salted caramel ice cream).
Remember how far you have come and how truly fabulous you really are – even if nobody can see it and no one acknowledges it.
You are amazingly perfectly imperfect just the way you are!