Before I say anything else, you need to know that next Tuesday I’m getting on the phone with the hilarious Sarah Seidelmann to talk writing. If you want to write, if you agonize over what you do write, if you write about not writing– join us for this free convo. Ok good. Onward.
Most women I know are tired.
And they feel guilty about it.
After all, compared to the pioneer foremothers, we have it easy! Compared to people hauling rocks all day, we are positively spoiled!!!
But I read something useful in a book about parenting that also applies to adults. (As so many of them do.)
The book is called Simplicity Parenting, and I confess I find it a wee bit intimidating. We watch TV! We have plastic toys! Fail!!!! Nonetheless, he said something important. He discovered that children in upper middle class English homes were exhibiting the same symptoms of PTSD as children he’d seen in war-torn regions of the world.
After much pondering and research, he coined a phrase to describe what he was seeing: CSR, or Cumulative Stress Reaction.
The idea is that while huge traumatic events understandably can devastate a person, so can small but repeated bits of stress over time.
Now I understand that even having the luxury of thinking about stress is totally a luxury. Nonetheless, I find it fascinating to think about stress as being cumulative.
It explains why so many women are so exhausted. No, we did not roll a boulder up the hill today, Sisyphus.
But we pushed 84,000 pebbles, and we did the same thing yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that….
It isn’t wimpy to admit you’re tired, or to say out loud that just being human sometimes is almost than SOME PEOPLE (okay, me) can manage. (Although I’m certain someone will write to tell me that in fact it is not only wimpy but the grossest form of privilege. There, I said it for you, dear angry person, so you can save yourself the email.)
The good news is that while stress is cumulative, so are moments of peace.
We’ll get to the peace part in a moment.
Think about the things that consistently stress you out. (The 80-20 rule is useful here; it’s likely that 80% of your stress comes from about 20% of the things you interact with.)
I bet you can name the biggies right off the bat. Go for it– here are a few prompts to get you started:
- FOX news
- that colleague
- your email inbox
- getting out the door
- putting your kid to bed
- trying to put saran wrap on things
Oh my lord, I’m getting hives just typing out this list. Here’s a brown paper bag. Okay. Okay. We can do this.
Your list might be different than mine, but I bet you’ve got a few heavy hitters.
This part is obvious: if you can just get rid of a whole category immediately, DO IT. (Ahem, TV news.)
Others, like email and taxes, are harder to eliminate. They are those 84,000 pebbles.
So here are a few ways to handle the stressors that you can’t just eliminate:
1. Narrate what is happening. (Please do this silently. Just trust me on this one.) Saying to yourself, “Wow, this is really stressful,” or even “I fucking hate this part” can be weirdly helpful. If you can find a compassionate, nonjudgmental person to say it to, even better.
2. Limit your exposure to said stressor. If it’s your 2-year-old or your boss, this is tricky, but it can still be done. After the 2-year-old goes to sleep, approximately 6 hours after you started the bedtime routine, STOP THINKING AND TALKING about the 2-year-old. And after 7pm, stop answering emails from your boss. No, really. No, seriously! You’ll be amazed at how NOT FIRED you can be doing this. Next step: don’t even look at them until morning.
Those things are good, but here’s something even better. Even if you fail totally at the first two things (which I do all the time), this one will make up for it all.
Here it is, ready?
*Take in the little bits of deliciousness of your life.*
I know that sounds stupidly simple, so let me make it more complicated. We’re taking in enormous amounts of stressful input all the time. So be sure that you’re deliberately taking in wonderful things too. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that there are a ridiculous number of wonderful things just BEGGING to be noticed. Like the delightful sheen of the fluorescent light on your boss’s bald head! Maybe even things Better Than That!
You’ll start to notice and delight in little things, like that amazing Vivienne Westwood cover you picked out for your phone. (Ohmygosh, look at your magical phone!!!) Those incredible boots you fell in love with. The purr of your kitty. That client who’s always so witty in her emails. The light streaming through your cubicle, lighting up the pretty pretty particles of asbestos.
There are points of beauty all around us. Your job is become deliberate about snorking them up. Be a relentless cokehead for beauty.
Lots of times people save up their joy and presence for the big vacation, or the big dinner out, or the big whatever. That’s fine, but I think it’s more effective to invest in the little moments. Get the cheap party dress, but buy really good underwear. Don’t have a fancy mixer that you only use twice a year; instead buy those gorgeous copper pots that you’ll use twice a week. Let beauty bloom in the little humble places of your life, because that’s where we live most of the time. And if cumulative stress can wear us down, cumulative little joys can build us up.
If you’re going to be with your kids, really BE with them–even if it’s just for five minutes. (After that you can totally ruin them with TV and plastic toys.) If you’re going to drink tea, drink a beautiful tea out of your favorite mug. Use all those decadent samples of creams and potions you’re saving. Open up the vintage cabernet just because it’s Thursday. Stop and cry ‘beauty alert!’ whenever the sun is shining.
If anyone gives you a hard time for going into ecstasies over the blueberries in your yogurt or the softness of your favorite socks, just explain that you’re building joy muscles and psychic resilience. They’ll walk away SO fast.
P.S. Here is the humble beauty I’m delighting in today: