How do YOU handle stress?

 

This has been a difficult blog to write, as I am a Type A over-functioning social worker who is unable to say no to anyone who asks me to take on a new project or task. As the Program Director for StepStone, a local nonprofit that provides transitional housing and supportive services for survivors of domestic violence, I feel an immense amount of responsibility for the families we serve as well as the staff that walk alongside them. In the 14 years I have been doing this work, I have become the job, something I am not proud to say out loud. The stress can become immense, and when you are always looking for perfection, it can become stifling and overbearing. You wonder why you are doing what you are doing.  Any enjoyment is gone, and you are left with an emptiness inside of you that you don’t recognize. Though this is not the textbook definition of stress, it is my own personal definition of my stress.

 Now what? I have learned that life does not have to be stressful like that. There are stressful moments, but I have had to work hard to realize that there are so many things out of my control - but what I can control is my own reaction. I have had to ask myself, is this a bump, hill or mountain?  I came to the realization that so many things are a bump or a hill, and not very many things are a mountain.  Through work with a therapist and some serious soul searching and mindfulness, I realized I had lost sight of what is truly important in life, my family and myself. I was so busy being a “super social worker” that I struggled to ask for help or give up control of things. I was allowing other people to control me and my reactions and knew I had to take that power back. I still care immensely for the important work I do, but I have also taken a step back, and again, control my own reaction to things, knowing I cannot control everything. This greatly reduces my stress and the stress of those around me.

 COVID-19 arrived in March to Kansas and forced me to slow down, and I am actually saying no to projects that I am not passionate about or interested in. No, I did not learn a new language (I already speak Vietnamese and passable Spanish). I did not learn to make sourdough bread nor did I make masks to donate, because, to be honest, I could not sew to save my life and I am more of a cookie and egg roll making kind of girl. I did not pick up a new exercise routine, though I did start to walk more outside. I have no new tangible skill that I can post on social media.

 What I have learned during COVID-19, is to slow down and enjoy my family and my job. I had forgotten how funny my 12-year-old is, what a dry wit my 14-year-old has, how amazing my husband has been to walk this journey with me. I still have my moments where the stress can be overwhelming, but these are just moments and they no longer define me. I know that I will never take for granted all the blessings I have been given nor underestimate how a little gratitude and humility can go a very long way in life. This is my definition of stress management. Gratitude and humility.

 There is no magic answer. We all need to ask what is important to us and at the end of our lives, how do we want to be remembered? Personally, I want to be remembered for being there for my kids and my husband…that when they needed me, I was there for them, present in mind and body. During this time, we have played lots of board games (Monopoly drags on for weeks when you play a 12 year old). We have also binge watched all the Harry Potter, Avengers and DC Comics movies (I cannot keep the characters straight, and the boys continually hushed me when I asked questions, but yet they still wanted me to sit there and watch with them). We have taken family walks together and have had very interesting conversations we would not have had otherwise. I have baked lots of cookies and my husband and children are more than happy to be the taste testers. We are now doing some home improvement projects, taking popcorn ceiling off and repainting and re-siding our house. These are not glamorous nor are they exciting but they are memories that we are building with our kids of time we have spent together. I am blessed that my 14 year old, 6 foot tall freshman son still wants me to tuck him in every night, even though he would be mortified that I am telling others, and that my 12 year old still wants to have “talk” time with mom in the evening, something we started when he was younger and really struggling with social anxiety.  And even after 16 years of marriage, my husband will still surprise me with flowers for no reason and if I have a really late night at work, he waits to eat dinner with me, even if it is 10 at night just so we can have some adult time. I have learned that our kids have remembered trips and things we have done together and the material things they may receive are of less importance to them. That is where I want my legacy to be.