I had the most stressful year of my life. Here is how I survived, and maybe even thrived.

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A little over a year ago, I stumbled upon a stress inventory test on the American Institute of Stress website.  It ranks life events from 1-50, and based on a self-assessment of how much stress you have in your life, it will give you an idea of how likely you are to have a health breakdown. Death, Divorce, and a very sick child- I had 3 of the top 6 in one calendar year.   It said I was 80% likely to have a health breakdown within the next two years. First thought: YIKES. Second Thought: I believe it. My body and mind were exhausted. 

I knew I needed to make a change if I wanted to be the person my kids deserved, and I knew that meant putting my mental and physical health first. Although I have absolutely zero formal training on stress management of any sort (Unless you count google searches, because then I’m a doctorate by now), I do have some personal experience with it, and I’m going to share a few of the things that helped me get through some of those really tough days. 

  1. Get yourself a playlist that lifts you up. Starting with the easiest and quickest here.  I have a playlist on my Spotify called Rise, and I listen to it every time I’m feeling down, not enough, (insert sad/stressed feeling here). Music has always been therapy for me,  and this playlist can turn my mood around pretty quickly. I highly recommend adding “I Believe” by Christina Perri to your playlist. This one can still bring me to tears ( in the best way!)  You can find my whole Rise playlist here
  2.  Find a therapist or someone you can talk to.  I believe almost everyone should have a therapist. There, I said it. Talking to a neutral party who can help you work through the hard stuff and organize your thoughts is a GAME CHANGER.  Luckily, there are so many options for this currently: In-person, online, group meetings, text threads, etc.  Find what works for you! 
  3.  Move your body. You didn’t think we could get through a list of stress management without this, right?  Getting your body up and moving is an absolute must for handling stress and anxiety. When I was at my absolute worst time, and I felt like the guilt and grief were going to actually crush me, I had to move. I hated running, but I cranked up the music, got out into the fresh air, and I could almost instantly feel the pressure coming off of my chest. Soon enough, it became my escape. The good news is there are a thousand ways to do this: Have a little dance party, go for a power walk, rage clean…. whatever works for you!       *I have to note, the YMCA and their free 90-minute child watch program has been the best thing ever for my fitness and mental health journey. I would not be where I am without the amazing ladies who love my babies while I get some me-time. 
  4. Girls time. Book some.  It’s actually been proven that girls weekends are good for your mental and physical health.  “It offers huge benefits,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “Medical studies show that the bond between women is critical to emotional and physical health,” Lombardo says.  My three best friends and I opted for a stay-cation this winter, where we rented a hotel room in Mankato, brought out favorite foods, drinks and just spent the whole day together. We hung out by the hot tub, had a dance party in our PJ’s, and laughed until we couldn’t feel our faces anymore. It was exactly what I needed at that time, and we all decided it needed to be an annual thing. Even just an hour together, while our kids play, can be enough to fill my cup and turn my mood around.
  5. Grief is not a competition. Repeat after me, and do not forget this. You know that saying comparison is the thief of joy?  It doesn’t matter if so-and-so is going through the same thing and handling it better, or if so-and-so has it so much worse than you and is STILL not struggling like you are. We all handle the cards we are dealt in different ways, and however, you are handling it is perfectly okay!  Stay in your lane, work through the feelings you need to work through on your own time, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, sis! 
  6. Find your silver lining.  Remember how I mentioned that sick child earlier? He was airlifted to Saint Mary’s in Rochester at 6 months old, and although it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, the biggest perspective came from actually arriving at our room there. We walked the halls of the pediatric ICU and surrounding areas many times over those few days,  and we saw some of the bravest, beautiful, terrified families while we were there.  Hospital rooms were made into small homes because there was no end in sight. Bald-headed babies who had the biggest smiles, while fighting the biggest battles. I will never, EVER forget that experience, and how heavy my heartfelt walking out of there with our healthy child. Every single time I see or hear a helicopter, I’m reminded of how lucky I am, and I say a prayer for the families who are in those rooms today.  Find your own perspective or silver lining from what you have gone through ( Spoiler, there is ALWAYS a silver lining) and use it as a reminder of how blessed you are. 
  7. Get through one day at a time.  This is so simple but was actually some of the best advice I got from a dear friend for someone like me who is a compulsive over-thinker. When I let my mind wander into weeks, months, sometimes years ahead: it can be too much to handle and I start to shut down.   Do what you need to do to get through today, rinse and repeat. 
  8. Learn to say no.  I’m a classic Enneagram 2- the helper. I thrive on both being around and being there for people. I will almost always say yes to everything that is asked of me. I had to learn how to say no to put myself, and my mental health, first. I canceled plans, I didn’t go to events I said I would, I took time off from work when needed: I got very in tune with my emotions, and when I needed time for myself  or just to work through what I was feeling, I took it with no (ok, very little) apology.  10/10 would recommend giving it a try, especially for people-pleasers like myself! 

I’m about a year out from the hardest time of my life, and I can truly say I feel like the happiest and most real version of myself that I have ever been. Do you have something to add to the list?  Please share it in the comments below!