One of the things that’s been firmly on my mind since leaving my job last year, is that stress isn’t just work-related. And to be fair, even when I working (and very stressed), I didn’t know I was! I didn’t think that my part-time, 9-to-5 job was ‘high-powered’ enough for me to be stressed – I wasn’t even open to the possibility. And so, with my blinkers on, I missed all the signs and symptoms. It was only with the power of hindsight that I realised I was actually on the verge of burning out. And it was probably only thank you to my fall (and breaking my leg) that I finally saw sense and started making lifestyle changes.
But did the stress completely go away when I left my job? Was it as quick and easy as that? Can you only be stressed if you work? Or can stress creep in your day-to-day life no matter what you do? I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while now, and I think I’ve come up with my top 5 stress triggers.
1. Rushing and being late
This has to be THE number one stress factor for me. I am always aa little late and always have been. Mind you, it’s minutes, not hours! But as a result, I rush. And because having to be in a certain place at certain times these days often means that it’s my children who need to be somewhere, I end up rushing them too. And it’s never nice!
Thankfully, through my mindfulness meditation practice, I’m becoming more self-aware and self-conscious. And I’m getting better at realising when I’m about to start rushing them along like a mad woman. If I catch myself, I can try and stop myself. Especially because over time I’ve learnt that I don’t achieve much with my “We’re going to be late” phrase. But rushing deserves a whole blog post of its own – so more on that later!
2. The children fighting
This is another big one for me. I know all siblings fight, to a certain degree. I used to fight with my brother when I was little, and of course, it was over very petty things like him taking my toys! And my children sometimes fight as well. But it drives me nuts.
What gets to me is that things can escalate pretty quickly. They might be getting along one minute, and the minute later things have taken a turn for the worse. When this happens in front of me, I can at least try and make some sense of what is going on and act accordingly. But sometimes this happens when I’m in the kitchen making their dinner, or when I’ve literally just left the room for a few seconds. Emotions run high for everyone, and with 1/2/3 children crying/whining/screaming, I have to 1) understand whether anyone is hurt and needs immediate attention, 2) make sense of the situation and try and be fair to everyone. It doesn’t always work out that way.
3. Being interrupted a million times
I’m an introvert, and I spend a lot of time in my head. A lot of things are going on in there – I need time to evaluate a situation, to make decisions, to think about what I need to be doing next etc. For some reason, things have to happen in a bit of a linear way for me. Multitasking doesn’t really work. I know, it should – I’m a woman and a mum-of-3. But multitasking doesn’t really work. Because your mind and your attention can only be in one place at any given time. Everything else is being done on auto-pilot.
So say I’m focusing on one thing (often making 3 or 4 different things for dinner!), and one child walks in because they want water. Then another one walks in because they want a pepper. Then another one walks in because their brothers aren’t letting him watch what he wants on TV.
And this carries on a million times.
No, I don’t have a million children. They just take turns in coming in with a request or a complaint. And you won’t be surprised when I tell you that half an hour later I’m still at step 1 of my long, thought-through process, dinner hasn’t even started, it’s now late, and we’re back to point one above.
4. Having to leave things half-done or not being able to get to them
When I’m doing something, I like to finish it. It’s a lot quicker for me to finish it and forget all about it than to have to leave things half-way done. They end up bothering me until I can get back to them and get them out of my head.
So say I need to complete some writing for a client. I might need to leave it to go and get the children from school. When I get home, I’ll want to get back to it while it’s fresh on my mind – my thoughts are flowing easily, and it’s quicker for me to get them down before they’re gone. But obviously when I’m with the children, I’m with them, and they need my attention, so often it’s not possible for me to get back to my work until they’ve gone to bed. And what then tends to happen is that I create and accumulate stress in my head! I don’t want to let go of my thoughts, so they end up swirling in my head – I feel distracted and easily confused and overwhelmed when ‘real life’ kicks in. Points 2 and 3 again?
5. Feeling like too much is going on at the same time
One thing I’ve recently become aware of is that sometimes I can feel quite overwhelmed by having too much on at the same time. Our life as a family can often feel quite packed and busy. And that in itself can become a source of stress if I’m not careful and try and avoid all the rushing. But I’ve also noticed that because I tend to mentally ‘recharge and re-energise’ by being on my own, if I’ve been rushing around too much and not had the chance to have a pause or a transition between an activity and the next, or simply ‘hear myself think’, I tend to get flustered. I feel like I’m just chasing my tail with no time to process what’s going on. Do you ever feel like that?
Can you relate to any of these scenarios? Are you aware of your stress triggers? And are they all work related?