Day 54: How interpretation of stressful moments changes their impact

I got so stressed this morning, I ended up hyperventilating, getting dizzy and then crying.  What got me so stressed? I was trying to load an image into the background of a page I’m creating for my website and it wouldn’t work.

The thing is though, explaining it like that is a bit like saying, “it was that last glass of wine that sent me over the edge”. No. No it wasn’t. The last glass was the fifth glass. The first four glasses gave the fifth glass its impact.

This was the same. I usually have a morning routine, involving exercise, deep breathing, a cold shower and a vegetable smoothie. It takes around an hour to do the whole lot and then I write or work for an hour. I didn’t do the first hour of my morning routine today because we had friends round last night and I was up late so I didn’t feel like it when I woke up. I also failed to plan the work I wanted to do so I flitted around between tasks for about 40 minutes before I settled on something to do. The task I picked is one I neither understood nor knew how to do – and I had no idea whether or not it was even worth doing. It took all of those things together to create my response this morning.

James was, quite rightly, concerned by the drama. “You’re putting too much pressure on yourself. It seems ironic that this whole thing is about having a big happy life and you’re anything but happy.”

But it was just one moment. As I thought about it afterwards, I realised it was this type of “sky falling” thinking that had caused me so many problems in my previous attempts to quit drinking and stop eating sugar. I’d experience moments of frustration when I had cravings or felt like an outsider at social gatherings and I would treat those moments as something much larger. They would become indicators of what the future held, signals to show I was on the wrong road and confirmation that, if I continued down that road, I would ultimately end up miserable.

Now I know to be careful of this type of thinking. This morning, despite feeling utterly overwhelmed and then scared and panicked, a little part of me that knew I would find my way back relatively quickly. That knowledge provided both comfort and strength while my emotions ran out of control for a few minutes. It provided a little bit of distance between me and the feelings so I could see them as something that was happening, rather than something that was part of me.

Now that the feelings have passed, I am better able to look back and see the whole episode in context. It’s been a good lesson: when there are 95000 things I could be doing and only enough time to do 2 things, I need a plan otherwise I use half my energy questioning and doubting myself. I also need to feel good mentally and physically – which is what I get from my morning routine.

I’ll be better prepared next time.

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