The other night I was going to watch some television with my wife and noticed that I was feeling a lot of stress in my body. It had nothing to do with my wife or what we were watching. Then the question occurred to me – “what did I struggle with today?”
Interestingly, just thinking those few words down to release some of the tension in me. It was an acknowledgement that I’d had some struggles during the day.
I’d had a frustrating meeting. I didn’t have a good workout in the morning. It was cold. There was nothing earth shattering that happened, but a bunch of little things. Recognizing 1) that these were the things causing me stress and 2) that they were all little things helped me to let them, and the stress, go.
That day, they were little things, but what about about the big things? There are a lot of big things that can, and often do, cause me stress. In addition to things like the pandemic, racism, poverty, climate change, to just name a few, there’s occasionally big work problems, or something related to my daughter’s school (two cases of COVID in the school and both were in her class).
Both therapy and meditation have helped me to follow the old Alcoholics Anonymous adage (to paraphrase) to accept things I can’t change. Is there anything I can do about this problem, whether the problem is big or small? Yes, what can I do. No, is there somebody I can ask for help or offer help to so they can do it?.
For example, I don’t know how to care for patients with COVID, but I can wear a mask, keep an appropriate distance from those not in my immediate family, donate to our food bank to help those in need, etc. Do I have a problem at work? Think about how I might deal with it and ask for help if I need it.
I know it’s important to be grateful and I have an evening gratitude practice (at the end of the day write down five things you’re grateful for), but I think that acknowledging what you struggled with that day and recognizing if something was big or small, whether you can do something about it including asking for help is important as well, not to dwell on it, but simply to acknowledge it. If you can do something, even if it’s just talking to someone about the problem, write yourself a note before going to sleep.
When we don’t give the appropriate attention to things that are causing us stress, they will take our attention at inopportune times, like when we’re trying to sleep. Think about your struggles, give them your attention, figure out what if anything you can do, and then try to set them aside for the evening. You may even wake up to find that they’re gone.