Stress Management for the "Adulting" Millennial

 If my life were a book this part would be Chapter 31 and titled, Slappers Only.  If you were a gamer in the mid-late 90’s, then you probably know what I am talking about. Some iconic video games instantly make you feel nostalgic for your youth. In my case, that game is Nintendo 64’s 007 Golden Eye.

For those of you who were not super nerdy gamers when this came out; I’ll explain: A player assumes the role of secret agent, James Bond, and stealthily moves from room to room taking down bad guys. However, here's the kicker (or in this case, the "slapper.") When you run out of weapons you are left with just your slappers - yep, slappers are just what you think - your bare hands. In your last desperate attempts to survive, your only defense is to slap away the bad guys...

Now that you're caught up, I think you can see where I am going with this analogy. Trying to deal with the ever-increasing demands life throws at you, can make you feel like you have run out of resources. It can make you "slap happy".

In my previous blog, So Now You’re 30: A Millennial’s Guide to Navigating a Growing Career and Growing Family, I shared some tips I use for managing the obstacles I face as a young, working parent. In this blog, I'll focus on what I consider the most challenging obstacle of them all - the S-word - STRESS. In keeping up with the millennial theme, I’ve included a few silly memes to make my case.

Tip: Make Stress your Friend

If you’ve got young kids and a young career, you no doubt have stress. As the "Chaos Coordinator" of my family and the hard-working innovator at work, juggling everything can easily make me feel like Britney Spears circa 2007. The bad news? None of the work or life tasks you need to accomplish in a day are going away. No matter how many optimizing, planning and organizing strategies you employ to be more efficient, stress will always be there. If it’s not one thing, chances are there will be something else to stress over. That’s life. However, the good news is that you can determine how you react to stress. For me, stress used to translate to rage.

I noticed I was dealing with stress in a less-than-optimal way when, multiple days in a row, I got home from work after a long day of meetings and sitting in traffic to find my house in a disheveled mess. I would then spend the next couple of  hours running around 'rage cleaning.' I would throw laundry and toys into their baskets like a professional pitcher trying to strike a batter out. This is an action that I call rage cleaning. Not only did rage cleaning make me feel terrible, but it didn't get the job done any faster or prevent the mess from happening again.

A lot of my stress from our messy house was stemming from stress in other areas of my life. I was tired of being this angry, rage cleaning mom I had become, so one day I decided to just stop. Instead, I used this energy to make a chore list and enlisted the family to assist in the clean up together. Over time, I realized that when I changed how I perceived stress in my mind, I could change my physical response to it.

When you are under stress you may, like me, exhibit classic signs of anxiety. Your heart pounds, you breathe faster, you may even sweat. But, what if the signs of being stressed and anxious could be perceived by my mind as signs that my body is energized? What if you too could flip your perception and realize that this is your body preparing you to meet challenges and tackle obstacles? This unique change in thought is what Kelly McGonigal examines in her book, The Upside to Stress. I encourage you to check it out and/or watch her TED talk.

When stressed, the pounding heart is sending more blood to the rest of your body and your hastened breath is getting more oxygen to your brain. Your body is preparing you for action. A study done by Harvard (also mentioned in Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk) showed that participants who were put under stress but learned to view their stress response as helpful were less anxious, more confident and had a healthier cardiovascular profile than those who perceived stress as unhealthy. You may not be able to change the amount of stress you encounter by being a working super parent, but you can help your health by changing how you think about it.

Here’s a quick go-to list of ideas to de-stress yourself during the midst of an avalanche:

  • Get up! Get out and take a walk around the office. This not only gives you points towards your daily recommended steps (10,000), but gives you a moment to re-frame ideas in your head and tackle problems that have been stumping your stress-addled brain.
  • Tidy-up your cube/home office. Clutter can be distracting, so this is a win-win. It lets you get away from your project and throwaway those 500 snack wrappers you’ve been collecting.
  • Unplug after you get home (at least for a couple of hours). I know it’s hard to get away from those screens, especially when deadlines abound. However, you’ll thank me (and yourself), when instead of going from your work computer, to your phone, to your home computer; you stop and smell the roses.  Read a printed book, take a bath, meditate, try out extreme underwater basket weaving - do literally anything else that doesn't involve screen time.

Tip: Stop Multitasking and Take a Pause

 I am writing this at a time when I am at the peak (or at least it feels that way) of a crazy work-life balance struggle. I recently came back to work from maternity leave after having my sweet baby boy. I was welcomed back with a mountain of things to catch up on. I also have a 3-year-old girl who is amazing and I love to death, but as luck would have it, is exactly like me. She is smart and adorable but also very sassy. Having a newborn, a “threenager,” a career and a husband with a career is no joke. Oh and did I mention, I also just enrolled to start school again? Just like the rest of you with careers and a young family, we have a lot going on and every day is a logistical nightmare. Anyway, at this point in our lives our brains can be like a browser with a million tabs open. And much like this computer, your brain’s performance decreases when you multitask. This would explain why I came home a few weeks ago after a long 14-hour day to find out that I had left my front door wide open - ALL DAY.

 It may sound counter intuitive but doing more at once does not make you more productive. We always make plans to do more, while we should take a step back and do a little less. Find a moment to be still amidst all the chaos. Another TED talk The Art of Stillness, by Pico Iyer, mentions, “I realize that it’s only [after] going [to a real place of quiet and solitude] that I’ll have anything fresh or creative or joyful to share with my wife or bosses or friends." What I take away from this is to just take a little time for myself each day to sit in silence. I push the pause button and collect my thoughts. I think you’ll find that taking some reflection or meditation time each day will give you the break you long for, improve your concentration and increase your self-awareness. It can also help your cardiovascular and immune health. Remember, even a hurricane has an eye in the center.

Let's face it - this part of our lives is chaotic and it takes a lot of not just time but energy to put it back in order. If thermodynamics in college taught me anything, it’s that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a great metaphor for this part of my life. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that 'all closed systems tend to maximize entropy (chaos or disorder) and reversing this ever-increasing tendency toward disorder requires the input of energy.' Ha, my STEM education came in handy in more than one way!

In summary, the energy that we use to maintain order can and does cause a lot of stress. Learning how to effectively manage stress by changing the way we perceive it in our minds and taking time to hit the pause button can make our lives so much easier, and in turn, make us happier and healthier! By learning how to make stress work for us, maybe we can spend less time in “freak-out” mode and more time teaching our kids the to master youthful concepts like solving Rubik’s® cubes and racing Slinky’s® down the stairs - instead of what to do when they are left with only their "slappers."