How I Handle Stress (Spoilers: Poorly)

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.” 
― Tina Fey, Bossypants

The other week was Mental Health Awareness Week and it gave me pause for thought. Depression and anxiety run in my family and while I’ve been fortunate to avoid a serious medical diagnosis, I’ve had my share of challenges over the years. I benefited from therapy in my teenage years and have been feeling the pull towards it again in my early 30s for a bit of a “tune up.” In the last decade I’ve graduated university in a recession, gotten married, supported myself as a freelancer, had a public and painful breakup with the faith community of my youth, moved countries, switched careers, and moved house three times.

While I look back on a decade that has been overwhelmingly positive in hindsight, going through all of this has been stressful and do you know what I’ve learned? I am shit at stress management, and stress has been at the root of a lot of my personal health issues over the years.

I’m not great at relaxing.

I mean, we’ve touched on this before, but let’s be honest. I am type A, the stereotypical smart kid in school who did not entirely enjoy the transition to adulthood where her past achievements meant little in the real world. I am a walking cliche. So, in the spirit of a bank holiday weekend, I decided to ruminate on this a bit.

While I’m healthier now than I was this time a couple of years ago, and god knows I’m much better than I was at the start of the last decade, I still have longstanding habits that have been with me for most of my life. For example, I bite and pick at my nails compulsively. My best remedy against this is to paint them frequently; I don’t know if it’s the visual cue to keep all ten matching or what but I seem more able to grow and maintain them when I’ve made them pretty. On the flip side, the moment one of them chips or flakes, I feel a powerful urge to peel the rest of the polish off. Sometimes this is unconscious but I’ve been known to end a stressful day, look down at my fingers, and find all my carefully applied polish picked off and scattered. It’s not a nice habit and I’m not proud of it. I also, in no particular order, enjoy bouts of stress-induced insomnia, stress eating, minor compulsive behaviors, and stress-induced migraines, most of which is due to poor work/life balance.

In addition to habits, I’ve also acquired less than ideal physical symptoms in periods of high stress. My hair has fallen out, my eczema has flared up into a rash across my neck and chest, and (most memorably) I had to be referred to a breast cancer clinic when I developed a lump in my breast tissue. It was only a swollen lymph node or cyst that resolved itself, but it was scary, and given some other health symptoms and challenges at the time, my doctor suggested stress was probably a contributing factor. Yikes.

A lot of the life changes I listed have happened in the last five years since moving to London and it is another cliche universally acknowledged that city life can be grinding. London, like most major cities, will chew you up and spit you out if you let it. It’s nothing personal, but as the lyrics of the song go, “London town, you can toughen up or get kicked around.”

I wish understood sooner how important an emotional and life skill the art of resilience was. I also wish I understood that sometimes life just throws you lemons for no good reason and no amount of smarts, hard work, or effort will spare you the stress that comes from a shitty situation. I could have saved myself a lot of angst (and steroid ointment for my throat…yikes again) if I had learned to rank stressors and how to prioritize my reactions and efforts to tackle them. It took me a couple of years to adjust to the style of a big city with a competitive work culture and learn to not treat every challenge or set back (personal or professional) as a five alarm fire.

What’s helped? Nothing groundbreaking, I’m afraid. Losing a fear of failure helped but that took experiencing some failures, which were not enjoyable. Forcing myself to adhere to smarter work practices made a difference, but I had to get the balance wrong for a long time to figure out what worked for me. Exercise, mindfulness practices, better food habits, and boundary setting have all helped me learn to manage stress better. But there are still gaps, I’m working on ’em.

Basically, adulting is hard and while I wouldn’t trade the past five years for anything, I wish I had gotten a hold of my stress management a lot sooner because I think I would have managed several situations and decisions much better. I wish I had connected dots better and learned to recognize unhealthy habits, people, and behaviors before they turned into problems.

How do you handle stress? Is it something you struggle with, or do you feel you mostly have a handle on managing and dealing with yours? Throw a girl some tips!

Weekend Links

“Every person needs to take one day away.” 
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

It’s a long weekend this week and I took an extra day off for my first holiday time since Christmas so links are landing early, kittens. Forgive the short intro, but I’m on break mode!

Scene of the crime.

This take on the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding dress was my favorite. Her evening reception frock was a lovely, lovely number as well!

Yay, heraldry!

One last take on the Royal Wedding from the great and good Linda Holmes.

This man was not prepared for the replies to his tweet.

It’s the guns.

Much surprise, such shock, wow.

More shock. This is one hell of a FARA violation. 

Yet more shock. (ETA: he might not know what he’s talking about. Super shocking.)

Yet more shock still. Such a shocking week this has been. Please read this and the past four links in a devastatingly monotone voice.

We live in such weird times

I have to stop falling in love with brands. One will always break your heart. The Deciem weirdness continued this week.

Speaking of skincare, though, this is 100% how I lured Jeff in.

Also this week in awful, an organisation with almost 100% white ownership and a 70% black workforce told its members that they couldn’t engage in certain acts of civic protest over police brutality. I refer of course, to the NFL. There is some hope, however.

They may have a different version of the truth than we do.” This year’s version of “alternative facts.”

ARE THERE NO HEROS LEFT?! Also Weinstein has turned himself in on rape charges. Good.

Two bad ICE stories in the news. Both horrifying.

Here, something good in the world.

Good dog.

#RepealTheEighth

I’m not dwelling overly long on the various political dramas of the White House week, but I’m conflicted about that choice. Because in part I think that it means the perceived tactic of this White House is working: they are sowing so much chaos, unreliable information, or outright conspiracy theories that it’s almost impossible to land any kind of blow on them no matter how necessary. The president is in tone (and who knows, I’m typing this on Wednesday, this could total expand by the end of the week) suggesting that the FBI planted evidence against him. This is farcical. He’s tried this tactic before, claiming that the game was rigged against him and his messaging was rather thrown off course when he actually won the election. Meaning that the long term scheme was for the government to plant a spy in his organization to gather information that they didn’t release while simultaneously investigating his opponent’s campaign organization and holding press conferences about that, so that he would win the election to install an administration of his own supporters….to then start undermining him?

The alternative option on this Occams Razor edge is that at some point Mr. Trump or people around him came to FBI attention due to the various shady dealings in his business past. But hey, why be simple when you can start another conspiracy theory. The president lies constantly and no one cares.

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Oops. I dwelt.

The Duchess of Sussex

Image from the BBC

An absolute stunner of a modern dress by Givenchy with protocol-required sleeves…but collarbones on display?

The Song of Solomon in the reading?

MLK, African American spirituals, and social issues in the sermon?

An unabashedly progressive and somewhat controversial Reverend?

A gospel choir?

A bride walking herself up the aisle and giving herself away?

All of the Commonwealth nations referenced in her veil?

The signature messy updo?

The groom choosing to wear a ring?

THAT cello player?

Feelings on display? Publicly?!

The (utterly elegant, lovely, and show-stealing) MoB wearing dreadlocks and a nosering whilst seated across from the Queen in coordinated colors?

Stand By Me and This Little Light of Mine?

The new Duchess of Sussex could have gone quietly into her new life, gone traditional, acquiesced to the frank ugliness of the tabloids, played it safe, and had a perfectly nice and boring wedding. She didn’t.

Color me too-emotionally-involved, but the whole ceremony felt at once deeply personal and also a signal for the kinds of public figures this couple intends to be. Weddings are typically the “bride’s day,” at least when one is not marrying into a firm, and that’s what this felt like in all the important ways.

She might be marrying into an institution and making concessions to do so, but she is clearly carving out a way to do it on her and her husband’s terms. She respected the tradition she is stepping into it while unabashedly–without being brash but also without shrinking–brought her own tradition, family, heritage, and personality along with her. This woman is a smart cookie.

I STAN.

 

Weekend Links

And we’ll never be royals
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us
We crave a different kind of buzz
– Lorde

Another long week, kittens, but the weekend is upon us and on Saturday we are setting up shop on my mate Chris’s terrace to watch Royal Wedding 2.0. We like to think we represent the rowdy and awkward colonist cousin contingent. The news is terrible again this week, so excuse me while I enjoy a little basic pageantry.

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“History” is so much closer to us than most people realize.

We’re getting a new princess/duchess this weekend and she’s quite deft in managing her own style straight out of the gate.

She’s marrying into a strange family, but she’s from a strange family…and truly, aren’t we all?

Oh man, I added this on Monday and things are already getting weird.

ETA, its only Wednesday and I’m grossed out by the whole news cycle around Ms. Markle’s family and their shenanigans. Sali Hughes says it better than me.

ETA again, it’s Friday and this woman is clearly controlling her own messaging straight out of the gate. More power to her. I would never want the life she’s choosing, so I hope this is a signal of being able to set terms and boundaries that will make the requirements of her new role manageable for a person who may chafe under cultural expectations she was not raised with or born to. Good luck, future-presumable-duchess. I’m rooting for you!

The annual Tiny Desk Contest winner performs!

EIC of Vox, Ezra Klein argues the republic has faced worse than Mr. Trump…but also argues as sure as he is about this, he’s not 100% sure.

Whatever your opinion on the move, the difference in the photography is pretty striking. Also…people are dead.

Actively bad news from Jeff’s home state. This newsroom JUST won a Pulitzer.

Oh dear. I have long lusted after Lisa Eldridge’s jewels and now this?

Yanni v. Laurel.

Quick question, when does Ronan Farrow sleep?

Wow…this is quite a statement from the bishops.

The marketing team for this is very, very good.

Speaking of religious news, there was a Mormon news story this week that needs some unpacking. An elaborate fake message, designed to look like an official statement of apology for the church’s racism, briefly blew up on social media before being exposed. Zealous and pious mormons decried the fake news making the church look bad, zealous and irreverent exmormons gleefully opined at the twists and turns the organization was having to make to explain that they weren’t in fact apologizing for past racism. For those not in the know, the LDS church forbade the ordination of black men to the priesthood and the participation of black members in services and ceremonies in mormon temples (which are considered essential to salvation, so…). The most succinct take on why this whole story is gross, regardless of your religious beliefs, can be found here.

It’s been fascinating to watch the party of “law and order” turn on law enforcement.

And a developing story, but another heartbreaking school shooting has taken place. Details are still coming out so I won’t say more than: enough.

Weekend Links

“Men seek rest in a struggle against difficulties; and when they have conquered these, rest becomes insufferable.” 
― Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Howdy kittens, it’s been another full week of news and I’m just avoiding most of it in this week’s links because I need a happy place. I love short work weeks, but when you have to cram five days of To Dos into just three, you can head into the weekend frazzled. I have spent the majority of the day sleeping after putting a major work event to bed after several weeks of work yesterday, and have zero regrets. Tonight I’m going to a podcast live show with a buddy, and am otherwise having a very chill weekend at home.

Come, let’s dive into the gorgeousness of the Met Ball, debate over the meanings of This Is America, and delight in some wacky creativity.

How the Met got vestments from the Vatican for the annual Met Ball.

Speaking of, Racked dives into the tenure of Anna Wintour at Vogue, her time at the helm of the Met Ball, and how one of the most iconic platforms in the world is changing with the times…sometimes.

Only one more season of Kimmy. But more importantly, only one more season of Titus.

Ever wonder how chicken became a mainstay? Wonder no more!

An essay on the lost pleasure of shopping with other people instead of online. Most of my personal shopping is still vintage or second hand so I have to go out and physically try things on to see if they work, but it is pretty solitary. Going to markets with X. when she was in town last Thanksgiving was the first time I’d been shopping with a friend who wasn’t my husband in years!

I absolutely loved the Chanel cruise collection this year and will commit murder to get my hands on one of those berets!

David Fahrenthold is doing some of the most extensive reporting on Mr. Trump’s finances and his latest piece in the Washington Post is worth a read to get a sense of the weird side of property development and how it can be manipulated. But the salient point is that Mr. Trump made a change from debt-based financing to cash just under a decade ago, and he started spending that cash pretty lavishly. This is a very elaborate way to avoid the words “money laundering.” If nothing else, I feel like the narrative around Mr. Trump and his various business partners is revealing how much white collar crime has been winked at in the US, and for how long.

This longform piece in New York Magazine contends to understand Mr. Trump you need to understand Mr. Roy Cohn and how the New York intelligentsia and glitterati incubated the graft that eventually put him in the White House.

So maybe let’s not give this guy that new show his shopping around?

I’m grateful (though still terrified) at how the radicalization of young men online is finally getting some sunlight. Grateful that it’s happening, scared at how deep and widespread the ugliness goes. This piece in Rolling Stone makes for scary but important reading. “[These men] have been portrayed as disturbed young men with emotional “challenges.” Had they been nonwhite Muslim extremists, this would almost certainly have not been the case, notes Pete Simi, an expert in far-right extremist movements at Chapman University. “U.S. law enforcement and policymakers and the general public tend to perceive right-wing extremists in ways that de-emphasize their relevance and diminish the threat they pose,” he says. “We find it more difficult to frame those who are closely tied to the status quo as a threat.”

I have loved Donald Glover since his Community days, and the breadth of his work in acting, comedy, and music is downright extraordinary. He dropped a new track and accompanying music video last week that is uncomfortably good and provocative. It’s a heavy piece of art.

It’s my pet topic, I know, but I enjoyed this piece about Livia Firth’s take on sustainable and responsible consumption.

Um, there’s some parallel journalism going on that should be getting more traction than it is as time of writing. The New Yorker. The Guardian. Making threats like these seem…not coincidental?

The Bluths are back!

Sometimes it feels like there few champions left to cheer for. I’m not sorry Mr. Schneiderman has resigned, but I’m disgusted that the Governor of Missouri has not.

I loved this exchange between writers Leandra Medine and Pandora Sykes on brand new motherhood.

THERE IT ISTHERE IT IS. THERE IT IS.

And finally, this guy’s channel is whimsical and fun and an overall delight. Enjoy!

Bank Holiday Thoughts: Long Term Goals

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.” 
― Gloria Steinem

Gather round, ducklings, for a rambling post of a topic that’s been on my mind lately and that I did some thinking about as I sat in the (rare!) British sun for hours this past weekend.

Scene of the crime.

For someone who is a Grade A organizer and planner, I’ve come to the realization that thinking in terms of long term goals is not something I have ever been very good at. I can project about 3 years out at a max but beyond that is difficult for me to conceptualize.

I’m pretty sure this has to do with being a military brat who never lived anywhere longer than 3 years until I went to university. Growing up, my life was routinely segmented off by frequent moving dates and it’s only in my 30s that I’m understanding how this may affect my worldview. In some ways, it’s deeply positive! Barring personal or natural disaster, you can survive anything for a set period of time with an end date so I think I developed a robust ability to endure less then ideal circumstances and have a genuine attitude of “this too shall pass” to most challenges.

On the other hand, things like 5-10 year plans have never really played a starring role because they have never been or felt relevant to my circumstances. If I was eventually going to be in another school, another state, or on another continent, it never seemed like a good idea to conceptualize things that required any kind of permanence. Again, in my early 30s, I’m only really starting to understand some of the connectivity of this to my life choices. And also again, in a lot of ways this is positive! It’s allowed me and my partner to dream big and take chances that we might not have had we organized our lives in more “traditional” ways, at least according to how we grew up. But it’s also meant that I’ve made a lot of non-strategic choices over the years, some of which have had long lasting ripple effects. Frankly there have been whole months and years that I felt like I was “winging it” as an adult. I still do!

But I’m feeling myself go through a mentality switch these days where I’m starting to be able to conceptualize a future a few years down the road. I’m doing work I enjoy and can see myself doing for a long time, Jeff is in a good (if still busy) place with his career as well. Knock on wood, but it feels as though we are slowly moving out of the “hustle and grind” phase of our work lives into the “work smart” phase where we will (hopefully) begin to build our savings and make the big decisions adults make around where to make a permanent home, what that home looks like, and who we want in it.

I’m still pretty present-focused in that I’m starting to feel like a lot of hard work is paying off. We live in one of the most amazing cities on earth, we’ve put the time and energy into our careers and it’s starting to pay off, our marriage remains strong, we’re healthy–all pretty damn good things. Let’s be honest, it’s taken a decade to get to this point and we’re still not as insulated from shock as I’d like to be….but we’re getting there.

And so, slowly, things in the more distant future are starting to come into focus. We spent some of the bank holiday weekend planning out the rest of the year in terms of work and budgets, and even did some planning for holidays. We’ve learned how important those are to us over the past two years and how grateful we are to live somewhere and in a culture that encourages us to take them rather than making us feel guilty for doing so. We picked some mutual goals to work towards, and I’ve got my own weird and fun projects going on in the background to keep me entertained and grounded. I’m looking forward. And at the moment, things feel good.

Anyone else gone through this particular transition? Any wisdom to share? 

A Few Acts of Self Care

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” 
― David Mamet, Boston Marriage

The universe has been particularly kind to me lately, kittens, and I’m still enjoying one of the longest running streaks of solid mental health and overall life balance I’ve had in years. However, due to one of my team members being on holiday, plus suddenly getting involved with an unexpected event planning job, plus some additional projects at work, PLUS the fact that we have a short work week this week thanks to the bank holiday…well, things are good, but there has been an uptick in stress.

Because I’m on deadlines for big projects that I genuinely love working on, I don’t want to get knocked off my game due to something within my own grasp like self care. So here’s a short and by no means complete list of ways I’m keeping myself sane during a busy spring:

Self-medication with friend chicken encouraged.

Schedule some long phone calls with friends. Katarina and I make time for a decent hour on the phone once a week and it’s always a highlight for me. We range from girl talk, to work, to writing, to politics, to love lives, and normally at least half of it involves inside jokes that have lasted nearly two decades now. X and I don’t get to talk as much but keep up an almost constant text conversation to make up for it. It’s medicine for the soul.

Take a walk. Now that it’s light out later in the evening, I’m trying to walk home from work most evenings. It’s about a three mile jaunt and it’s amazing how much it’s been helping step away from a work mindset at the end of the day. Spool up a podcast or an audiobook, and get your cardio in!

Spend some time by yourself in a non-standard location. Go out for a meal with only yourself at a new restaurant, wander through a new area of your city or neighborhood. On that walk home I mentioned, I’ve been trying to vary up my route as much as possible and I’ve discovered some hidden gems in my area of the city as a result. It’s refreshing to go exploring.

Clean something. We had our annual apartment inspection by the landlord this past week and used it as an excuse to do some deep cleaning, a bit more thorough than our weekend tidy ups. It’s cathartic to feel like your space is in order…even if the feeling is temporary and fleeting because cleaning is a Sisyphean ordeal.

Find a small way to save a bit of money and enjoy the sense of responsibility and control it gives you. I changed my route to my normal workspace in a way that combines walking and a single bus trip, the fare of which is lower than the Underground during morning rush hour. Since I’m walking home most days, my weekly travel expenses have gone down–it’s not revolutionary, but it’s nice anyway.

Do a bit of healthy food prep and chop up some vegetables that you can use later in the week for snacking or cooking. It will make it easier to make healthy choices when you’re in a munching mood, or when you need to throw together a meal.

Read, physical print if at all possible. I live my life online, for work and for a lot of my free time. Switching up a screen for an actual page really helps me enjoy reading better and allow myself to stay focused on a single piece rather than jumping from piece to piece the way that online reading can encourage.

Take a break! I am the worst at remembering this, but a 10-minute break to make a cup of tea or stroll around the block can help me completely reset my brain.

How do you keep yourself level when your To Do list gets a bit nuts?