Today was one of those days where I had blocked enough time, I thought, that I could really dig down into getting things done, things I’d been putting off in favor of other, more immediate concerns. The things were all manageable things, but the list was long, and as soon as I would start to work on one I would think of another. It’s the kind of mental state I get to where I have so many things to do that I get overwhelmed; I know I need to break things down into manageable chunks or just start doing anything, but everything seems equally important and I’m not in the mood and I don’t want to and I don’t know where to start and I’m too deep, too close to all the details and facets to keep track of to figure out even how to start.
The mental paralysis and internal loops are never as obvious inside my head as that makes it sound: I have gotten things done for hours or days sometimes, often flitting between tasks or spending more time on the least important of them before I figure out I’m not working efficiently.
This is how stress manifests for me mentally: I’m working, but I’m not at my best.
Extreme stress also manifests for me physically in the form of my body noping out of the whole business, but that comes at a later stage, one that causes huge problems if I haven’t headed it off at the mental stage.
So it’s important that I have a process in place to address high levels of stress (distinguished from normal levels, where I function), because once I’m at that point it’s hard for me to even tell that I’m stressed, let alone to figure out what to do about it.
The idea is to figure out what cuts stress level in times of less stress. When I’m very stressed, I won’t believe anything can help besides buckling down and getting shit done, but I can’t effectively do the work when I’m very stressed. But if there’s a system in place for Thing To Do When Experiencing Extreme Levels of Stress, I can break the cycle.
Sometimes my solution is different. Sometimes I need to take a walk or get myself to an emergency dance class. Sometimes I need to call my mother or a close friend and just chatter about nothing of substance with someone who loves me unconditionally.
Usually, the solution is to read a novel. A novella will do in a pinch, but a novel is better.
It seems counter-intuitive. My brain always argues about it. Like, if I’m already stressed about how much time I have to do all of these things, how can I possibly justify taking three or four hours to read a book?
But for me, the act of reading, of absorbing a story that has structure and intention in a way that life does not, helps me internalize that organization to impose on my own thoughts and life. It forces me out of my head, away from the problems at hand, so that when I step back to them I’m coming from a place of distance that affords clarity.
I read a book, and balance is restored. I can do All The Things efficiently and easily. It’s mind-boggling, the difference it makes every time.
Sometimes the strategy changes. The important thing is that what always changes is me.