Good Stress, Bad Stress

Like cholesterol, there is good stress and bad stress.  Bad stress brings fear (of failure) and disruption (to your health).  Good stress on the other hand, comes from challenging ourselves, which in turn, helps with our development and growth.

The boys have been going to their Kung Fu summer camp this week at the Shaolin Temple Quanfa Institute.  Initially, they were a bit stressed by all the practice and how hard Shifu was pushing them.  Then, two days into it, something clicked.  They felt stronger, more focused and leaner.  They were proud of their stances, they were fast and strong and eager to perform!  The stress brought out the best in them.

For me, as a new driver (at 46 no less!), I noticed that I was feeling stress when driving on the highway.  Initially, I didn’t realize that my body was stressed.  When I noticed it, I became aware of how much I was concentrating to do the right things: merging, watching the big truck in front of me, checking for pedestrians, slowing down…  A few days into it, something clicked.  I felt more aware, more confident and more focused.  I was proud of how much I improved, and at the same time, understanding that it was still going to take a great deal of practice to be a good driver.

Good stress: makes you better!

Bad stress on the other hand comes from toxic relationships, lack of constructive communication and constant unknowns. Bad stress causes frustration, anger, confusion and ultimately hurts our health.  There will always be unknowns in life, but we all need to work harder at improving our relationships through communication… or removing ourselves from relationships that hurt us.

Bad stress: makes you sick!

It is up to us to see what kinds of stress we are under and how to address them: rise up to the challenge and develop… or get out of the situation quickly!

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It Was a Cold and Wintery April Day

cold park.jpg

Under normal circumstances, on a freezing Saturday afternoon, I would much prefer to stay cozy in my nice warm house, maybe read some books, clean the washrooms, or do some blogging. However, it was already well into April, it was sunny, and it was time to get serious about getting outdoors again. So, the boys and I muddled through. First we got out the bikes.  Wouldn’t you know it, Aiden’s bike was too small for him, Alec wanted to scooter instead of bike and my bicycle hadn’t been touched in (we won’t mention how many) years… it needed a lot of pre-work to get it road ready. So we went back home and tried again. The boys got out their scooters and I dusted off my rollerblades… and we took off! Well, my 46-year old ankles protested quite loudly and the boys by then decided that they wanted to play in the big park – too far for my rollerblading sore ankles to allow. So we turned back again.

One complained about how cold it was, how numb his face was getting, and how much better it would be just to go home. The other one complained that if he and I went to the park, the other one would get to play video games at home, which of course would be totally unfair.

I couldn’t help it, I roared at them and declared that we would all dump everything at home, we would get warm hats and scarves, we would walk over to the big park, and darn it all, we would play in the park!

We first popped into the recreation centre and played a bit of ping pong to warm up. Then we went to the playground.  It was full of optimistic kids and parents.  We ran around, pushed each other off the balancing thing, and climbed stuff. We had a LOT of fun!

Thanks Kung Fu for giving me back the energy and inclination to run around outdoors in the freezing park! Next goals: 1) Get outside every day regardless of weather, and 2) Rollerblade around the lake!

How Do You Do It?

Recently I was asked to be on a panel at work to share my experiences about how to manage your career while having a young family. It’s a workshop run by the ODLC and Family Care Office at U of T and I think it’s supposed to help others answer the question “How do you do it?”.  I think what I say is supposed to help people with families do better at work. And frankly, I wonder if maybe should share what I ought to have done rather than what I HAVE done!

You see, the reality is that I don’t do it all.  I really don’t have it together.  Most of the time I think I’m doing a bad job at work (okay, maybe I’m a bit tough on myself, let’s just say… it’s not good enough… yet) and I definitely feel that I’m not a good enough mother, manager, wife, daughter, sister, friend (yes, in that order, sorry friends). Better mother than wife, better wife than friend… and so on.  (Yes… better manager than wife, you caught that, eh?)

I suppose I could share my learnings from the experiences of not quite doing it, but trying really hard to. This therefore a summary of what I’m going to present to my colleagues with young families for the workshop at the University of Toronto Mississauga in February:

#1: Your Health is #1

Everything else is #2, and I mean everything. Without your health, without self care, you can only do so much for so long.  I had a very massive breakdown earlier this year.  It was a physical, mental, spiritual, everything breakdown.  I could not get out of bed and I could not take care of my family. It was frightening to say the least, but… and I can say it now… it was preventable and I should have seen it coming.  Now I know, my health has to come first.

Put on your oxygen mask. Get your sleep, because sleep is NOT over-rated! Make time for yourself to breathe, re-calibrate, self-reflect, rest, laugh…

#2: Make It Easier

That means: make it easier for yourself whenever you can.  Make it easier for others to make it easier for you.  So, for example, if you find certain times of the day rough to manage, find the help, plan or prepare for it, reduce your expectations, reduce others expectations, delegate…

In the case of childcare, figure out what works for you now.  Some people have family in town, others have wonderful neighbours.  We’ve used nannies, we’ve helped out neighbours and they’ve helped us out, we’ve put the kids in daycare and then Bill quit his job to be a stay-at-home-Dad. Do what works for you and your family. Finances have a part to play in this too, but see #3.

Work with your boss to adjust your schedule, swap responsibilities, manage expectations… If you know you can make it up in the future, then allow yourself to shift your focus to your family for a bit.  Forgive yourself.

#3: Remember: Everything Changes

Remember that everything changes.  The chaos, the feeling of being out of control, the empty-headedness, the poocanoes, the 2 o’clock afternoon sleepies (ooh, I miss napping), the need for childcare, the flash of anger at everything, the frustration of not getting things done, the night-time peeing, the temper tantrums, the never-ending “mommy, mommy, mommy”… but also… the little arms choking you around the neck, the cuddles in the middle of the night, the bedtime stories, the flying leap into your arms, the  kisses, the songs… All of it.  There are many stages and you just make each stage work.  You plan for the next change and you manage through the one you’re in.

Someone reminded me that most people walk down the aisle potty-trained, so don’t get too upset that your kid is the only 4-year old at daycare having accidents.

Kids grow up.  They grow up fast.  Soon, it will be all in the past.  (Sorry, too much Dr. Seuss!)

#4: Don’t Lose Yourself

For many years, I completely lost myself in being a mother and making work work.  Other than my full-time job at work and then my other full-time job when I got home, I lost me.  I didn’t have a sense of who I was or what I loved (other than my children, who, to be frank, at moments felt like obligations rather than people that I adored.)  I didn’t do sports, I didn’t read books, I didn’t go out with friends to have long intellectual philosophical debates, I didn’t try new restaurants, I didn’t watch weird movies with my husband and critique them to death, I didn’t sing songs at the top of my lungs, I didn’t wander through bookstores, I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t.  And.  It. Was. Killing. Me.  Only I didn’t know it.

I think I was hanging out by a thread through my 3 am blogging and watching of crappy TV.  I’ve since found friends who can commiserate about similar things or who tell me that I’m doing okay and, of course, Kung Fu.  The stretches and stances have built strength and stamina. The meditation has a calming affect (I’m not even sure I’m doing it right)… all I know is I feel more balanced. I found me!

#5: Remember the Love

This one is self-explanatory.  Remember how much people love you.  They do.  They just don’t always have the opportunity, headspace, time, energy to tell you or show you  (sometimes they will Facebook you).  But they do love you.  So when you need a reminder, just reach out and get reminded.  Maybe tell them first how much you love them if you need to.  Just remember the love.  It’s all about the love.

#6: Make Decisions with Integrity

Keep in mind that you may not be at your best when sleep-deprived or stressed about picking up kids after work from daycare.

Try to make values-based decisions.  That is to say, don’t make rash decisions, don’t react impulsively and don’t take anything personally.  I think the biggest mistakes I’ve made it have happened because I let things feel personal.  You’re not a different person because you have kids, you just have to take into consideration a lot more other issues.  Not everyone is going to understand. If you are lucky enough to work at an organization that is family-friendly like U of T, that’s great, but the reality is still that we (by having kids) unequivocally do make things tougher for other colleagues who don’t have the same responsibilities.  So, understand that.  Make up for it when you can.  (By the way, family responsibilities are not always just about having children, but include taking care of relatives or elderly parents.)

I would add that working with people who share your values is the ideal situation.  So, if you feel that you are in a place that isn’t ever going to align with your values, goals and integrity, you may want to start thinking about making a change.

#7: Strategically Pick What You Will Let Slide and Forgive Yourself

Some people will be able to Lean In.  If you can, good on you!  Go for it, make your millions and do great things!  For the rest of us, we will have to choose our battles and let the others slide.

Mine:

  • My hair – I need a low maintenance hair cut
  • The kids’ Chinese – they aren’t bilingual… yet, maybe one day
  • Christmas cards to friends – sorry, I’m thinking of you but…
  • Showers on weekends – yup, don’t stand too close to me on Sundays

#8: Consolidate and Find the Flow

Go with the flow, not against it. If you can find people going in the same direction, hitch a ride.  Don’t go it alone. If you something can be done by someone else because it’s convenient for them, let them help.  Don’t be a hero.  If the hard work you’ve done in the past allows you to ride the waves a bit without paddling so hard, rest awhile.  Reap what you sow and thank your past self as you gather more energy for the future.

When you find the flow, it’s great, because it takes a lot less of your energy and makes things easier for you (see #2). Give yourself head space, you’re going to need it!

 

#9: Be the Best You Can Be and Be Proud

At the end of the day, we are all human.  We are all flawed, but we all have a best we can do.  So do it.  Then be proud of it.

So there you have it.  My 9 points of advice.  Hope it helps!

Day 1 of 66

Being a practical, no-nonsense kind of gal, I always thought that you just said so and it would be made so.  You know, Captain Picard style.  “Make it so!” (I can even HEAR that fantastically deep sexy voice reverberating in my head.)  But failure after failure in making real change in a few specific areas have made me realize that I just can’t Captain Picard my way through the tough habits.

So today, I start Day 1 of 66 to truly change a terrible habit I developed after years and years of stress, couch-potatoing and pure feeling sorry for myself about all my work stress.  That’s it.  No more.  Done.

The problem is, I’ve started this journey many a times and the accountability only to myself thing just doesn’t work for me. If it was a matter of taking care of the kids, oh, that would happen.  If it was a matter of making sure that things at work ran smoothly, I would surely do it.  But if it were just about me, my health, my well-being and nothing else, somehow my willpower just wasn’t enough.

It’s pretty hard on the ego to think that a little bowl of cold fried rice (with mushrooms, which I don’t like) can overcome my intelligent, rational brain. So this is certainly something I’d like to figure out. AND the bigger problem is what I’m modelling for my children.  I’m the one who sets the standard for them: We do what is right, not what we want to do.  Why can’t I do this? For me?  And now… for them?

So, while I probably have to get some psychoanalytical help at some point in time to challenge the deep dark roots of my beliefs in myself and find the ah ha moment of why I keep undermining myself in this one area, for now, I’m launching my 66 days to change my one terrible, probably going to slowly kill me one day, but oh so comforting habit of raiding the fridge for yummy leftovers after dinner (you know like… mmm, cold pizza one night… oh, chicken pot pie – too good… and whoops, the boys’ lunch… and of course the ole I guess stale luncheon meat will do…), while watching TV.

There, I said it.  It’s out there.  It’s public.  There’s no turning back now.  And because replacing a habit is easier than just stopping cold turkey, my replacement habit is going to be drinking a nice hot mug of ginger tea or camomile tea or lemon water or… if I’m going to let myself be a little bad that night, I’ll put a teaspoonful of honey in it.

To make me honest, I’ve just invited a friend to join me and I’m publishing this post in 3… 2… 1… AAAARGH!  Wish me luck!!!!!!

(Note: it takes more than 21 days!  http://www.today.com/health/think-itll-take-21-days-make-your-resolution-habit-try-2D11826051)

It Was Pretty Bad

I’ve struggled with my weight.  All my life.

When my family returned to Taiwan after living in North America for 8 years, I was 11.  The sales lady from the clothing store took one look at me and shook her head disapprovingly.  “No ekes, ekes, ello – you too big.  We no have your sizee.”

Even though I have athletic tendencies and enjoy various sports, I am very much a couch potato, a book worm, an all-day administrator desk person… After the birth of my first son, the pounds melted away from nursing and lack of sleep, but that didn’t happen after the second.  At nearly 200 pounds, my body ached all over, I panted after running up two flights of stairs at the subway station and I could barely keep up with my ‘real’ full time job at work and my second full time job taking care of my children.

“Mommy, when I turn my head to look at you, I can see your tummy sticking out.  Is there a baby in there?”

My parents were worried about my health, my BFF offered to do some gym training and my husband checked on me at 10 pm to make sure I wasn’t succumbing to all the fast food commercials, poking my head in the fridge and eating the kids’ lunches for the next day.

“Hey, your mommy is here to pick you up!”  “No, my mommy’s at work.” “She’s got glasses, she has black hair and she’s fat.” “Oh yeah, that’s my mom.”

The stress of decision-making at work coupled with feeling like an inadequate mother led to stress eating, which led to feeling bad about myself, which led to more stress, which also led to worsening health and so on.  I was in my early 40s and my mind and body were falling apart.