I used to be a night owl. Plus, I could function on five hours of sleep or less. My family would sleep while I caught up on work, laundry, bills or TV. Often, I would fight the urge to sleep, fight what my body was telling me to do. I wanted to check one more thing off my to-do list.
Following a triennial convention and gathering and getting our daughter ready for college, I took a much-needed vacation last December. That’s when my lack of sleep caught up with me. I was no longer a “functioning non-sleeper.”
I had nights when I tossed and turned, getting little or no sleep. The result was that I felt anxious and scared, and I cried for no apparent reason.
A visit to my doctor pinpointed the reason: stress. And stress mixed with anxiety is a toxic combination. My body was tired, but my mind was reeling. At times I felt nauseated, yet I had no appetite.
So I took action to get back on track. I decided to use my planning skills to make myself a priority. Here’s what I did, and this might help you too.
- Do your homework. A friend suggested that I read up on the subjects of stress and anxiety. At first I thought that if I read about stress and anxiety, I would feel more worried and have more stress, but that was not the case. I educated myself and learned how to deal with what I felt. That offered me relief.
- Positivity is key. I made an effort to be more positive and avoid negative situations. I tried to surround myself with positive people or practice “positive self-talk.” I excused myself from conversations that were too heavy. I stopped watching the news and violent TV programs.
- Prayer is important. I found that sitting quietly in prayer helped me focus and allowed me to relax as I concentrated on my breathing.
- Embrace sleep. I’ve made sleep a priority. Where once I would fight it, I now embrace it. As soon as I feel tired, I get ready for bed. My husband and I shut down the house by 8:30 p.m., make tea and retire to our room, where we talk, read and pray.
Find more tips on stress management at the American Heart Association.
I now make sleep a celebration. I put the outside world on mute and embrace sleep, rather than fighting it.
What do you do to beat stress?
Gabriela Contreras is director for meeting planning for Women of the ELCA.
Photo: Kate Ter Har, used with permission, Creative Commons.