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Being Happy: A Life Less Stressed & More Meaningful

woman-591576_1920I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t suppose for any particular reason other than I don’t like to give myself time limits on accomplishments. This year I’m going to be more active. This year I’m going to save for my vacation. I’d prefer to make that goal when the moment arises, because I don’t need a new year to tell me when to reinvent myself.

That is, until 2016 happened.

I’ll spare the monotony of bringing up the craziness that was 2016, but let’s just say it was a lot. 2016 was the first year in my life where I rejoiced at its conclusion. 2016 will be infamous in history books due to the controversial election, but I’m talking more personal. I’d consider last year the most stressful year I’ve had. Life threw itself at me and my family at every corner,  and by the end of the year I just felt exhausted knowing I’d reached the peak stress level of what my body could handle emotionally and physically. I am one who naturally suffers from anxiety. I’m a worrier and I’m anxious about everything. The latter part of last year, I began experiencing chest pains from all the stress, and my headaches were getting more frequent. Nothing in particular caused any of it. Rather, it was an accumulation of the whole year weighing on me: Michael’s accident, my surgery, every family member close to me being in the hospital for one reason or another, extreme work stress, and so much more.

Things needed to change if I wanted to save my sanity
2017 is my year to take it all back and implement some healthy habits and just generally change my focus and outlook.

So, this year, I’ve chosen to be…

HAPPIER.

Not stressed. Not full of anxiety. No more chest pains, or being bogged down by the weight of the world. From here on, I’m accepting what life throws at me and taking it. Maybe I’ll fight back at it, throw a few punches, but I’m going to be stronger, more fierce, and overall grateful and happy. I choose to accept and inspire.

I’ve realized that all the anxiety that came with the stress last year was something I allowed to keep happening. Everything built up, and each time something didn’t play out to an expectation, I took it, and didn’t do anything about it, except, when it got to be a lot, I threw myself a pity party in the form of anxiety.

I don’t know about you but the LAST thing I am when I’m stressed is fruitful, affectionate, and full of virtue. What causes me to spiral in these moments of stress?  That one parent emailing me about their child’s grades the day before report cards are due. My house smelling like dogs because we’ve been too busy to give them a bath. My house generally just being a huge disaster area because my husband and I both work and cleaning doesn’t really happen until the weekends. Last year, things just kept happening one after the other and after Michael’s accident, we just kept getting slammed with incident after incident. But even so, little life stressors happen daily for us all. It doesn’t have to be this catastrophic event every time that keeps us stressed.

Anxiousness has a direct correlation to stress. Stress leads us to have bad habits. God tells us in Philippians 4:6 not to be anxious about anything.  We are to present our requests to God. We are to be thankful. And as much as I don’t want to admit it, the act of staying anxious is sinful, because it doubts our trust in the Lord.

How do we combat this? We trust. We read our bibles. We pray. But I think we should also  gain the knowledge to deal with our life here on earth. We need to educate ourselves and expand our minds. We need do things to take care of our bodies, to eat right, to exercise. We need to foster healthy relationships. Do things for other people. Spread kindness and love.

We may FEEL anxious, but it’s what we do with that anxiousness that can potentially form poor habits. Stress can lead us to be sinful and stress leads us to anxiousness,and being anxious means we are not giving our requests to God.  I believe there’s more to it though! There’s more than just the sin of anxiousness that comes with not “giving it to God”. I think he also doesn’t want us to be anxious because he knows how it impacts our life, and our earthly relationships. He knows we turn to things and we repeat behaviors that we think will make us feel better. That will help reduce the stress. Things that we think will make us happier.

For some people that bad habit is alcohol. For some it’s spending money. For some it’s drugs. These people feed a desire because some life stressor caused them to fix a part of themselves that wasn’t happy.

Now, everyone may not have a bad habit that is as addictive as these, but we’ve all fallen into a trap of bad habits due to stress, or the need to find happiness.

Being stressed makes me irritable, and causes me to be anxious. Where do my bad habits come in? Stress causes me to not be the kindest to my husband when he doesn’t meet MY expectation of coming home and immediately greeting me in a certain way, when he’s had a really stressful day at work and just wants 5 minutes to decompress. My bad habit has been me nagging him to immediately talk to me about his day.

Stress causes me to spend hours unnecessarily rearranging the order of knick-knacks above my cabinets (yes, this actually happened recently) because I’m clearly stressed about something that I cannot pinpoint and its manifesting itself in my crazy OCD antics. My bad habit is feeding into this stress by being snippy with my family because they won’t leave me alone while I rearrange the house!

Stress causes me to want to go buy some materialistic possession that I do not need in order to fill the gaping wormhole of pressure that I usually feel in my chest and stomach, all to try to forget the reason I’m feeling so stressed out!

Stress causes me to bring my work woes home because if I have to fill out one more color coded data spreadsheet on my students, my eyes are going to bleed out green, red, and yellow. My bad habit is expecting my family to understand that I’m stressed at work and just to say and do the right things to not further that stress.

Stress causes me to lash out at my son when I have turn the car around at the end of the neighborhood to get Lamby because he forgot him on the sofa, and I’m just turning around so I don’t have to hear him crying and screaming all the way to school, and  now I think that being 2 minutes late to work now is going to be the end of the world. Stress causes me to go crazy! Yet, I continually blame others and situations around me for my stress, rather than looking within myself. My bad habit is expecting him to get why he cannot have the things he wants when he wants them.

A lot of these seem to come from expectations I have of other people.

Are these things and people CAUSING me stress? Or am I ALLOWING the stress to enter my life when I think these things and people haven’t met an expectation of mine?

My biggest bad habit seems to be me blaming other people, situations, and circumstances  to excuse my behavior. And when I’ve exhausted all of my excuses, I attempt to fix it and make my house spotless by frantically cleaning it, or I buy myself a new pair of Lula Roe leggings to make me feel better…but I still feel the same. My chest is still tight, my stomach is still in knots, and now it’s probably worse because I’ve made it worse by artificially trying to mend it.

I’m learning that it’s all a mindset. Let’s take the situations mentioned above.

YES, I continually blame others and situations around me for my stress, rather than looking within myself. Understanding myself. 

I think I’ve had it all backwards my whole life. It’s not THEM or the SITUATION, it’s me and how I’ve chosen to handle!

I need to take the blame at some point. The blame that I haven’t exactly done the things I needed to do to manage my stress. I’ve allowed the bad habits to take over. This is my year to take back control. To give it to God, and do my part to keep the stress away, or at least significantly reduced. Because, let’s face it, life is always going to happen. We can’t help the things that came our way, the hardships, but we can control how we handle them and how we let it dictate our lives and the choices we make. 

My goal for this year is to present myself in a new way, to find a way to manage my stress with HEALTHY habits so that I become and am the person that I want to be, who is not dictated by stress and anxiety.

If I set out on this journey to “fix” and manage my stress, I wanted to understand a few things. What is stress? Why am I this anxious worrier? And the biggest one, What am I going to do about it?

I hope you’ll join me on my journey this year. This is my path to becoming Happier. A Happier wife. A Happier mother. A Happier teacher. A Happier Christian. And a Happier human, in the face of a world which persists to constantly erode my optimism.

This will be a series of posts I hope to do throughout the year as I manage a Happier, Healthier me.

Phase one for me has been understanding a little of who I am at my very core. My faults, habits, quirks, and personality. We are all engineered differently and beautifully designed by our Creator. Still, those differences can be overwhelming. We try so hard to understand the world around us, yet, how hard do we try to understand ourselves, if at all? I think understanding the kind of people we are help us to manage our daily lives. Think about it. We attempt to understand our children so that we can better care to their needs. I long to learn my son so that I can foster him to grow up to be successful and a positive member of society. I love studying his personality, what he responds to, what motivates him, even his bad habits, so that I can help to make them better! I know that my son craves structure, he likes schedules, and he needs to know the reason behind nearly everything he does. If I didn’t know this about him, our parenting world would be a lot more hectic than it already is! Instead, it operates a little more smoothly because we’ve tried really hard to “get” him.

As a teacher, I attempt to know the kids in my class as best as I can in the short period of time that we have together. I know that student A responds better when I give him praise, rather than criticism. Conversely, I know that student B responds better with that criticism, because it motivates him to want to do better. I know that student C likes competition so I’m always thinking of creative ways for her to compete academically so that she continues to grow and be challenged within herself. If I didn’t take this time to get my students then I feel like our schoolyear together would be wasted, and that I’d done nothing to effect change in them. Forget learning, I want them look back at their time in 3rd grade and think wow, she really got me! Because ONLY then, can learning really happen.

But, that’s true for everything in life.

To learn, we must learn.

That sounds a lot more existential than I intend. Read it again.

If you want to learn more about all the craziness in your life try learning a bit about yourself and how you operate.

Why is this important? Because while we are here on earth, human relationships and their meaningfulness mean so much! Those relationships penetrate every part of us, and the people we become. But those human relationships can be negatively impacted if we don’t at least attempt to understand ourselves, too, and if we allow our poor habits to continue.

Get to know yourself, and you’ll understand what makes you tick, what you need to stay sane, and what you don’t need.

In my quest to be happier, I really wanted to start with my relationships with others, and keeping those stress-free, specifically thinking of my family here, but it applies to all relationships. I want to be less stressed and more intentional in all aspects of my life. To start this journey, I set out to learn my Tendency when it comes to expectations of other people, and within myself. So, I took The Four Tendencies quiz. The Four Tendencies is a short quiz that helps you to learn about your habits and how you respond to those expectations you put on yourself and others. I don’t know about you, but much of my work stress comes from how I set the bar too high for myself and am constantly stretching myself. Which isn’t a bad thing, but I’m never satisifed with the work I’ve done and so I’m always putting in more hours, and aiming higher…which has, in the past, been at the expense of my family. Working late, stressing about work, checking emails at home, it’s all a bad habit. 

The Four Tendencies was created by Gretchen Rubin (Who has become one of my most recent favorite people–stay tuned in another post!) What makes her an expert? Gretchen has dedicated her writing career to studying happiness, habits, and human nature. She’s written a best selling book, Better Than Before, and she even has a Podcast called Happier! 

Stress can lead us to bad habits, she says.

Each person, according to Gretchen, falls into 1 of 4 categories–sometimes falling in between 2 categories.

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

Rubi_9780385348614_roughpages_8.25.14.indd

I encourage you to take her Four Tendencies quiz to see where you fall. It’s completely free and takes about 5 minutes. I bet you already know what I put for #1! 🙂  Once you take the quiz, it will email you more in depth results (FREE). It will ask you to put in your email for a more detailed description, however, you can very easily unsubscribe after you receive it.

I will soon be purchasing Gretchen’s book when it comes out in September, that further explains these Four Tendencies and goes into depth about them.

My tendency is the Obliger, which describes me perfectly!

screenshot-2017-02-10-at-3-35-06-pm

 

Striking Pattern of Obligers: Obliger-rebellion. Obligers will meet, meet, meet, meet expectations — and then suddenly, they snap, and refuse to meet an expectation. This can be a symbolic, small act, or a hugely explosive act.

My husband has gotten frustrated with me for not getting the oil changed in my car on time, or for not calling about a doctor’s appointment.  He gets frustrated, then I get defensive, and it can create a stressful situation. I absolutely need accountability and deadlines to operate. Tell me to do something by a deadline and, yeah, I got it. Leave it open ended and….I may let you down.

I am so guilty of the striking pattern of Obligers. I will work so hard and do exactly what I need to do and then when I’m at my wits end, I’m done! No more! Because I took this quiz weeks ago, I decided, to help with my Tendency, that I wasn’t going to check my email anymore at when I got home. I haven’t been great at this 100% of the time, but I’ve done much better and am trying to hold myself more accountable at this.  I decided to use my time at home to be with my family and ENJOY them, without work in my electronic back pocket.

This is setting me on the path not to place blame elsewhere, but to place the action back on myself to know what I need from myself not to allow stress to creep up!

I am a victim of burnout, especially at work, but I’ve really had to take a step back. And, since I clearly operate on deadlines, I’ve had to set myself a goal of leaving work at a particular time. This allows me more time with my family, and has made it so that I do not get home so late and I can actually go running and attend yoga classes, which have been so relaxing. (More on these later!)

I hope you stay with me on this journey, and take some of the tips I will offer you. Meanwhile, I would love to know what your Tendency is! Do you find it to be accurate? Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?

Here’s to a life (not just a year) less stressed! More focused. More intentional. More kind. HAPPIER.

 

 

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