Stress management?

Yoga Class at a Gym

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After work this afternoon (evening?) I went to the gym, thinking my the speed work I had scheduled today would be best done on the treadmill.  About twenty minutes into my workout, a woman came up to me to let me know she’d reserved the treadmill I was on for the next half-hour.  That half-hour was still fifteen minutes off, so she was just politely letting me know about her reservation.  The news irritated me, though.  To be clear, I wasn’t irritated at her; rather, I was irritated at myself because I thought I’d reserved the treadmill I was on (I had, apparently, signed up for the one next to me), and irritated at the gym in general for getting so crowded.  By the time this woman’s half-hour rolled around, there were people waiting in lines to get on the treadmills so even though I’d signed up for the one next to the one I was on, I cut my workout short to give other people a chance to get their exercise in.  Had I been in their position, I wouldn’t have appreciated someone going from one treadmill to another to continue a workout they’d already been at for forty minutes.  But I was still really annoyed about the whole thing, and as I went to the locker room, I realized that I wasn’t just annoyed, I was actually angry.  I kind of wanted to just have a temper tantrum and start throwing my things on the ground and crying and yelling.  You know, because that’s the sort of mature young woman I am.

I didn’t have a tantrum, though.  Instead, I took a step back and considered how upset I was getting over doing two 1-mile repeats at 10k pace instead of three.  And that’s when I realized that the workout was not the problem.  The problem was that I wasn’t acknowledging the fact that there are things going on right now that are stressing me out, making me upset, and generally giving me a hard time.  My failure to recognize these feelings and honor them was what led me to want to act out so dramatically.  And while it’s true that I’m much happier these days than I’ve been in a long time, stress is pretty much unavoidable these days.  Unless you happen to be a hermit.  And even then, well, I don’t know.  You still might get stressed.  All you can really do is make an effort to handle your stress in a manner that’s productive and, possibly, somewhat stress-reducing.

Easier said than done, though, right?  You can be fully aware of the importance of stress management and still not be able to bring yourself to do it.  Here’s an example: if you’ve been reading this blog for the past few weeks, you’re probably aware of the fact that I’ve fallen off the yoga wagon.  I love yoga!  But for the past month, maybe even couple months, I’ve been telling myself I don’t have time for it, I’m too tired, it will interfere with my running schedule, etc.  Yoga, along with running, is the most effective stress management technique I have.  But it also forces me to be more in touch with my emotions than running does.  So what’s really been going on for the past few weeks?  I’ve been avoiding yoga so that I could avoid all the ugly stuff going on that’s stressing me out.

This is not an effective stress management technique.

So this evening, I did some yoga for 30 minutes.  I feel a lot better.  Still stressed, but calmer about it, if that makes sense.  The thing about managing stress is that in order to do it, you have to be willing to face the stress head on.  You can’t cope effectively with something if you’re not willing to admit that it exists, and that it’s a problem.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve had time for yoga, but instead of taking advantage of that time, I’ve found ways to blow it off.  It’s like emotional eating–you can sit there and eat cookies and for a few minutes, you might forget about what’s bothering you and feel better.  But once you put the cookies away, you’re still going to feel crappy (and probably guilty because of all the cookies you ate).  I’ve been watching tv shows, messing around on the internet, and doing everything except putting on a yoga podcast and sitting with my stress for a while.  And I’ll be honest, confessing all of this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll start practicing yoga every day and stop wasting time doing dumb things like internet shoe-window-shopping.  But at least I can recognize a pattern, which is a big step forward.

Do you try to confront and experience your stress or do you prefer to try to avoid it?

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  1. Good job on the yoga :). It’s been like two weeks for me, but anyway… hopefully I’ll get back there tomorrow for it! It definitely puts you in touch with your emotions more than running, especially running speed because when I run fast, I’m only focusing on the running and getting done, rather than thinking about anything.

    Sorry about your breakdown over the treadmill. Having a time limit would suck… but at least it let you get your yoga in and realize what’s happening with your stress factor lately… so maybe it wasn’t so bad.


  2. I discovered late in high school that if I ignored the bad things that I was feeling they would find a way out, usually in the form of really nasty panic attacks. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I learned my lesson, and they still come back to haunt me from time to time. The past year was probably the most stressful in my entire life (graduating from law school, ending a four year relationship, taking the bar exam, finding a job, and moving across the country) and the only way I made it through was acknowledging all of the difficult things I was feeling (fear, anger, grief, desperation, confusion, etc.) and finding (mostly) healthy ways to experience and release those feelings. Now that my life is more stable, I’m working on developing healthier habits, so that I’m better prepared when faced with hard times.

    Also, in the middle of the worst of it (i.e. right after taking the bar exam) I nearly had a temper tantrum in the middle of Dulles Airport (my connecting flight was canceled, I was stranded, so hungry, and more exhausted than I’ve been in a long time). I wanted to cry and throw things. I nearly burst into tears in the luggage area. But I did what I’ve been learning to do, which is just let go of the situation, face the reality of it, and salvage what I can (which meant calling some good friends at 1 am, begging to crash on their couch and taking a $75 cab ride).

    The point is, I know how you feel. In the short run it’s always easier to hide my darker feelings. I’m not very good at even admitting that I feel certain negative emotions. But in the long run, it always bites me in the ass. Knowing this about myself doesn’t mean I make the right choices even most of the time, but it’s a start.

  3. FRemember when the Y had 30-minute time limits and you had to sign up for a machine? They don’t do that anymore and it’s okay! You handled all of that really well. Good for you!

  4. Crowded gyms are annoying, no matter what mood you’re in.

    I have to tell you I just needed to read that blog. When I am stressed out, I rarely look at the whole picture, but rather focus on one thing (usually not the one which carries the problem). It is happening right now, and I need to face it too. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Emilie.

  5. I’m definitely recognizing this pattern in my life as well. I finally realized that by dealing with my stress, I end up with LOTS of free time. It doesn’t seem like feeling stressed should take up any time, but it does. The freedom has been so nice!

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