I love lists. Always have. I mean, how else are you supposed to know what you need to do? And is there anything more satisfying than crossing something off the list; showing that you have accomplished what you set out to do?!?
Here’s the problem: When I get stressed, I cope by making lists. It’s how I try to regain control. It’s my particular method for making sense out of the senseless. The problem is that my lists tend to get a little out of control. The more stressed I get, the more I add to the list. So you might be able to imagine the size of the list I started creating at the beginning of the month. It felt like all of the uncertainty I had been managing in a very healthy way since February all of a sudden was unsurmountable. It all built and built until I was one miserable, stressed out, cranky mess who had a list a mile long and absolutely zero chance of checking everything off in the amount of time I had deemed was appropriate.
My poor, poor husband. His normally very calm, very even keeled wife turned into an absolute bear to be around. Mind you, he didn’t say this (he’s not stupid)… but I’m also self aware enough to know that if I didn’t want to be around me, he problem didn’t, either. So we sat down and talked about what was going on with me and he basically said (for the millionth time), that I put too much on myself and it might be helpful to just cut the list in two and save some for later, or prioritize it, or… something. Can’t it all wait?
My immediate response was “NO!” It’s all important! It’s all stuff that needs to get done! If I don’t do it, who will?!?
However, the next day after meditation, I had this thought hit in a way it never had… “What if there was no list?”
And it felt like a weight being lifted off my shoulders. And it got me thinking about coping mechanisms.
At what point do they become more harmful than helpful? At what point do they perpetuate the underlying problem? When do they shift from being healthy to being the thing that just keeps us too busy or preoccupied or numb to deal with what’s actually going on? And when we let ourselves dive too deeply into these coping strategies, what do we lose?
So, I’m doing an experiment. I’m only going to check my list once a week for the rest of the year. Even writing that makes my stomach knot up. But I’ve forgotten something I learned after a couple years of meditating- that when I trust my instincts, trust my gut about what feels like the right thing to do in any given moment, I’m so much happier and my days flow so smoothly. Instead of being anxious and feeling like I’m letting everyone down, I somehow get more done than I ever thought I could. I know this is because of meditation- of getting very in tune with my higher self and learning how to listen to that still voice within. But when I get stressed, that voice gets muffled by all the angry, scared, and confused other voices that we all have within us. So I’m going to try to get back to listening to the wiser voice underneath all the chatter. It’s not going to be easy, and I’m going to have to be diligent with my meditation practice if I have any hope of succeeding, but I’m going to try now that I’ve realized how destructive my list writing coping strategy has become.
What I want to suggest to all of you is to take a hard look at whatever you are doing to cope with the stress that exists in your life. Whatever it is- look at it, even those things that might be considered positive. Exercise is good, right? Not if you’re doing it for two hours every single day and feel like you NEED it in order to be ok. Watching TV isn’t that bad for you…unless you are binge watching show after show after show… what are you avoiding thinking about? Eating is a common one- either eating super duper healthy (worried about every morsel of sugar or carb you might ingest) or throwing caution to the culinary wind (i.e. eating every bag of potato chips in sight).
Just take a moment to really look at what you’re doing to get through these times. What’s working? What’s not? You don’t have to give up your coping mechanism entirely, just make sure it’s truly helping, not just enabling you to gloss over and avoid, or letting you funnel your anxiety elsewhere (as in my case). And remember- you’re not in this alone. When in doubt, reach out. Talk to a friend, a loved one, a counselor. So often when we feel like we have no where to go, it’s because we’ve forgotten that there are always helpers out there, just waiting for us to seek them out.
Love & Light,