Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mental games and stress

Stef posted a great spark blog yesterday about how most of this journey is mental. I couldn't agree more! I think a lot of people are overweight because they have trouble overcoming mental demons. These demons don't necessarily have to be something *negative* that happened to you - like a death in the family, abusive relationship, etc. It could seriously just be that you are in school, working and trying to be the best girlfriend/friend/sister/daughter that you can be and so your priorities are off. Even for those people and everyone else, it all boils down to how much you value yourself and your health. No matter how much you love yourself, there will be times that you put your health and your basic needs behind something else.

I bring all of this up because I fight these mental demons every day. There are many reasons I gained so much weight, but all of them somehow tie back to the central theme that I didn't think I was worth it. I always thought I'd never be happy. I thought since I'd suffered through so many hard situations that my life was meant to be miserable. I kept myself so busy that I couldn't focus on how miserable I was. Instead of focusing on the one thing that I was in absolute control of - my health - I would drown myself in school or work or my friends - all things that I have some control over, but not complete control. As you can imagine, trying to control things that can't 100% be controlled is stressful. I was addicted to stress and I thought stress was the ONLY way I would accomplish anything. In college, I took the maximum amount of classes and worked the maximum amount of hours at two jobs so that I would always be busy. I thought that by never giving myself a chance to relax and calm down meant I would be more successful. "I work best when I'm slammed" I would tell people. "Deadlines are my best friend" I would brag when people asked me how I did so much at the same time. Admittingly, in college this did work for me because I wanted a college education more than anything in life. I wanted to make money to live.

But now that I'm out of college, stress doesn't do the same thing to me. Stress makes me crazy. Stress makes me sad. Stress makes me eat. And realizing that stress does that to me NOW makes me realize that stress did the same things to me back then. I am an emotional eater. That took me such a long time to realize and to be able to admit - but I'm an emotional eater. And I certainly was an emotional eater back in college. I worked so hard that I *deserved* to treat myself. I was too busy to make meals at home so I would eat out for every meal. And when I had even a little downtime to relax, my favorite way was with a bottle of wine, my couch and my DVR. I was working so hard at accomplishing all these other things in life, that I let the ONE thing I could control - my health - fall by the wayside and become a creature of my stress.

It seriously wasn't until a few months ago that I started focusing on my stress and realizing that I HAD to control my stress if I wanted to be healthy. And when I started putting all these pieces together and realizing what stress really is for me that I decided I wouldn't let it control me anymore. So I began thinking about HOW I become stressed. WHY am I typically stressed. WHAT can I do to avoid the stress all together. And WHEN I'm stressed, what can I do - instead of eating or freaking out that can alleviate the stress.

So HOW do I get stressed? I feel stress when I don't feel in control of what's around me. I feel stress when there are a lot of things to be done and I don't have a plan. I feel stressed when I don't fulfill my plans. I feel stress when I'm not confident (because that's what stress is - a lack of confidence).

WHY am I typically stressed? Lately the main source has been work or my apartment. I have this ridiculous ambition in my head to have a perfect apartment where nothing is ever out of place and anytime that someone wants to come over on the drop of a hat, the apartment will be perfect (This desire comes from growing up in a house that was a wreck ALL the time and we could never have people over because it was so dirty.)

WHAT can I do to avoid? I've learned that I can make a routine and I can choose how I spend my time. Instead of watching TV for hours at night after work, I can make a plan to complete small tasks each day and watch them accumulate and add up. How can my apartment get dirty if I spend 15 minutes a day picking it up? I've also learned to be realistic and lower my expectations of myself. I'm not perfect. Making a to-do list 25 items long for one day won't help me get anything done. Being realistic and recognizing I need to balance work and play will make me a successful and much happier person.

WHEN I feel stress - I can exercise. Because I've decided to make exercise my outlet for stress instead of eating. Also - because exercise is a natural destresser, this works perfectly.

I bring all of this up, because like I said.. I fight these demons every day. And while now, I'm MUCH better about managing my stress and preventing my stress - it doesn't always work perfectly. Also I've become much better about exercising instead of eating when I do feel stressed. But like I said, I'm not perfect.

Yesterday - I felt very very stressed out for the first time in months. I felt very out of control and I found myself taking back to my old habits - making list upon list of everything that needs to get done. Planning to give up my lunch break to go home and clean. Wanting to skip my exercise for the day so I could do more that night. I confided all of this in a fabulous friend of mine and she helped me to calm down and be realistic about what needed to be done. We made a list and I decided to enjoy my lunch break and go shopping for clothes - something I've been doing a lot lately as I have no clothes in my new, smaller size for winter! I decided to tackle my projects when I got home later that day.

When I got home, my fantastic and amazing boyfriend had already started doing many of the things on my to-do list and I hadn't even told him what I was stressed about yet. He called me on the way home from his job, asked how my day was going, I told him I was stressed out but not why and knowing this, and knowing me.. he started doing the things that needed to be done. He emptied and reloaded the dishwasher. He started unpacking the boxes of his and my stuff (from his apartment) that are in my living room right now. And when I got home, we sat down and talked about everything I was stressed about and I felt SO much better. I realized that I could continue to be a nazi and tackle my to-do list and work all night - or I could enjoy my night with him and realize that not everything needs to be done that day. And that's exactly what we did. I will admit, I didn't eat well last night. Knowing that I couldn't eat out but also knowing that I didn't want to cook - we went to target and I picked up a frozen meal - Amy's cheese enchiladas. The healthiest thing possible? No. But did I go wild and eat away my stress? No. We also picked up a bag of oreos, and while I had many many more than my fair share - I know that it was contained to just one night and we threw away the rest of the bag. I even picked up a bottle of wine, but got home and decided I didn't need it and put it away in my wine fridge. We watched biggest loser and talked and after it was done, I folded my laundry, picked up the apartment, washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen and even read for 45 minutes before bed. All in all, it was a fantastic night. Am I sad I didn't exercise? Well yes, but I also know myself and I know that if I had pushed full steam ahead last night I would be miserable today. I'm slowly learning that sometimes, I just need to stop what I'm doing and actually relax. No guilt associated. My to-do list will still be there for me the next day and life won't end because I didn't make someone a birthday card last night or go for a run.

So the lesson is that your mental demons are always, always going to be there. But you have the choice of listening to them or not. Some days you'll slay those demons - and other days you won't. That's why this is a lifestyle change - it's all about balance. If you have balance, there will be no binging. If you have balance, you will make every day the best you can and not fret over the days that didn't go 100% perfectly. In the end - if you make good decisions and put yourself and your health first, you'll come out the winner.

1 comment:

  1. Such a fabulous post chicky! The difference in you now, compared to a few months ago is incredible. You have really learned how to deal with your own mental demons and I think that this week was perfect evidence of how well you have learned to cope with your stress. I am so happy that you enjoyed your night the other day because I know that you needed it.

    It really is all about balance, and I could never put it as eloquently as you did. I also think that you should submit this post to spark-- you should be featured!!!