The 5 Things You Can Do to Cope with Stressful Life Events

  

I spent the final month before returning to work alternating between mixed emotions (Excited! Sad! Scared! Happy! Yes! No!) about going back to work.

I kept myself busy and constantly reminded myself to focus on the present moment and just enjoy my time with the kids.  What is the point of trying to anticipate what something will be like, before you get there?

My brain was a mix of

—–

Okay B!  1-2-3 Catch! *throws beach ball to daughter”

(omg how do I sort out childcare, what if one of them is sick? Will my bosses think I am not committed to work if I have to peace out and get sick kids home? How come I am the one getting my kids ready before I go to work? My husband should be doing that before he goes to work to (other feminist / equal parenting ranting, blablabla))

NO!  FOCUS!  You are playing catch!

(but what about dropoff at 8am how do I get ready for that with 2 kids)

NO!  THROW THE BALL TO YOUR DAUGHTER!

——

I was also confused by the greater sadness this time around, which is why I wrote this previous post where I deconstructed my sadness about going back to work. 

 

It turns out, that returning to work last week was really a minor event in the week that was the first week of May.

Just days after I arrived back in the office a few things happened:

-There was a massive fire in a city north of us.  My firefighter husband went to fight the fire, leaving me scrambling for childcare (I wound up booking a few days off work) and handling the nights / mornings / days solo as I adjusted back to commuting, etc.

-My sister in law and husband got evacuated from the fire and came down to see us in Calgary.

-While my husband was away, his sister was dealing with the evacuation, his parents had a medical emergency on their cruise in Mexico.  Long story short, his dad was transported back to Canada via air ambulance in poor health.

-My university became a housing centre for evacuees and I took a full day to work with them – lots of charged emotions among people.

 

***No big deal, right?

 

I kind of giggle now because what the hell was I so worried about with going back into work?

There were WAY bigger things that happened last week in our life.   It certainly put things into perspective.

You think an elephant in the room is big, but wait until 3 or 4 MAMMOTHS walk into the room beside it. Then you don’t even worry about the elephant.

 

So today’s post is just a little bit about how to cope with mega-stressful situations, because there’s a few tools in my toolkit here, since this is NOT my first rodeo with natural disasters, being a firefighting family and sick family members.


Five Ways to Cope When You Are Faced with Big Life Events

1.) Staunchly commit to a daily practice of something you enjoy.

My self-care practice is running.  Last night I barely had time to do anything but I committed to a 2km (15 minute) run. Just 15 minutes.  That’s what you’d spend cleaning the kitchen and unloading the dishwasher.

You know how on airplanes you get the whole talk about if the oxygen masks drop down, do yours first? When the shit hits the fan, put your self care right up there on the list.

This is easier said than done. We have been strongly conditioned to see self care as selfish and vain.  Even writing this I felt a twinge of guilt, the fear that someone would read this and think “how can she go for a run when her family needs her.”  As I struggle with this thinking, as I type this sentence letter by letter, I remember that after my run last night I came home in a good mood and while my husband was at the hospital, I was able to read my toddler a book, give her a cuddle and a bottle, and operate as I usually would. I can tell you right now, if I didn’ thave some kind of pressure release or self care practice last night, it would have looked like me giving her the bottle and plopping her in the crib with a short, business-like demeanour.

2.)Realize that self-care can be small actions & try a new one.

(That you wouldn’t normally do.)  In our day to day operations, we have our “self-care” things here and there. Maybe an occasional massage.  Treat at the coffee shop, etc.

However, stressful times aren’t exactly day to day operations.  The stress is much greater.  Therefore, self-care needs to amp up a bit as well.  During the week of stress, I ran every day, even if it was downgraded to a walk or just 1-2 km.

You may push back with “I don’t have the time, the last thing I can do right now is self care.”  But I would ask you this.  In order to have a great stress response – and use the fight or flight response in your body effectively, you have to give it opportunities to exit out of the fight or flight response and relax a bit, before going into the next one.

The fight or flight response in your body, emotional state, and mental state is amazing.  It allows you to operate at your best in truly difficult situations.  But it is only meant to fire off for short bursts of time.

If it is switched on for extended periods, it wears you down, compromises your immune system, mental state, emotional state, physical state.

To keep it running at its best, give it breaks. Even if it’s an hour massage, reading a magazine, watching a tv show, having a nap, or whatever activity floats your boat and distracts you.

3.) Begin to frame each stressor differently.

Think of them as using different “Muscles.”

I used to do a type of workout called CrossFit which is an absolutely bonkers workout that pushes you to muscle fatigue.  If we had a workout with squats, a core movement and an arm movement, it was easy to go into “I am overall all exhausted.”  The one thing that always got me through it was to think “ok, my legs are shattered after those 10 squats, BUT I am switching to pushups now, I am using different muscles now, fresh muscles.”

Through the workout, I’d remember that as I switched to each movement – that this particular muscle group had been given a brief break and were ready to go again.

You can do this with stressors.  Think as one stressor as using your legs.  One stressor as using your arm muscles.

 

Before I ran last night I was feeling high strung and more on edge than usual

(and my right eye was twitching.  Eye twitching is so incredibly annoying.)

I took note of which things were stressing me:

-My beautifully organized childcare plan for May falling apart.
 -Worrying that my bosses were questioning my dedication to my role with all of this time off.
 -Feeling emotionally tired out from dealing with upset evacuees all day (I am very sensitive to other people’s energies and read auras.

 

These are all things I will just straight up have to deal with in the next few days when we begin to sail into calmer waters and adjust the sails.

I decided that the childcare plan uses my “logistical brain muscles,” worrying about what my bosses will think about my dedication uses my “core value muscles” and feeling emotionally tired out uses my “empathy muscles.”

Each of these stressors places different demands on me in different areas.  By separating them out and thinking about how they use different facets, it made me feel less “globally overwhelmed” and not as drained as I move to a different task.

4.)  Turn to humour.

It could be the fact we carry British genes & we Brits love our black humour, but all of our lives, in stressful events both my brother and I always turned to hilarious youtube videos, reddit feeds, and other random things that made us laugh. Monty Python’s Life of Brian, “Always look on the bright side of life” singsong is a classic for us Brits.

During heightened stress, if I sit down to hit the Facebook or the Instagram, I also make a point to find some funny videos to watch.  There is something about having a good laugh, -for just one moment – that is therapeutic.  It releases as much steam as a good cry.  You feel so much better afterwards.  If anything, your sense of humour becomes enhanced in stressful times.  You are quicker and easier to laugh at something stupid when you are tired.  Maybe it’s because the body knows we need to laugh?

Laughter physiologically undoes the fight-or-flight response.  Did you know that?

In fact,

Philosopher John Morreall believes that the first human laughter may have begun as a g­esture of shared relief at the passing of danger.

5.) Be open with people about what you are going through.

As a supremely open person, I do have to remind myself that people have varying degrees of privacy.  But here’s what it is like to be open:  Talking about something a few times with someone else helps you process it and removes the power from that event.  It’s like draining the battery on your phone.  The longer you have your phone out, interacting with it, the faster the battery drains.   The more you have your heart out, sharing it with other people, the faster the emotional charge drains.

Soon you just look at the event and think “yeah, that sucked” but without the lip tremble, the tears in the eyes, or the tightness in the chest.

 

Another thing that helps with being open is it removes the situation where we have an “invisible background.”  Do you remember when I talked about worrying that my bosses would think I am not dedicated?  That is a great example.  It WOULD be a problem if they didn’t understand the background of my situation.  It would be a problem if I was not open with them.

 

If I had not shared what I am going through, for sure they would notice (and not in a positive way) having to adjust my hours to leave early, taking two days off, having to leave a meeting to answer my phone, being cooped up in my office at lunch.

But they know that background.  I made sure it was not invisible.

They know that when I look at my phone in a meeting, it is because I am keeping tabs on messages coming in updating me on how my father in laws surgery went in the hospital, when I am cooped up in my office at lunchtime, it is because I am talking to my husband in Fort McMurray.

When I take a day off, it’s because I couldn’t throw together childcare in a moments’ notice for an entire day for a baby and a toddler (and that’s what our family days off are for anyways.)

 

 

My friends know that I”ve been through some big ass life events in the last few years  and I did consistently get comments like “how do you get through all of this ok” “how do you stay so positive?”  “How do you cope with all of this.”  Aside from having a positive attitude (and I suspect a fairly positive “set point”) it really comes down to these five items.

 

I am also a positive realist.  Here’s the thing.  All of us have parents now who are approaching their 60s and 70s.  We are soon going to be initiated into that stage of life where our parents get cancer, get sick, have medical emergencies, possibly pass away.  I don’t mean to be fatalist, but these things are going to happen.  The first time they happen, it SUCKS.  It’s just an initiation by emotional fire.  The second time, the third time, you start gaining tools to cope and these five above are an example of those tools.  And each time you go through the fire, you become a bit stronger, a bit more skilled in self care, and a bit more resilient.

 

Shit is going to hit the fan in our lives, and sometimes several piles of shit hit the fan, like this week.  But we all get through it.  We all survive and come out of the other end a better person.  We manage to quell the fight or flight response with some extra self care after the fact to “come down” from the fight or flight response.

 

Big stuff is going to happen to us in our lives.  Do we want to go into crisis mode each and every time it happens and fall apart?  Or do we want to take the chance to develop some coping skills, become stronger and  be better prepared for the next time it is going to happen? Because it will.

 

Xo

 

Carina

 

 

 

 

 
 

Celebrating Mothers’ Day Without Your Mum

Well my lovelies, it has been a busy week!  It is mothers’ day here in Canada and I have finally had the chance to drink some wine, eat some dark chocolate, watch some tv and get cozy under a throw blanket. It is a delicious feeling. At the moment I have two purring cats slumped across my legs.  They are my original “babies” and I am happy to oblige with extra love and cuddles for them tonight.

Today was a simple mothers’ day as I am at home holding down the fort while my husband is out of town fighting a large wildfire that is happening up here in Canada.

I’ll tell you what though,  the simplicity of today was spectacular.  We started our morning by going down to a favourite cafe situated in a historical building in the middle of a provincial park. I drank coffee with friends, both new and old, while our children romped in the sunshine.

After a huge nap for all three of us (fresh air does that!) we joined a wonderful friend and her little ones for a walk in the rain.  Between toddlers melting down, pee accidents, the rain falling as we walked to the mall to get pizza, and fussy babies we were able to catch up and just laugh at the mayhem of two mamas alone with their children on mothers’ day.

Today could have been any average day, mothers’ day brings about a special mindfulness and form of gratitude.  It added something special to the air today.

I’ve done something different on this springtime day each year – but there is one thing that has remained the same in 2014, 2015 and 2016. I do the same thing each mothers’ day of each year. I write one particular facebook message that is special.  I write on my mum’s facebook wall. Just like many of you do, except there’s a slight difference:

 

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You see, my mum passed away in June 2013 after an 18 month fight against lung cancer and brain mets.

I only started this blog this year, and you know what? I think I have only been ready to write about such an personal topic without raw emotion taking over, in the last year or so.

But it’s a wonderful feeling knowing I can sit here, 3 years later and write this blog with happiness in my heart and the warmth of fond memories that are fun to share.  I was able to enjoy some wine and look through my Mum’s Facebook – at albums and pictures she tagged me in before getting to this post.

When my Mum passed I inherited all of her social media accounts and passwords, which was weird, because we truly live a “real life” and an “online life” – I felt like I had gotten the key to her diary or something like that.  I decided to keep her facebook up, as she was so extroverted, vivacious and loved sharing stories, adventures and updates. We decided t cremate and skip the whole solemn grave-in-the-dirt thing, so I look at Facebook as a modern version of a grave.  And it’s a well-decorated and upkept grave, with friends and family dropping by to visit, share memories and post pictures.  It’s lovely!

I’ve done really well with recovery from grief and negotiating life with two small children without my Mum – who was truly my best friend.  I went through some bumps early in the process. Grief hit me hard with the simultaneous birth of my first child and loss of my mum. I went on SSRIs and worked with a psychologist to get through the intensity of it all, as well as some PTSD symptoms.  But I did well.  I confidently manage the life-long journey that is losing a parent early, and embrace the 5% of days that suck, they’re as important to me as the 95% of great days. I honour them, let them happen and let the tears flow.  Then the next day, I get up, give thanks for everything in this precious life and continue on with a smile on my face.

When it comes to my Mum, I have no doubt our souls spent many life times together before this one, having an absolute blast in each one.  I believe we travel in soul groups through each life time.  You know who I’m talking about.  That friend or family member that you have this incredible bond with, that cannot be described on paper, or in a blog post.  It’s just there.  You know them.  You get them.

This is why, when my mum was in her final days, she didn’t need to talk about any big stuff or conclude any business. We didn’t really have any ” big chats.” We just did things like snort with laughter over what coffin we’d pick out and watch my husband paint blue sparkly nail polish on her toes and play a twisted version of beer pong, but with her 25 different pills and her pill box.

She was confident in the knowledge that our connection transcended the physical and that she’d still be around in a different form, helping me along.  Her spiritual beliefs were leaps and bounds ahead of mine, but I Like to think I’ve caught up at this point, and it’s not only because of all the weird shit that happens, that reminds me she is around, and that it is not possibly a coincidence.

We joked a lot about her not doing any “creepy haunting ghost stuff” and just to do nice things like flicker the lights (which she does, with her himalayan salt lamp that is in our kids’ room) or send butterflies, or cute animals, or play Coldplay music.

This is what makes life in motherhood easier without my Mum.  The eternal connection that transcends our current physical existence.

Every time I get stuck with parenting, I look up to the sky and out loud say “what would Cathy do.” or “Mum I need your advice!” I absolutely swear to you, each time, I get either an idea that pops into my head, or the issue sorts itself out without intervention needed.

The last time this happened, earlier this week, I was well and truly out of ideas on how to try and stop my daughter from ripping off her diaper and engaging in a poop time spectacular in her crib (GROSS.) We tried everything and she’d houdini out her diaper – no  tight pair of pants, shorts or backward onesie would stop her.

I finally said “agh, Mum, I need your advice on this one!”  Only a few hours later, I walked into the bathroom to get a bandaid, and there was a roll of medical tape sitting on the counter.  I totally forgot about the super strong tape that I’d owned for about 10 years.

Bam.  There it was.  Problem solved.  The tape appearing and the idea to tape down the diaper tabs.  Lo and behold, it solved the problem.

This is a daily occurrence in my household and the more I trust, and the more I ask, the more quickly the answers come through.  Who knows, perhaps it is the creative mind, the sheer coincidence that an answer or object came at the time I needed it – but I choose to think it is my mama helping out.

The first thing that makes it easier to experience motherhood without my mum is allowing her to answer my questions. I put my questions out there, and wait / stay open for the answer to arrive.

My god parents have been a beautiful presence in my life from my earliest fetus stage 🙂 and what eases the grief of loss, is knowing that other people knew that person too, that other people were witness to life with my Mum. When you tell a story, or share a memory, there is such deep comfort in the knowledge that the listener knows exactly what you are talking about.  They were there for that moment, or can understand it.  They get what you are talking about.

I read once that one of the greatest gifts of having a partner in life, is that they bear witness to your existence on this earth, and what you grace the earth with. 

I love that.  And I think that one of the greatest gifts when you lose a parent, is having people in your life who were witness to the life that you had with your parent.

My god mother, beyond the most reassuring, gentle talks,  gave me a series of books that have helped me continue to grow in my spirituality and gave me deep comfort as I tried to understand mortality in the wake of my mothers’ death.

I was baptized Church of England (Anglican) and went to Catholic School growing up, but was never particularly interested in religion.  My mum took us to Christmas eve mass once.  Half way through she leaned over and asked, whispering “I know this is the worst thing to say, but I’m bored, are you?”  My 10 year old brother and I giggled and nodded, and we snuck out… and then discussed the mortal sin we’d just committed over dairy queen in the car and promised to just be “good, happy, kind people” growing up 🙂

Despite my lack of religious structure, I developed deep spiritual beliefs over the years.  In my 20s I began to explore spirituality. I read books by Deepak Chopra, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle.  Each of these authors’ ideas span across (and apply to) every single religion. I truly believe each religion encompasses the same principles and each religion imparts the same messages – the only difference is the stories feature different characters, names and settings.  One story takes place in a desert, another in a forest.  One story takes place with a young mother, another with an old fisherman.

The spirituality I carry with me today transcends religion, yet encompasses them all.  For example, kindness.  Kindness appears in every religion.  It is featured in many stores, with many different characters, and names, and places and circumstances.  But it is a universal lesson that appears in all religions.

I’ve always believed books are given to you when you need them.  And when my god mother gave me a series of books by Dr. Brian Weiss, (Many Lives, Many Masters was the first I read) I was astounded.  I now realize the stage in my spiritual development that I needed in 2013, was a stage that would help me understand our mortality and life beyond our earthly shells.  These books were a great introduction, and exactly what I needed to begin questioning and understanding the journey of the soul through different lifetimes.

In the weeks leading up to receiving these books, and following my final night at the hospice, I had begun  to question the meaning and purpose of my mortal existence.  Going to a job each day, cooking meals, chatting with friends and family felt like going through the paces.  I knew it was grief, but I also knew that on a deeper level, there was a need to explore the meaning of my life and find something deeper than just going through the motions of eat, sleep, work, love, play.

Because I had just spent 30 exquisite yet heartbreaking days helping a 56 year old wrap up her life right in front of me.

Many Lives, Many Masters gave me some of those answers, and most of all gave me peace of mind by helping me explore my purpose here.

The second think that makes it easier to be a Mum when you have lost your own Mum, is taking some time to explore your spiritual beliefs and expose yourself to different thinkers & leaders.  Doing this let me make meaning of her life and my own. 

According to developmental psychology, when we enter our 30s, it is natural (and expected) that we = begin to explore spirituality and seek deeper meaning in our lives.

This is no doubt further accelerated by being witness to, and part of , the miracle of childbirth.  What a beautiful time to read some books by spiritual leaders and thinkers, and create our own understanding (that works for us) about what it means to be human, and the little human we are cradling will bring to our lives.

In many of these spiritual development books, there was a theme that came up again and again.  That we are eternal beings walking around in human bodies.  That like the earth, we are made up of cells that have a life and death cycle. We each come to this earth in an explosion of cell multiplication.  Our souls inhabit these bodies, tasked with undertaking learning and evolution – whatever form that may.  In whatever time we are assigned.  But have you ever noticed, that as a human, we can’t wrap our minds around time?

How many times this week have you looked at your children and asked “Where on earth is it going?”   How many times have you pulled up an old video on your iPhone and struggled to comprehend this small child in front of you, and the oily newborn eyes gazing at you from your iphone video you took in the hospital?

When you miss your mother, something comes up time and time again. You find yourself sharing stories, sharing memories and bringing your her up, as if she was just over for a visit yesterday.  Just like you do with your babies.  Sharing stories, memories and bringing their baby photos up.  Like it was yesterday.  Like they are still a newborn.

You catch yourself talking about her again and silently admonish yourself.  You catch yourself talking about your baby and showing old photos again and silently remind yourself not to.

Yet, there is importance in this.

Listen to yourself. What are the themes, the patterns that keep coming up in the stories about the parent you lost?

With my mum, I am constantly talking about her free spirit, her absolute love of travel, and exploration.  Her desire to enjoy learning all there was to learn about this world.

Her enthusiasm and zest for life was absolutely unbounded.  She was so damn happy.  Even when she wasn’t.  Does that make sense?  

Every day, every experience, right down to going to the grocery store, involved enthusiasm and excitement for what the day would bring.  If things went to shit, she’d fall apart in laughter.  If unexpected moments happened, she’d seize them with confidence and aplomb.  Even the simplest moments were full of gratitude.

Just looking at her posts on Facebook tonight, I was struck by one photo she posted of a bouquet of flowers she took to chemo with her one day.  Beautiful red roses.  I forgot about that day until I saw the photo.

That day, she would grab the nurses’ hands and tell them to stop rushing, to pause with her and take a smell of the roses. I remember it so well. That was Cathy.

Do you sense the themes?   They come up again and again in the stories of Cathy. That time we were in Dubai in the desert and blew a tire.  That time she accidentally dropped a huge watermelon at Lake Bonavista Safeway and exploded into a fit of uncontrollable laughter as it rolled across the floor.  That time we let off fireworks off her tiny balcony into the English channel as the police looked for the perpetrators, or lit paper lanterns into the British night sky and people reported UFOs in the paper the next day.

Our mortal selves miss the physical presence of someone – there is no doubt.  My mortal chest still aches – but the beauty of legacy is that it never goes away.  Legacy doesn’t live in our chest cavity.  It lives in our soul and penetrates much deeper than our hearts. It brings warmth to our very bones, to the depths of our beings.

Being able to uphold my mothers’ legacy through my own actions,words and thoughts, is almost as great as hanging out with her in person.  It brings so much more meaning to my life.

Each day is a conscious commitment to enjoying life, living in the moment and letting myself be enthused about the simplest things, like a good cup of coffee or a romp in the sunshine with my children, which is exactly what we did this morning. Cathy lives on through her legacy, in my time with my children.  Some days I don’t even know I am doing it, until I catch my husband watching me with that look on his face, and he smiles.

The third thing that has made it easier to get over the death of my mother and embrace my own motherhood is defining – and continuing – my mum’s legacy, and passing it onto my own children through my own words and actions. 

Every year, when I lovingly write “happy mummy’s day!” on Facebook, it is written with a little less sadness and a much bigger smile. I spend a bit longer perusing old photo albums, laughing at ridiculous things she posted on her wall, and feel less guilty about talking about her again to my friends.

Every year, my children get to know the brilliant woman that was Cathy, and understand that she is still here in spirit and in legacy, my daughter even refers to her as the “happy ghost.”

And each year, as I journey further into motherhood, I feel more confident, knowing that she’s by my side, boosting me up and giving me advice and support in all of the sneaky little ways that only she would do –  that our mortal minds can’t begin to comprehend.

Happy mothers’ day.  You are never alone.

xo

 

Carina