Modern Living: The Fine Art of Creating Health and Calm
In danger of losing your head?
So what's got you all stressed out?
Are you constantly short on time? Money? Do you never have any time to yourself, or do you feel guilty for wanting time alone? Are piles of lists and the familial cacophony of 'I want I want' making you lose your hair? Do the noise and crowds of the city make you feel claustrophobic?
Shhhhhh. It's okay. We'll take these one at a time and see if we can't clear a little corner of sanity in your world. Stress is a killer, physically and emotionally, but we aren't in a horror flick and even if we were, we would know to lock the damn door.
The fabled Money Tree
Number 1 Stressor: Money
Feel free to skip on over this one if you managed to land in a cradle lined with its very own trust fund. Enjoy the spoils and leave the rest of us to what I've come to call "sane budgeting."
First rule of Sane Budgeting: Keep the long view. If you have a tight month, don't automatically freak out. Plan ahead! If you're going to be 200 dollars in the red this month, invest in the really big bag of lentils at the market and plan on a frugal month next time. If you have a steady job and regular paycheck, this is a lot easier. If you're living a little more on the edge, you may want to sell an egg or something to fill the hole and give you a little cushion for the next month.
Second rule of Sane Budgeting: Live within your means. I suppose this one could also be called 'choose your luxuries wisely'. Authorial anecdote: I spent about 8 months living on 600 YTL/month and it really didn't suck nearly as much as you might think. I paid my rent in a big lump sum once or twice a year, and kept my utilities bills low (wore lots of sweaters). Made some great friends at a local bar, where I could then drink for free, and spent a lot of my free time reading and writing and doodling around. And yes, ate a lot of lentils. My chosen luxury for that period was taking 1 afternoon a week to go on little public transportation adventures. And man-o, did I have a lot of fun! I did not go to restaurants, didn't buy new clothes (although some friends and I organized monthly swaps, which were fun), and didn't have a particularly warm apartment. But whatevs.
Third rule of Sane Budgeting: Rock it like Shakespeare: neither a borrower nor lender be. That there is a great source of stress. To be avoided. If this isn't possible, as is the case on occasion, borrow as little as possible and set reasonable repayment deadlines. Being in debt to scary profit-seeking corporations is a super duper stress factor.
The 'Ish' method if time-keeping
How about the incessent ticking of the bloody clock?
Are you constantly running? Wide awake and anxious at 3 am? Always almost-just-barely on time? Or are you worried about all the accomplishments you'd hoped to have under your belt before you were thirty? Some parts of us are just born for admittedly pointless competitions and the accompanying sense of failure can be a painful distraction from your own life, your own projects, your own timelines.
If you can use that inherent competitive spirit for motivation, fantastic. If not, avoid all triggers until you can derive something positive from the whole experience. I've found that the section of the Bryn Mawr alumnae bulletin detailing the recent publications of faculty and alums is an excellent source of motivation, while the resulting competitive suck makes seeing certain chronically 'together' people a less than excellent idea when I'm lagging a bit.
And as for all the child prodigies out there, just stop worrying about it. You can get a lot more from a doctoral education as a 32-year-old who knows your own mind and has a lot of teaching experience than someone who is going straight from her undergraduate studies. We've all got our own timelines and priorities.
Speaking of priorities, they are the crucial component to ditching over-busy-related stress. The phrase 'I don't have time' is hereby banned from your vocabulary, to be replaced by 'it is/is not a priority'. This shift can fundamentally change the way you spend your days, weeks, evenings. Instead of not having time to pick up the dry cleaning, just admit that it's not a priority: your coffee meeting is more important, and the dry cleaning will be there tomorrow/this weekend/for your kids to pick up after your funeral.
And take a day or two to seriously evaluate the time you spend on the computer. Fifteen minutes on facebook every couple of hours Really Adds Up. Consider doing a 'virtual cleanse' or designating internet/computer-free periods.
Guard that Perimeter!
Carving out some Personal Space
This one isn't as easy as it sounds, but we can pretend:
Learn to (and practice) saying no.
No one will think the less of you, it will not make you a bad friend/mother/person - and it *will* make a huge difference in your quality of life. Trust me. In fact, from what I learned in the social purgatory of middle school, if you turn down invitations in favor of a nice nerdy book, people will just assume you have something better to do and suddenly you'll have to get a special phone doesn't ring. So that's maybe a little bit of a mis-fire, but if it does happen then at least nowadays it's easy enough to turn your cell phone off, and when you turn it back on you'll have a nice array of options for Friday night.
But really, when I say 'learn to say no', I mean something more along the lines of not randomly offering to bake a thousand cupcakes for a school fundraiser, not letting yourself get sucked into the 6th straight evening of gin-soaked pity parties with your situationally depressed friend, and only agreeing to help your friend move because you honestly don't have anything better to do that day and he promised pizza for lunch.
Don't let the 'offering' aspect of the first example fool you. I can't possibly be the only person afflicted with the debilitating need to be constantly helpful, even when I really just wanted to go home and have a Buffy marathon. The point is, don't take on more responsibility than you either want or is necessary. If you do, and you end up a shriveled, bitter, tired old woman at the tender age of 35, don't say I didn't warn you.
Everyone needs to be a little self-centered. Embrace your human needs, your well-honed survival instincts!
Word of the day: squirrel it away
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Okay, you managed to get some time with the quiet alone... only to find that you live in a heap of filth, which - while you were out saving the world - grew slowly to infect every corner of your dingy apartment, and now you're losing your hair in great gross chunks.
A well-kept home is a blessing to end all blessings, when you're healthy and most especially when you're feeling tired, stressed, or generally inadequate. I was going to link you to one of the most moving blog posts on this subject, written by one Hanne Blank - but she's gone and destroyed her archives or something and google is not strong enough to reach through the bits and bites of time to retrieve it for me. But you, my good friend, are in luck because I happen to have it printed out. Don't laugh at me - this is why. Excerpt below:
From "When the House Keeps You" (once somewhere on hanneblank.com/blog)
"When you can rest your unhappy head on a couch that is clean and comfortable and does not smell of dog, when you can stagger into the kitchen for a glass of juice and know that there will be clean glasses to use even if you haven't been to doing the dishes for a day or three, when you can pad about the house barefoot in your bathrobe and never feel the worse for having trodden on something nasty; that's when the house is keeping you.
It helps you feel a bit better, reminds you that you can be prudent and competent and effective, even though you are not well and probably feeling rather demoralized. It's not a huge thing. Probably it matters only to you. But sometimes it counts for an awful lot nonetheless."
And on that note, throw out as much as you can possibly do without. No matter how fetid, do NOT throw out stuff belonging to your roommates or spouse. Put it in a box, ask them, and then get their crud out of there. Take a weekend and Deep Clean. If it's as bad as I think it is, just this once don't worry about using green cleaning stuff. Bring on the bleach!
A clean, open, reasonably well-lit living space will make all the difference. Your quality of life will soar .
And Now, Give Yourselves a Hand
Have a nice sit-down, enjoy spending your time in ways that reflect your long-term priorities, not your stressful, competitive, career-driven 21st century life. That's all out there, on the other side of your now well-fortified castle walls - and guess what? It's waiting for you ! Hah! Way to turn the tables there, friend. Enjoy the rest of your life.