- Mental Health
Reduce Stress and Express Yourself
#8 of 100
You make choices every day...
Everyone does. You decide when to get up, what to eat, what to wear if anything (yes some ex roomies were nudists), what you're going to do that day. You chose an occupation even if at the time it seemed like a choice between the lesser of several evils and don't like it now, you chose who to live with even if sometimes there are times you regret the choices (or lots of times and you have to choose whether to stay or go) and you choose what you're going to do about it when conflicts and stresses come up.
What choices you make all help define who you are.
Clothing, hair grooming, furnishings and choices in how you decorate your tools, your home and your workplace are social messages. Sometimes clear, strong, direct ones. Sometimes not. Most people are not one-dimensional with only one interest, most of them don't exactly fit the stereotype of their age, gender, occupation, ethnic background and religion so well that everything matches the version you'd see on television. I've thankfully met very few walking cliches in my life.
The most important opinion on any of these choices is actually yours. It's important to understand what the messages you broadcast mean to other people -- but the same message can be presented in a critical, demoralizing way or a neutral descriptive way or a complimentary way. I'm a stubborn cuss who always does things my own way, an independent person who always does things my own way, or a strong confident person who isn't afraid to do things my own way depending on who you listen to -- and it's true, what the slant tells you is what the person saying it thinks of people who go off their own direction all the time.
I have less elbow room than some to compromise on my personal habits because of my disabilities -- one blog I joked that I don't have habits, I have symptoms. I have runarounds to have a rich full life despite the symptoms and I might not be so hard-headed on some of my habits if they didn't cause difficulty way out of proportion to how petty they seem to other people. But I would be that stubborn anyway because I chose to be a writer, and anyone who wants to be a writer for a living is going to have to stick to it and run a gauntlet of social pressures and obstacles against it for a long time before success gets them to where people take for granted that they're a writer.
And then like anyone else in the arts they'll get subjected to the fault finding mission and considered egotistic just for choosing that profession. But that's a different rant.
The main thing is that when it comes to your personal life, your choices affect you most of all -- you and the people who live with you.
Some things are just consideration. If your favorite music tends to grate on someone who lives with you, earphones are consideration and it's not a shared bonding experience. Listening to it becomes "me time" and is still important to recharge and remember who you are -- especially when you may be overworked or otherwise stretched too thin.
It's very easy for life to overwhelm people. Stress is so endemic that unhealthy levels of it get treated as if they're no big deal and cause no harm, in fact a lot of people will lash out at anyone who's trying to reduce stresses that are taken as normal and get offended at the special treatment they think they deserve. Maybe some of that is jealousy because they'd like to be able to stand back and think about what they're doing instead of running around constantly dealing with other people's demands.
One of the often neglected things that reinforces identity boundaries -- and with that, other personal boundaries -- is your literal environment. What color the walls are. Whether you hate the carpet or like it and smile every time you see it. Whether you like your clothes or flinch every time you open the closet and hate putting on that shirt.
Yet those are exactly the personal things most subject to negative personal criticism in someone's life. Those are safe targets for someone in a bad mood to pick on in order to throw you off balance or put you in a bad mood because they got jealous of your good mood -- yes, that happens as such.
I've had people tell me to their face that was why they bugged me about something. They didn't like it that I was happy when they were having a rotten day. I wound up scratching my head over why they thought I'd find that a reasonable thing to do.
When you're at home, this is the place where you can be all of who you are, express all of the sides of you that are real.
It's a healthy thing to do.
So is the time and effort spent making it comfortable and getting everything the way you like it. This often gets neglected in favor of more important things. But the person you need to impress with it is yourself and if it's neglected too long it'll start giving demoralizing messages that bring you down even while you're relegating it to the bottom of the priority list to deal with some other crisis.
In your own home, why shouldn't there be a penguin on the telly?
If you work at home and have clients visiting your home to see or discuss the work or have it done, then the work area does have to be turned into a public area and express the image of your business. That does not mean throwing your whole home open to your clients though and it's a bad layout if it does. Your bedtime reading should not be subject to your random client's personal criticism.
If it does, that's a stressor to be aware of and take measures to keep some privacy between your work space where clients visit and your personal spaces where you should be able to let your hair down and be yourself.
When I look at other cultures, I see that most of the things they wear and use daily are decorated with meaningful designs that are full of information about who that person is and what their tribe is and who their ancestors are. They're all things that reinforce identity. There's cultural richness. But in this country it often looks more like people struggle to keep even the most personal areas of their lives impersonally bland.
I am not saying monogrammed towels are going to solve all the problems of your personal life, social life and work environment. What they might do though is give a little bit of personal luxury and a reminder that bathroom isn't in a hotel, that these things are yours. That you liked that color and didn't just grab whatever was on sale while trying to juggle everything at Walmart and get out before it closed because you were late getting there.
What goes deeper and makes a bigger difference to stress management is to have a creative activity and spend some time actually making or refining the objects that decorate your home. I've noticed this -- when I meet people who live happy lives, they are more likely to have a few handmade objects scattered around, finished projects that came out well, whatever it is. Needlepoint pillows or a carved duck decoy or herbs growing in the window.
The time spent making something that is for yourself, using manual skills so that the time you spend working on it has tangible results does something for a human being. On some deep level, the object you created means you're cool, you're worth something, you've got some status. It's satisfying. There's some confidence built on a tangible achievement -- you weren't wasting your time. Chances are it's a skill not everyone has.
It also opens up social connections with other people who have that creative expression, whether it's Donna Dewberry decorative painting or that you built your own desk and customized it to your exact height and arm length and built the hutch on top to the exact size of your monitor and fitted another shelf to your stereo... and it is more solid and looks better than a standardized one.
One of the things about making the objects you use every day or customizing them is that they usually work better. If you hang the shelves, they'll be at exactly the right height for you to reach comfortably and you won't strain or bend as often. This is vital for someone who's tall or short, because a lot of people are not standard sizes and don't fit comfortably into the standard heights for things like chairs, cabinets, shelving and so on.
Every time you solve one of those small logistic problems at home, you end a stressor. You eliminate one of the aggravations that gets in the way of having a harmonious life. You buy yourself time -- the time spent working around it or grumbling about it when you have to deal with that inconvenient shelf all the time.
Doing it with another person can take cooperation. You may not have the same ergonomics or the same tastes, and discovering a comfortable blend takes time and trial and error. But taking the time to work that out may also help cement the relationship and if both of you worked on it together that can help ease stress in getting along. The same shelf could be too tall for one of you and too short for the other and no one's happy.
I wind up paying a lot of attention to little things like that because I've got chronic fatigue. If I can save three steps in a daily activity of living, I am a lot more than three times more likely to be able to do that activity without help. If I can make it easy to get at my tools and materials, I'm more likely to do the project.
I wonder sometimes if this isn't some of why so many abled people start projects and never finish them though -- if minor inconveniences get in their way and the tools are hard to get at, so when they do have time off something else is more fun and exciting than continuing the project they started.
If you want to add a new habit to your life, it helps to do everything possible to make it easy to do that habit. If you want to get rid of a bad habit, make it more inconvenient to indulge it, and try to figure out what real emotional or physical need the bad habit is fulfilling. In a lot of cases, a bad habit can be retained when a good habit would actually fulfill the personal need better overall, but the person didn't think of it or connect the two.
So one of the most important things to do in reducing stress, whether that's for health reasons or just because you're sick of being aggravated all the time, is to identify everything that bugs you. Just chart what annoys you whether it's petty or not. That's the time to find out that yes, you hate that funny color the bathroom is or hate having all your walls landlord-primer white (me) and would be happy with a weird color more than no-color.
Rate the stressors for how aggravating they are.
Make a wish list of things you like and prioritize them too.
Compare the lists. See whether some of the wish list items would solve and eliminate some of the stressors on the aggravation list. Be personal. Be petty. Remember that a lot of petty decisions are cumulative and can last a long long time unquestioned on the sheer inconvenience involved in changing them.
If you don't like a particular color but those are the towels that were on sale the day you finally remembered to get towels, you've bought a low grade stressor for several years till the ugly things wear out. If you got what you liked most in the first place, then instead of that irritant, every time you take a shower the color or design is going to remind you that you're home in your own place where all these choices are yours.
I would say to take the opinions of the people you live with seriously unless you're decorating a completely private space within the home -- and it's good to have a nook or corner or room that is yours and done completely your way for sanity's sake, if not an entire room then at least a corner of one where things are exactly to your comfort.
Don't let the opinions of visiting relatives shake you from it though, because they may criticize your choices one day out of the year on a holiday, express a completely subjective personal opinion, go home to their house which is decorated in their preferred style leaving you with something that bugs you every time you see it and missing something you really liked.
In the public areas of your home this will help sort and filter your friends -- because without meaning to, all thosle choices are going to convey a lot about who you are and what you do when you're not at work, what interests you. Real friends are going to smile seeing the duck decoy when they already know you're a hunter or woodcarver. Snobs are going to go on at length about how it's so tacky to put a duck decoy on the mantelpiece.
If they do that to your face, they're stressors, not close true friends. They'd better be extremely supportive in other ways to be worth being the kind of person who criticizes your personal choices as if they're the arbiter of all fashion, because you didn't put the decoy out in order to impress them. The decoy is there because you carved it and it's cool and so is hunting.
People-pleasing is one of the worst stressors there is. It's a bad mental habit of always taking negative comments seriously and trying to be everything to everyone. A healthy human being is not a democracy. You can't make all your decisions on the consensus of the people around you -- if you don't actually make them yourself you'll get tied up in knots on their conflicts, most of which are petty and involve personal opinion, some of which are just mind games that are, yes, fun for a certain type of sadistic personality.
The more you live honestly, the more the person you are when you're alone is the same person simplified a little when you're among others -- unless they know you for a decade they're not going to begin to know all the quirks -- then the less conflict there is around your home and your home decor choices. You're drawn to certain things for the messages they carry and the ideas they represent, it's not happening in a vacuum. Things mean what they do to you.
Cleanliness is important up to a point, people vary a lot in what their comfort zone is for cleanliness and while it's a problem when people live together and differ too much in it, it's always a bit better to live in the median of your own real zone. If you like things to be loose and sloppy then living with people who have a similar level of carelessness can be a lot less stressful than living with a neat freak. If you are one, you'll have a lot easier time of it living with another one and organizing everything.
If you don't ever like staying home, chances are your apartment or home doesn't say much about you. That's a choice too -- but the best choice for that is to keep it all streamlined and choose things that take little or no care, so that you don't get stuck having to clean up when you'd rather go out for whatever you do when you go out. I'm not saying that making your home environment exactly the way you like it is necessarily even major in your life.
How big a stressor or stress reliever it is will be proportional to the amount of time you spend there and the amount of important things (to you) that you do there.
If you like entertaining then maybe creating a beautiful public display is actually your style and it is shared and fashion's important. Go for it and do it that way, that's what is you. I'm just saying, don't take the feedback of vicious people seriously at all -- when someone makes it obvious they don't like you or their interests are opposed to yours, this should be a red flag to take all of their personal criticism with more than a grain of salt.
When someone who does like you a lot and accepts you for who you are makes a negative comment it may carry more weight. Grudging compliments from people who criticize are not worth as much as it seems, they're mostly bait to keep you listening to them.
There's a tendency to discourage compliments or even turn them down, deny that something's as good or cool or well done as you know it is when someone says so. This actually hurts the feelings of the person who complimented it. It serves nothing, doesn't make you look humble, it just defends an "I'm no good and no one special" kind of attitude, a depressed attitude. Maybe to you that was an easy project or it has a subtle technical flaw but to someone who doesn't do decorative painting it's impressive because they could tell it's a rose and it looks great because they like the color. Their reaction is real, so accept it graciously.
"Thanks," is an appropriate reaction to a compliment and doesn't offend people.
So is "Thanks, I worked hard on it" because that takes the edge off of "I'm talented and you're not." It's one of my social defenses against the accusation of ego for being too artistic -- I'm over fifty and puttered with paint all my life, it's no surprise if I paint a kitten you can tell it's feline. It'd be more of one if fifty years of puttering resulted in something that looked like a slug when I say it's a kitten.
Ask yourself who you are. Ask that in detail and work it out. Change what you don't like and keep what you do. It may be a slow tedious process but it can gradually make your life a lot more comfortable, both in looking at your physical possessions and your habits and activities. Don't waste your time on anything that doesn't actually make you happy either in the long run or while you're doing it, preferably both. Life's too short to waste it trying to please other people -- they aren't you and never will understand why that mattered.
They don't need to -- if you're actually happy and enjoying your life, people will like you and be drawn to you, more so the more they have in common with you. Nothing appeals to acquaintances and turns them into real friends faster than a happy home.