Thursday, April 11, 2013

When Life Kicks You in the Teeth… (Stress and the Danger of the "Little Things")

Life is comprised of how you handle what comes at you. Those things can be little or big, and sometimes you'll navigate them fine, but sometimes you'll start drowning in it, either because you've lost perspective or because you don't see a way out.

Major events can cause that feeling of being overwhelmed, but… Minor events, little ones that even you think aren't a big deal, can do the same thing.

I had an allergy test this past Friday (meaning I was antihistamine-free and feeling pretty crummy for the whole week prior). I got the test, got home, took a phone call, crashed for ten hours…then fell back asleep for the night, and still felt poorly the next day.

Turns out that I'm ever-so-slightly allergic to cat hair. And when I'm not feeling well or napping at odd times? My cat insists on keeping me company. It's cute (as befits a cat named QTpi), but not helpful. But if I try to kick her out, she thinks she's in trouble and gets even more clingy in apology for whatever she did wrong.

I'm behind on Camp NaNoWriMo. I suspect I won't catch up, though I'll be focusing on it next week…

I'm behind on other life stuff (…like laundry and making tahini for my mother).

My grandparents decided last minute to come visit this weekend. I'm happy to be seeing them, and I'm concerned because Grandpa's not in the best of health.

Any one of those would be a non-issue to most people (me included), but all of them together? Those little things can all add up and be absolutely overwhelming.

Some people are overwhelmed at any series of things, and they respond by being impulsive. They don't think things through because they don't want to.

Some people are obsessed with analyzing everything, to the point that they rarely actually do anything, because they're still thinking it all through.

Most people are skewed one way or the other, having specific topics and situations wherein they respond the opposite way from usual.

I've mentioned before that I'm a detail-oriented person. I see details, I love them, and I'm susceptible to them overwhelming me. (Oh my I can't do my laundry—that takes a whole four hours! …Hey, the library has Thursday Next #4 in; it'll only take me a few hours to read it.)

Funny, the mind games we play with ourselves.

At any rate, our culture is overwhelming, with extroverts dominating. If you aren't go-go-go all the time, people assume you're lazy—or at best insist you have nothing to be stressed about. As if having a bunch of little things going on can't be as stressful as having something big going on.

I am not in any way denigrating the effect major events can have on a person. One semester when I was in college, I had constant gall bladder attacks for an entire term, my laptop (needed for school and work) was on the fritz, a friend died in the middle of finals week, and I had surgery scheduled the following week. My professors were incredibly gracious.

Those events look like major ones now, as I look back, but at the time? Constant pain and/or nausea was normal. Oddly behaving computer? Normal. The upcoming surgery was a relief, if a bit nervewracking due to some allergies that I knew I'd have to be careful to make sure were borne in mind. The only really "major" event to me at the time was the friend's death.

But…friends' deaths are actually normal, particularly as a person ages. It's a major life event when it's unexpected, but when it's expected or commonplace… It can be a little thing.

Your little thing is my big thing. And vice versa.

That's something that we tend to lose track of, when someone admits something that's bothering them, and we call it "not that bad". I have friends with conditions like neurofibromitosis, lupus, fibromyalgia. I am so glad that I am not them.

And all of them are freaking glad they aren't me.

I look at all my allergies, at all the health issues I have, and to me, they're little. I'm used to them. Oh, I'd better double-check my purse for all three antihistamines I regularly carry. Oh, it's hot today, so I'd better not have any caffeine, else I'll get a migraine. Oh, I need to keep a box of vinyl gloves in my purse marked ICE in case of emergency, though they probably wouldn't be used, but maybe the EMT would notice… (I've considered getting allergy tags.) Oh, I should order a Caesar salad—but with no croutons, and no seasoning on the chicken—to make sure it won't have any pork, rice, tomato, almond, etc. in it. (I even have to watch ingredient lists on regular, gluten-full tortillas and bagels.)

But mopping the floor? I'd have to get my cleaner (which I make myself), put on my gloves, fill up the bucket with hot water, get out the mop, scrub the floor, block Mom's cat from playing with the mop, scold Mom's cat when she tries playing in the water, redo the parts of the floor that Mom's cat messes up, dry the floor, dump the water, rinse out the bucket and mop, wring out the mop, and figure out how to get the mop to dry when it's seventy degrees out (F).

Ah! Attack of the littles!

When I find myself getting overwhelmed, I do my best to get myself to a change in scenery. As I type this (Wednesday afternoon), I'm sitting in Starbucks. The coffee's not that great, but the location's convenient, and the perks are good. Pulling myself out of my regular routine and location helps me get some persepctive, helps me slap myself upside the head.

Because really, mopping the floor isn't that hard. Or involved. Or even all that time-consuming, if you bother to time it.

But if you start looking at every little step in anything, that thing can easily become huge.

While the details are necessary to do something properly, the details can't be all that's focused on. The big picture matters, too. No matter what you're doing.

That doesn't mean "little things" aren't stressful. They are. The little things can overwhelm you, drown you, bury you every bit as much as the "big things" can.

The key is in how you look at them.

That's why some people look at starting a business or self-publishing a story or cooking a pizza from scratch (including the bread and sauce) and get all wide-eyed, insisting they can't do that.

Well… They probably could do it. They just feel as if they can't. And the overwhelmed person isn't helped when people are condescending or derisive of that feeling.

Everyone has "littles" that overwhelm them.

Remember: Your "little event" differs from mine, and vice versa.

The way to overcome attacks of the littles isn't to convince yourself how stupid you're being. It's to step out and adjust your perspective. Sometimes that ends up making you feel stupid…but we're all stupid, sometimes, so it's nothing to feel stupid about.

But all too often, we end up burying ourselves in self-derision. And that's the true danger in the littles.

How do you help yourself refocus on the big picture when you suffer from attacks of the littles? Do you have friends or family members who help you balance the way you naturally view things?


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