There is nothing like moving and renovating a home to throw your life out of balance and cause stress and anxiety. Four weeks in our newly renovated home-in-progress and we are settling in. The pipes are intact, the dogs are alive, the rodents and the raw sewage are cleaned up.
Now, I am more aware of how truly stressful this time has been. I guess others noticed, too.
During recent sessions, my business and writing coach repeatedly offered me some sound advice to take breaks in my day to care for myself. He’s encouraged me to acknowledge the Herculean effort of moving and renovating our home. We did all this on top of the regular life I live — a life which would cause most people to collapse from stress.
I think we’ve gotten through the hardest parts now, though getting woken up by the mice chewing on something in the attic makes me think the rodent battle isn’t over just yet. The mice have been living in an empty house for years, so they probably think they just won the lottery since people and food moved in.
Slowly, the boxes are being unpacked. The garage which has acted as a storage unit for the past month is easier to walk through and we can even find things we need. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the outside of the house, too. I’m glad for six more weeks of winter and hopefully more snow. I’m sorry. But it hides the mess outside waiting for us in the spring.
It is a lot of work setting up a new home and dealing with regular life.
For the past two months, I put the health insurance issues, paperwork and doctor appointments on the back burner. Now it’s piled up waiting for me, along with the Christmas cards I never opened. And Johanna is struggling with some nighttime headaches that will require more testing at NYU to be sure the shunt in her brain is working the way it should.
Normal life happens whether we are unpacked or not.
I thought I was handling it all pretty well until I started having a panic attack in a cashier line. It wasn’t the grocery store or Costco. Those places can be overwhelming on a good day. I was at the office supply place making copies of important paperwork because I hadn’t unpacked the printer/copier yet. Making 20 copies didn’t bother me.
It was the bubble wrap that put me over the edge.
As I approached the check-out counter, my eyes went to the display of large rolls of bubble wrap. I immediately was overwhelmed with anxiety and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I tried to ignore it, but I seriously felt like I could vomit — all at the sight of the bubble wrap! I looked at exit doors for my quickest way out, but the display lined the entire walkway out the door. I took a deep breath and bolted past the bubble wrap and ran to my car.
On the drive home, I reasoned with myself at how ridiculous my response was to the bubble wrap. But the next day it happened again, only this time I was in the garage trying to get my daughter a box of games and craft supplies that was buried on the bottom of a pile of boxes. As boxes fell around me, I felt that same overwhelmed feeling and I started to cry.
I knew I had to walk to the beach to clear my head and the anxious feelings overwhelming me. I grabbed our youngest pup on a leash and headed out the door. The cold air snapped me to my senses and I was acutely aware of nature all around me. As I walked, the sight and sounds of the waves beyond the neighboring houses were calming to body and soul. On the other side of the road, the snowy woods provided cover for a host of winter birds chirping and darting in the brush. I even saw some deer crossing in the thicket.
When I reached the beach, the anxiety washed out with the waves to meet the gray skies on the horizon. I could breathe again and even laugh at myself. Later, I read some articles on managing stress. One offered a test to measure stress based on major events and changes in your life. It turns out that moving, combined with the death of loved ones, tilts the scales. Rather than burying my emotions, the anxiety became a wake-up call to be more disciplined at taking care of myself in this time of prolonged stress and difficult life events.
I’m taking hour-long walks to the beach, paying attention to the beauty around me. When I get to the beach, I just breathe. I’m turning off the computer and my phone and choosing to eat well to live well. I also went back to counseling. Seeking the support of professionals can be really helpful in times of stress. I haven’t told the counselor about my fear of bubble wrap. I figure we’ll get there eventually.
A friend who is also going through a very stressful time recently commented to me that we make hard times look easy because we don’t offer the details of what we are really going through in a day.
I’ve learned most people don’t want to know what I am going through — it’s too overwhelming for them to even imagine. What they really want to know is…
“What’s your secret for keeping it all together?”
The strategies I employ for my mental and physical health are part of my tools for coping with stress. Alongside supportive friends and family (and wine and chocolate), it all helps to keep me in peace.
But caring for my spirit is the real foundation of my self-care. Prayers of gratitude and surrender and remembering to breathe out the stress and breathe in the love of God — these are the real secrets that I’ll share with anyone who cares to ask.
“For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I face. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
God doesn’t wave a magic wand to take away all my cares. He gives me the wisdom and strength I need to do good things to take care of myself and the people I love.
Whether walking, eating, counseling or prayer, the secret is to do all things through Christ, as His Spirit reminds me to breathe.