A lot of times, I don’t realize I’m stressed until my teeth start falling out.
Sometimes it’s tooth-by-tooth. I‘ll be eating something or talking and suddenly a tooth is floating around in my mouth and I fish it out with my fingers. Then another tooth and another and then I’m crying as I hold a handful of teeth, certain I’ll never get to a dentist in time to put them all back in before they die.
Other times pieces of my teeth break off or turn to dust. This is a lot more annoying because I can’t get all the tooth chunks out of my mouth and the little pieces of enamel converge into a jumbled paste of sharp splinters, rough edges, the irony tinge of blood. I try to hold it all in my mouth and hope that no one notices what’s happening, but eventually I have to spit it out because it’s too much.
When I dream about my teeth falling out or crumbling in my mouth, I jolt awake, sweating, my heart racing. I’m someone with awful teeth given my age (two crowns and double-digit fillings) despite how meticulously I floss, brush with an electric toothbrush twice a day, don’t drink soda or coffee, and use expensive fluoride-enhanced toothpaste to help with sensitivity. Given my dental history and my best efforts to combat the genetics of my pearly whites, dreams about losing my teeth absolutely terrify me. Something that should be in my control—maintaining a dental routine and taking care of myself—is wildly out of my control. There’s nothing I can do.
Sometimes that’s how everything feels when I’m stressed, and it doesn’t hit me until it’s too late. I’ll be coasting through life, confident about my ability to juggle a gazillion different things, and one day I look at my calendar and I’m exhausted and anxious. How did I get myself into this situation? I’ll try to think of ways to blame other people or circumstances, but the reality is that anytime I’ve pushed myself to my limits, it’s truly me pushing myself. Nothing, no one, forces me to do the things I do. Everything is a choice, and I pin myself down by making too many choices.
A lot of my friends give me grief about how busy my schedule is, and sometimes I give myself grief about it, too. But the truth is that I like being busy. I feed off of hustle and bustle, accomplishing things, new scenarios, learning something, doing different activities. This is the stuff of my life, and it makes my world feel full. I can’t regret the circumstances I put myself in sometimes, because I benefit from the joy of staying engaged with my community, doing things I love, and going on adventures.
But every once in a while I need to relax. I’m learning that one of those times is when I’m trying to keep a house staged for selling, packing things in boxes for the move, working full-time, fulfilling volunteer and board obligations, and trying to conduct a job search in a different city so I can join my husband ASAP. I’ve met my match with this set of circumstances, because I can’t sacrifice any of these responsibilities for another. They all carry equal weight in my life right now.
So what’s a girl to do? Sneak in relaxation wherever I can, whenever I can. Here are a few of my favorite ways to center myself and take in a few peaceful moments.
Go for a walk
During the work week, I opt to eat my lunch at my desk so I can use my true “break” to walk around the neighborhood. The fresh air and movement helps me regroup when I sit back down at my desk. Plus, after staring at a monitor all day, my eyes get a chance to rest and focus on things farther away. Of all the things I’ve changed about my routine in the last two years, this has been the most significant by far.
I’m not a big aromatherapy person, but I’ve always loved the scent of lavender. It’s a smell that takes me to my happy place. I’ve kept a sachet in my dresser for a number of years and took another sachet with me on a recent trip overseas to help me stay calm when flying the red eye. There are sprigs of lavender all over our house (leftover from our wedding, when I dried nearly a dozen plants). I also have a lavender lotion I apply to my hands every night before bed, and it relaxes me almost instantaneously. Someday I hope to grow my own lavender and keep everything smelling fresh year-round!
Tea in the tub
It’s probably not super safe to drink a hot liquid while floating in a hot liquid, but you know what? It ROCKS. If I really need to decompress I’ll fill the tub, brew some tea, light some candles, and take 20-30 minutes to unwind. I’m not a very feminine person and this habit is pretty new to me, but I’m absolutely obsessed with taking a hot bath every few weeks as a little treat. I mean, I have to stay clean somehow…why not enjoy the experience every once in a while?
just say “no.”
Sometimes, no matter how much I try to cope with my stress on any given week, I just need to play hooky from an obligation and spend the evening regrouping. I always own up to backing out—I make it clear to the person why I need the time off instead of just not showing up—and most everyone is understanding about it. We all live busy lives, and people can acknowledge when others need a break. During busy weeks, I a few moments to evaluate my mental health and decide what’s the most important thing to me right now. Most often, it means upholding my responsibility and showing up. But sometimes, it means apologizing and going home to unwind, read, catch up on house stuff, or just going to bed after dinner. If you choose to withdraw from something, make sure you let the person who invited you know. You don’t have to be a flake or a no-show. No one likes that.
Do you have any tips for stress relief during a busy time? Share in the comments!