Less Stress with Routines

“The way you begin your days sets the stage for the rest of the day.”

This month my Recalibrate Life Read is The Worn out Woman: When Your Life is Full and Your Spirit is Empty by Dr. Steve Stephens and Alice Gray. This is my last of the posts responding to this book. This post will focus on how to help make life less stressful by planning some helpful routines into your days.

Routines can relieve a lot of stress by removing the need to make decisions or solve problems when you might not be fully awake.”

I have definitely found this to be true in my life. But in order to reduce our stress levels and find a more positive ways to go through our days, we need to consider what is causing our stress to begin with.

It may be helpful to just go through your day in your mind and jot down what parts of the day cause the most stress. Some typical morning stressors may include breakfast time, meal planning (packing lunches, prepping for dinner), pet care, and deciding what to wear, etc.

Once you have made that list of stressors, you can key in on giving some thought to what may help to make those time periods a little more easy and relaxing.

I have found it is often not the actual task that stresses me out, but it is more likely just feeling that there is not enough time to get it done. Or feeling as though I do not have what I need so I can get it done, often because I did not take time to plan ahead.

Sometimes it is just helpful to try to prepare for the morning chores the night before. Breakfast cereals can be put out and the table can be set. Clothes for the next day can also be laid out. Even the children can get in a habit of choosing what to wear and laying their clothes out.

Packing lunches the night before can be helpful as well. Depending on the children’s ages they may be able to pack their own lunches with some supervision. And with the lunch packing, school bags can be readied for the morning with the necessary papers signed and completed assignments put in. The more that children learn to do, the more independent they become, and this relieves some stress for the busy adult(s) in their lives.

As I mentioned before, not having enough time in the morning is a stressor for me. Feeling panicked and rushed makes for a bad beginning. I find that I need to give myself adequate time to do what I want to get done at a pace that feels peaceful, and that sets the tone for the whole day. This means giving myself an extra early start in order to fit it all in,

I also know that my day feels much calmer and I feel more at peace when I have set time aside to spend with the Lord. Reading a portion of Scripture and praying while I sip my morning coffee always makes for a great start to the day. I have found that taking a nugget of Truth with me for the day can help me stay grounded. Most recently that has been a breath prayer that I can repeat throughout the day.

I also like to know that there is something special in my day to look forward to. In the book the authors refer to these things as “give yourself a boost.” They suggest things like reading a page on an inspirational flip calendar or reading a devotional, playing a few minutes with your pets, or kissing your spouse a little longer before you leave. I would add to that a few minutes to journal, writing down what is on my mind leads to such peace, and that makes it something I always look forward to. Also, chatting with or texting a friend, just a short conversation, or a prayer request. The sweet connection brightens my day and is always something to look forward to.

It is very helpful for me to make sure I have a plan for what needs to get done in a day. I like to have a weekly menu, so knowing any grocery items that need to be bought, or other errands that need doing helps to keep more unnecessary stress-makers from creeping into my day. I can remain much calmer when I know what is coming up, because there always seem to be those unexpected things that take us by surprise and add to our stress levels. And the parts of the day that are already filling me with anxious thoughts in the morning are the parts that I might journal about, as well as, take to the Lord in prayer.

Getting a good night’s sleep is very important also. I am much more likely to get easily agitated and stressed out when I am feeling tired. I have recently made journaling and reading one chapter of a book part of my before bed routine. I am always surprised at how much these relax me and I seem to go to sleep easily. I always appreciate it when I get to sleep quickly. I attribute that to the fact that my mind was quieted by the positive, calming book and journaling out the thoughts that had been running through my brain. And then, even more importantly, tying those thoughts into conversation with the Lord in prayer brings my heart to a place of calm. Writing a gratitude list usually is part of my journaling process also, but sometimes I take time do that in the morning instead.

I hope that you have found something here that has been helpful to you, a routine that you may want to add to your morning, or an idea that will help make your day run a bit smoother. I highly recommend this book, I still am going through study questions and choosing more areas of application, things I want to try.

Next month my Recalibrate Life Read will be: A Place Called Simplicity: The Quiet Beauty of Simple Living by Claire Cloninger. Simplicity is definitely goal in my year of recalibrating life.

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Dealing With the Difficult

The older you get, the more experience you have with various kinds of people in life. I am sure that each of us have had to deal with difficult people in our lives or may be in the midst of dealing with them now. That being true it seems like this is an important topic to focus on.

This month my Recalibrate life read is The Worn Our Woman: When Your Life is Full and Your Spirit is Empty by Dr. Steve Stephen’s and Alice Gray. I am learning so much as I go through this book chapter by chapter. I especially like it because along with discussing difficulties in our lives this book also gives you tools to help you deal with areas discussed and the problems that arise.

As I mentioned before, we all have difficult people in our lives. Sometimes they live right inside our homes with us, sometimes we must deal with them at work. And other times they may live in our neighborhoods, or maybe we see them at our churches, schools, or when involved with other groups. The authors refer to difficult people as “burlap people,” a seemingly fitting title.

The more worn out and overwhelmed we are, the more difficult it is to deal with them. I know from personal experience that I often overreact when dealing with the difficult, spouting off like an active volcano when I am overwhelmed and short on patience. This is not only true for me, as the authors discuss the importance of preparing ourselves for our dealings with the “burlap people” that rub us the wrong way.

As I am learning more and more about myself, I am realizing that I often react out of my own hurt, exhaustion, pain, and overwhelm. Taking this realization into consideration made me agree with the authors when they explained the importance of considering that the other person may be struggling also. Their attitudes and behaviors are often influenced by their feelings and life’s problems.

An area of consideration mentioned, that really hit home, in reference to those who grate on our nerves, is that of thinking about what is real versus what is perceived when it comes to that relationship. I had an in-depth conversation this week about how difficult it is to sort out perception from what is real about others especially if they are family members. As we grow up with our siblings and parents or as we live with our spouse and our own children, we each look at things from our own perspectives.

I know my brother and I have completely different views of our parents and our growing up years. Yet, we are only 13 months apart and we lived up through our teen years in the same home. Our emotional wounds and life experiences can blind us to what is real.

Our attitudes form out of our perceptions, and, for sure, both stress and negativity can get in the way of responding to others in a kind manner. We need to check ourselves to see if the person is really being difficult or if we are the one overreacting.

I know I overreact when I feel overwhelmed about too much to do. For example, I always assumed that my husband’s expectations were the same as mine but recently I began seeing how I often overreact to his words, when he is not criticizing at all. This was especially true this past year. We finally talked about it and he helped me to realize that I was putting all of the pressure on myself. He was in no way being difficult, yet I felt like I wasn’t living up to his expectations and that he was disappointed, frustrated with me, or even angry with me. I learned that none of these were true, I was misinterpreting it all.

I was recently listening to a Shauna Niequist book in my car while driving and she was talking about dealing with a difficult person in her life years ago. She mentioned talking with her boss about the struggles she was having and he asked her why this difficult person got under her skin so much. She did not have an answer, but it was something she gave a lot of thought to. She went on to discuss how it seems that when we run into a certain type of difficult person and are unable to work it out in our relationship with them, somehow it seems that the Lord continues to bring that type of person into our lives over and over. It seems there is a lesson in it all that we need to learn before we can move on.

I know I have found this to be true. I recently realized how much I struggle with controlling people. Isn’t that funny considering I just became aware of how very controlling I am? The Lord taught me a major lesson and continues to teach me about fears and the relationship to the need to control. Learning this connection between fear and control has helped me to better understand others. I am learning to see the same connection in them and not respond with anger and frustration. It makes a big difference in those relationships.

Sometimes, though, the difficulty with the person is beyond our understanding and out of our control. There are instances that you must have to choose to “detach and distance” yourself. I have had to do this with different people in my life at various times. For me these situations were more about a difficult period of time in my life and I have been able to since restore the relationships. The possibility of restoration may or may not be available depending on the situation and the people involved.

Another suggestion in the book is to choose to set boundaries. When we have to set boundaries, it is very important to be firm and state your boundary clearly. Henry Cloud has written many books on setting boundaries for various situations. Each of his books that I have read proved to be very helpful and informative for the relationships I was dealing with. I think that boundary setting is very important in our lives, especially with people who like to take advantage of others or ones who just don’t know where the limits are.

One other suggestion in the book is to pray for those difficult people in our lives. The Lord has a way of working in each of our hearts when we pray. He can lead us in wisdom in each individual situation. It always amazes me how He changes and/or directs our hearts for His good. Praying is always a very important answer to any of life’s problems.

So, if you are currently dealing with a “burlap” person in your life, hopefully you have found something helpful here. As I said before I have found this book extremely informative and helpful. I have one more post related to it that I want to share with you next week. The next post will be about routines in the life of the worn out woman. I hope you will be back to learn about how routines can be helpful in your life.

Nurturing Your Soul

This month my Recalibrate Life read is The Worn Out Woman: When Your Life is Full and Your Spirit is Empty by Dr. Steven Stephens and Alice Gray.

I think it has been well established that many women feel overwhelmed and long for nurturing. Gray says that when this nurturing goes unattended “the longing for it deepens.”

As Christians there is a deep yearning in our hearts for depth of connection with the Lord. We need for Him to meet with us, to lead us, to comfort us, to restore us, and to give us rest, just to mention a few needs that often fill our hearts and souls. These are ways that He nurtures us.

When we read Psalm 23, we sigh with that yearning for the rest promised to be found in the green meadows and for the peace that we find as we are led beside still waters. We want what David found there as a shepherd boy. There under the stars just talking to the Lord, breathing deeply, and finding rest in the midst of the struggles that a shepherd has with unruly sheep.

Where can we find the quiet that creates space for that kind of intimacy with the Lord? Last week we considered the option of a mini-retreat as a way to help us gain direction as we evaluate our lives and reroute our life to follow His purpose. While that is great, we still are left with the day-to-day, how can our souls be nurtured in the busyness of the day-to-day?

We need the Lord. We need consistent time with Him, we need to be available so that we can grow in knowing Him and His character more. We need Him to help us in building our faith. And all of that takes time.

I know from personal experience this does not just happen apart from doing some planning. Life’s busyness often squeezes out the little time we thought we might have with the Lord. Each of our lives have different schedules, different people, and different expectations clamoring for our attention. The authors of The Worn Out Woman explain it best as they say that “finding time to nurture your soul is a unique quest for each person.”

This book gives many different suggestions as to how to find time to spend with the Lord despite life’s craziness.

Finding time to spend with the Lord may mean taking time to talk with Him in the midst of your chores. Maybe that is at the kitchen sink as you wash another sinkful of dishes or maybe it is in the laundry room as you put another load of clothes in. These places that we regularly find ourselves in can become our very own “prayer closets.”

You may do best to schedule an appointment on your calendar, setting aside a certain block of time to just spend with the Lord. Or as another suggested, schedule a “Jesus date.”

It may even be an option for you to find an opportunity for your “mind and spirit…to commune with the Lord while you are exercizing.” Meditate as you do your morning stretches. Or pray as you bike. Your exercize time can become a time to draw near to Him. 

Along with finding a time, it is also important to consider what place seems nurturing to you. This choice of places is obviously dictated by what your life allows. But you can meet with the Lord anywhere. Maybe you will choose your garden or your porch, maybe you enjoy sitting in a special rocking chair or possibly there is a corner of your dining room table where you want to meet with the Lord as you sip your coffee or tea. Or as we mentioned earlier maybe it will be on your bike or exercise mat. Or it could be that you meet with Him on your commute to work. I know there was a time in my life when bath-time was my time with the Lord, I read and prayed and even journaled in the tub. It is what life dictated at the time.

If at all possible, make it a place you love so you will want to go there often. Once you find that place you may want to put together a basket of items that you want to use in your time with the Lord. I have my Bible, my prayer journal, sometimes a study I am working on, or a devotional I want to read, as well as pens, pencils, and highlighter (actually I often use colored pencils).

When the weather is conducive I enjoy spending time on our patio in the morning when the sun has just begun to warm the air.

I also have enjoyed wonderful peaceful times on the beach in the morning, of course my coffee has to come with me. It is so relaxing to listen to the waves splash on the sand, as I read my Bible or devotional and jot notes or prayers in my journal. Sometimes I just shut my eyes and soak in the warmth of the sun and feel the Lord’s love for me.

Another option that I have delighted in is taking a neighborhood walk, praying and listening as I go. Or spending time in meditation or breath prayer on a hiking trail. I have found such peace fill me as I go, I feel such deep closeness with the Lord walking and talking with Him.

In the cold, inclement weather at times I have just propped up my head on a stack of pillows in bed as I read and journal enjoying the coziness of my blankets and favorite quilt. The Lord meets me in the quietness there often.

One of the most important points shared in all of this is that we need to find moments to really linger. I have often found this to be a struggle as my to-do list races through my mind and the clock ticks away the minutes. Settling in with the Lord takes time. but I am continuing to learn to linger. I shared about this in a post from earlier this year which you can find here, The Luxury of Lingering . It still can be a struggle but I know the wonderful rewards when I truly do linger, so I find myself reaching for that more often.

The Lord is a God of restoration. David tells us from personal experience that he found his soul restored with the Lord. The Lord is very clear in His Word that He wants to touch our lives intimately but it is up to us to set aside time and find a place where we can be available to Him. He is always with us, but we are not always aware and listening and really being present with Him.

I hope that you are encouraged to spend time with the Lord and really enjoy the soul-nurturing that takes place as you deepen your relationship with Him.

Next week we will look at how a worn out woman can deal with the difficult things in life. I hope you will join me again as I continue my journey in recalibrating life.

*The photo of the wildflower meadow was taken by Annie Spratt and found on Unsplashed.

Re-evaluating Life

What do you do when your heart is empty and your schedule if full? I think all too often we keep pushing ourselves. We think that we must keep going.

This month’s Recalibrate Life Read is The Worn Out Woman: When Your Life is Full and Your Spirit is Empty by Dr. Steve Stephens and Alice Gray.

One of my favorite chapters discusses how Gray dealt with the overwhelm in her life. She says, “[one] day, when I was in one of my fed-up, hurry-up, always catching-up moods, I decided to schedule a one-day retreat for myself.”  She did so because “life had gotten so overwhelming.” Gray says that she had gotten to a place where she just wanted to quit everything. It all seemed like too much.

Have you been there? So overwhelmed you just want to quit? I know I have. But as much as we may very well know what we need, we do not often take the time to find a way to take care of our needs.

The mini-retreat that Gray suggestion sounds so life-giving. We need to create space in our days, weeks, and months to reflect and to look ahead as well as to evaluate so we can make wise choices.

Gray decided to go to a nearby retreat center for just an eight-hour period. I think that we each need to tailor such a retreat to what works for us. Maybe a retreat center is out of the question due to cost, but what about finding a quiet place where you can find solitude? Maybe an empty beach early in the morning, or a grassy park area, or a friends’ empty apartment during her work hours. Wherever you go, it seems that the focus is more important than the place. Gray took only three books with her; her Bible, her calendar and a blank notebook to record her findings.

When we recognize the overwhelm in our lives, the feeling of a life out-of-control consuming us, hopefully we realize our need for help beyond ourselves. And that is exactly what Gray sought as she cried out to the Lord for help to get her life under control.

What she found she needed most, after she spent time in prayer, was rest, and she took a long nap. This so reminded me of Elijah, and how the Lord ministered to him in his neediness in 1 Kings 19. In our weariness we need reviving, and sometimes that means a few extra hours of sleep.

When Gray woke up she was ready to take a look at her life and hear from the Lord. She pulled out her notebook and started out by listing her areas of strength and giftedness. She shares a list of question that are helpful in determining these. In fact she mentions using some of these questions to help herself as she reflected on her life.

This reflection led her to consider her legacy. It is important to give thought to the legacy we want to leave behind. Not only financial, but equally as important is your belief system, your values, and what you want others to remember you by. Gray found that contemplating this helped her to find better focus for determining the direction she wanted for her life now.

Another part of her retreat was spent in writing down her longings. She said that she wrote them “rapidly and with abandon.” There was no space given here for the inner critic. After taking time to meditate on Psalm 139 and getting in a walk, she returned to what she had written. Spending time in the Word, talking with the Lord, meditating on what He impresses on our hearts all lead us in the right direction.

Gray marvelled at the fact that she “had never stopped to think that [her] deep yearnings might actually be connected with God’s design for [her] life.” Taking more time to look through her list of longings she decided to especially pay attention to the ones that stood out to her, the ones that had been coming back to her for many years. We all have those longings that we have buried away and every once in a while we dust them off and look at them again. She realized that a few were unrealistic, or no longer fit, and she scratched those out, but she kept the rest.

Setting the list aside, she picked up her calendar. Looking at our calendars can tell us a lot about why we are feeling the way we do. Gray noticed that there were “energy drainers that did not line up with [her] areas of strength and God-given longings” which she weeded out. She saw many things there that she did not feel passionate about and there were also those commitments that were just about what others wanted her to do. I am sure each one of us would find similar items and all of these are a part of the reason for our overwhelm. Gray was able to eliminate some things immediately, but others she had to make more of a long-ranged plan of how to do away with them more gradually. Some were still necessary.

This kind of mini-retreat helps us to really see what is going on in our lives and gives us opportunity to make a plan rather than flying along by the seat-of our-pants, being pulled in every direction.

All of this helped her to set new goals that related to her dreams and longings. All that she discovered gave her a filter for her future choices, sifting out the kinds of things which led to much of the overwhelm to begin with. We all need a “filter.” The filter is determined by who we are, what our God-given strengths and gifts are, what the Lord is impressing on our hearts, what goals we can connect to our dreams and longings, and what kind of legacy we want to leave. When we determine those, we can sift through everything that is on our calendar and all that comes our way. We can choose the life-giving. We can begin to eliminate, or not allow so many of the energy-draining things to cling to us and suck us dry.

This type of mini-retreat has become on ongoing event in Gray’s life. She schedules time now twice each year. We too can choose to set aside the time to re-evaluate our lives, look at our longings, set some goals, and review our calendars to see what fits or doesn’t fit. Gray says that this practice keeps her from getting to a place of overwhem. Making life-giving choices can help to keep us from drowning in the demands of an out-of-control life.

I am making this a new goal for myself as I seek to recalibrate my life. I think that re-evaluation is a very important part of being intentional in life. Is there any part of this re-evaluation process that intriques you and that you think you may find helpful?

God doesn’t want His children living burnt out and broken down lives, He wants us to be energized to fulfill His purposes and to live to bring Him glory. We can’t do that when we are overwhelmed, exhausted, and frustrated with our lives. Is it time for you to do some re-evaluating?

 

*Photo from Unsplash taken by Annie Spratt.

Reacting or Choosing

My Recalibrate Life read for the month of May is Worn Out Woman: When Your Life is Full and Your Spirit is Empty by Dr. Steve Stephens and Alice Gray. The authors promise that this book “will be a retreat for your soul if you are among the more than 60 million worn-out women in the U.S.”  My posts will highlight some of the thoughts shared in this book.

This week I want to share about how our lives can be different depending on what pattern we follow. Are you in a pattern of “reacting to the demand of others”? Or do you instead “actively choose how you want to invest your life”?

I know I fall into the pattern of reacting far more than choosing. Many times it is reacting out of habit, a habit that has grown through the years as I tried to manipulate and control in order to earn love. So I add more and more to my to do list as I continually say yes to opportunities and responsibilities, and then I end up resenting that I have so much to do. I resent that I never have time to do what I want.

Gray says,”…the items we never get to are sometimes the most important ones…’urgent’ issues will almost always crowd out those that are more important but less time-sensitive.” Gray mentions, as other authors of my recalibrate life reads have stated, that often our time with the Lord, as well as, time with family and friends are postponed or cancelled because of too much to do. We can’t do it all. I am not sure why we think we can, but somehow we get sucked into the trap of that mindset.

Oftentimes, we look at our progress on our to-do list to decide on how we are doing, How many items did I check off? What do I need to migrate to the next day? That can leave us feeling satisfied or anxious or frustrated. But is it a good measure? Gray suggests a better guage of measure is to take a look at our relationships. How are they going? How are we responding to our loved ones, to those closest to us?

This seems like a wise idea. I know, when I get in a place of overwhelm and frustration, I often am resentful and snap at those around me. When in reality, many things on my to-do list may be for their benefit, how is my doing those things helping the relationship if I am short with them? The point here, I think, is that it is not about how much I accomplish, but am I being loving? How can I show that love best, is it by checking off every item on my list or by being present and available?

And with that I am faced with the conundrum of how to move forward, because I want the satisfaction of accomplishing things and the love of the other person(s). I want to say “yes” to everything, and be everything to everyone, but in doing so my life becomes unbearable. Yet, the fear of disappointing and the fear of losing love push me on.

So, when options arise, and another opportunity presents itself, what should we do? We have to make a decision, we could react or we could choose but wait, there is another option  The authors suggest practicing “responsible procrastination.” They encourage us to not spend “all of [our] time on oughts and shoulds” we should “try to steal a little time for a favorite activity.” Take time to decide if what seems so urgent really matters that much and do something you enjoy in the mean time.

I am finding that taking a few stolen moments for things I enjoy throughout the day makes the whole day more enoyable, like sitting out on the patio journaling and sipping coffee or taking time to play with my bunnies. Stopping to read a chapter in a novel or pulling out my watercolors and splashing paint on a few pages of my creative journal. I am also finding how much I enjoy sitting down to listen to a podcast. Many of them are very thought-provoking and I am left encouraged with new ideas of how to move forward in an area of life. When I take extra time to do these life-giving activities I come back to my to-do list re-energized. These activities also give me space to really breathe and think things through so I can choose wisely.

Rushing through life, busy all of the time, feeling like I live in a pressure cooker has left me stressed and exhausted. Trying to control everything and saying ‘yes’ to everyone has not gotten me the love or approval I have been seeking.

Slow feet!– those word keep coming back to me. When I take it slow and don’t respond out of the neediness inside, it is only then I can even begin to muster up the courage to say “no.” But I must stop and take time to think about what will happen if I say “yes.” How will it affect my life and my relationships? When I stop and pray and take time to seek the Lord’s wisdom, He often shows me how unrealistic I am being in trying to add more things into my hours and my days.

Gray also suggests that another way to help ourselves is to not add any new activities or responsibilities unless we eliminate one. This is a practice I want to incorporate in my life. It seems like a good method for being responsible with my choices.

I am realizing that when I react immediately responding with what may feel good in the moment, often because I know it will please the other person, I usually end up regretting what I have agreed to do. When I stop and think, give myself time to pray and make a wise choice, the outcome, often, actually gives me peace. And if I know choosing something new will mean I have to give up something else, I may not be so quick to react.

It seems that choosing is definitely a better option than reacting. But it is an option that takes intentionality. It is an option I want to be intentional about in my life and that will take extra effort to put into action. It is another step on my journey to recalibrate life in 2019.

What about you? Do you need to work at actively choosing instead of reacting?

 

 

 

* Photo from Unsplash taken by Annie Spratt.