Moving overseas, I thought trusting Jesus and obeying what he asked me to do would get me through thick and thin. I’d been through some major tough stressy stuff in my pre-overseas life, and leaning hard into my bible study and prayer led me through. So I should be good, right?
I’d like to give an uber spiritual Yes! Just trust Jesus!, but I can’t. Sorry about that.
The problem was I hadn’t expected smaller pockets of stress and grief building on one another. I’d never been home sick, and unable to communicate well with people around me, and friendless, and struggling in my marriage, and battling armies of ants in my kitchen, and home schooling an unwilling child, and unable to find basic groceries, and dealing with unwanted visitors, and intestinal acrobatics, and…and… and… all on a daily basis.
After years of stress upon stress with no real understanding of how to handle any of it, I knew either something must change or I would burn out. I could not sustain the life I lived.
Recognizing and addressing the compounding nature of stress takes a lot of practice. And unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a magic formula either. However, we have found helpful ways to address stress when it rises and also some routines to help protect ourselves from overdoing it in the first place.
The list shared below is what works for my family right now. It doesn’t mean we’re immune to the effects of stress, just that we have a plan to deal with it. Also, each person in my family experiences and deals with stress differently, no doubt you will too. So we do some things together as a family, but we also pick and choose what works for us as individuals. Ok, ready for the list? Here it goes…
Get more sleep.
Pre-overseas, 6-7hours was a great night sleep. It took a long time for us to realize we could no longer function on that amount of sleep. If I’m to function well I need 8-9hours of sleep each night. To get those extra hours, I actually have to be in bed by 9pm. At first it was really hard to lose my alone time evening hours, but the payoff for sleeping longer is well worth it.
Every evening we each write down at least one thing that happened during the day that we are thankful for and collect these notes in a jar. On the really crummy days, thankfulness is so hard. We have written things like, “I’m thankful I didn’t yell at anyone today.” and “I’m thankful I cried instead of eating all the chocolate.”
Every Sunday evening we dump out all the notes and read them together as a family. These notes are precious reminders that even when things are looking bleak, God is steadily and tenderly caring for us.
Saying, “I’m very tired.” or “I feel sad right now.” or “I feel very angry.” may seem basic, but it gives a lot of freedom to actually deal with emotions instead of snapping at each other.
Have a physical outlet.
We have a punching bag, balance ball, pull up bar, jump rope, and resistance bands all out and available in our living room. Sometimes all you need is to give a sturdy bag few good hard punches and you’re on the road to feeling better. We also do gardening, jog, ride bikes, walk – anything to give our bodies a physical outlet for stress.
Protect your hobbies.
I love painting, drawing, and playing piano. My husband plays guitar and drums, and enjoys video editing. But when we moved overseas, creativity ceased. For 3 years I didn’t draw or paint, he rarely had time to create videos, and only very occasionally would we play music together. These extra activities were simply lost in the chaos of our new lives. We considered them hobbies and although enjoyable, thought hobbies are expendable.
This time around, we’ve smartened up. Although engaging in creative hobbies does take time, they are also life giving. So we commit to play music together every Sunday and to make space in our week for creativity. Hobbies are not expendable.
Get regular pastoral care.
One of the big things we miss living overseas is having access to pastoral care. In difficult times we ached for someone to sit with us, pray with us, and point our eyes to Jesus. Setting up skype calls isn’t the same thing as sitting together, but does bridge the gap. Having someone from the outside who you give freedom to speak into your life is a tremendous help.
There you have it, my family’s self-care list. These are the routines that work now for us. We may need to reassess in the future and that’s ok. How about you? What routines have you found helpful in managing stress?