When life feels overwhelming, memento mori…among other things

mementomoriMemento mori: remember death. A reminder to the living to live well and with humility, for death ultimately awaits us. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

A friend of mine has the phrase tattooed on her arm to soothe her when she’s feeling anxious. It struck me that I use the opposite notion to calm me when I’m stressed.

I remember that whatever minor tribulation I’m suffering is not going to kill me, and that is comforting. For example, my home renovation that starts next week is not going to kill me, nor will all the inconvenient minutiae related to it.

Death is the ultimate wake-up call. Everything seems so insignificant in its shadow.

Existence can be overwhelming and we often let stress control our lives. We go into survival mode, and while sometimes that’s necessary for a short period of time, it’s not an ideal situation. Working in the gym, one of the biggest complaints I heard from members was about stress. Stress is what stopped people from working out and eating sensibly. It leaves people distant and irritable, which can affect their relationships.

But if you could feel even 10% less shitty during the process, wouldn’t you take it? It is possible to face stressful events and not completely abandon everything else that is important to you.

If invoking images of the grim reaper is a bit too morbid for your tastes, here are some tactics that I use to keep myself more or less even-keeled during stressful situations.

Just to be clear, in this post I’m talking about short-term stress that’s induced by a specific event that has a deadline. Which is actually what life is now that I think about it, haha. But I’m speaking specifically about things like a looming deadline, the holidays, a new job, moving and so on.

Just Let Go

Trying to control and predict every step of the way will drive you crazy. Trust that in the end things will be taken care of and the worst-case scenario is probably not that bad. I always try to plot my every move and tell myself that I’m going to be super productive and get way ahead so that when x, y, z happens I’ll be SO prepared. But you know what? That never happens. In reality, I’m usually a little bit behind, and everything still turns out okay.

Mindfully Mindless

Remember that stress is our reaction to a perceived threat. To some degree we have control over that reaction, and it’s useful to manipulate the feeling when the threat is not an actual threat. One of the things that creates stress and anxiety is rumination–obsessing over every detail and all the possible what-ifs. When that starts to happen it’s important to filter out the static in your head, and I like to do that by getting mindfully mindless. What that means is you tune out all the obsessive thoughts and tune into the present moment. Get mindful of NOW and mindless to the what-ifs. We know what we need to do and we’re going to do it when we need to. And that’s all there is to worry about. To be mindless to the what-ifs is to give NO HEED to the useless thoughts that are stressing you out. When you practice this (which is basically mindfulness but with a catchier title), you center yourself and edit out a lot of unnecessary grief.

It Ain’t Your First, It Ain’t Your Last

None of us are stress virgins here. Chances are if you’re in a stressful situation you’ve had a similar experience before. Draw on that to remind yourself that what needs to get done gets done. If you’ve been through this before, you can do it again. I remember being given additional work at my job, and for the first year I stressed my bi-monthly deadline every time. Until I realized that I always got the job done. I’ve also undergone bathroom renovations before, so I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Remember, it passes. It all passes. And now I need to go pack up some furniture.

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