You know those weeks when life hits hard and won’t let up, when your work and personal responsibilities interfere with each other, people may have let you down, & things you were counting on fall through on you?
How do you hang on to your sanity and sense of well being when, over and over, you’re faced with difficult, on-the-fly decisions under pressure?
The last time I faced a tough week like that, l noticed how hard it was for me to maintain my energy for work and for anything else I needed to do. I had to fight hard to get enough sleep, eat well, and keep up with the exercise I need to stay sharp. I realized what a huge impact stress has on my well being.
With all these things on my mind, I wanted to research the current thought on dealing with stress. I found clever techniques, tips about mindset and so forth, but I couldn’t find examples of what people focus on when they’re in the trenches, going through those difficult moments. I wondered why the experts weren’t speaking from their personal experiences. I think we can learn so much from each others’ stories. Let me get us started by sharing from a week I’ll never forget.
I remember lying flat on my back on my bedroom floor after a phone call with my parents. My dad had just returned home from the hospital after being in the ICU. He’d had medication poisoning, and we realized how close we were to losing him. What a disaster for my family. I was on edge, waiting to see if I should fly across the country. I felt in limbo as we waited on each of the doctors’ reports, trying to get a sense of how he was doing. Fortunately, Dad’s going to be okay, but it was exhausting for all of us.
And afterward the craziness would continue for me, starting with some car trouble. My car was struggling to start, and the dealer charged me a ridiculous diagnosis fee to prove that the car needed a battery. I was really frustrated with them, but I wanted to have a good attitude and deal with the situation the right way, so I said a little prayer. The thought came to me to not concern myself with feeling disrespected, but instead to deal with the unfairness in the situation.
As it turned out, I walked in as the only customer in the room, so everyone working there would be hearing what I had to say. I told them that I understood everyone’s trying to make a living and I would pay the bill, but I wasn’t satisfied, and the charge was not right or fair. I said I could have taken my car anywhere in the city and it would have been much less expensive for me. I got home and wrote up an online review of their business similar to what I’d told them, so that others could avoid what I just went through.
It was a rough situation, but I hadn’t taken it personally and I felt great about that part, because I wasn’t being worn out by my own anger. After all that I just wanted something positive to happen, so I started pouring myself into one of my video projects to finish the day. Time flew by. I was enjoying what I was doing, and I worked late into the night.
I kept going past my limit and I didn’t take time to wind down once I’d finished. My mind was still working on the video project when I went to bed, and I had trouble sleeping that night. Then I was tired going into the next work week. I had a really busy Monday, but everything was going okay until I got a phone call from the daughter of one of my physical therapy patients. She said she had been waiting for her mother to be seen since last week and she couldn’t wait any longer. Her mom must be seen today.
It so happened that I missed scheduling this person in the midst of all my family stress the previous week. I told the daughter the best I could do would be to see her the next day or set her up with another therapist. The daughter sounded like she could tolerate my mistake on the phone, but she really complained to my office and my referral source.
Next thing I knew I was getting texts and emails from a number of people. My referral source was upset and taking it out on my front office. At that point all the texts and emails were sitting in the back of my mind. Piled on top of my lack of sleep, the stress was getting to me. I could feel a mild headache and an upset stomach.
I said a little prayer in my car, asking for help. The idea that came to me was to reconsider what I thought was truly stressful. Not sure exactly what to make of that, I walked in to see my next patient.
It turned out that this patient had high blood pressure and his wife wanted him to exercise anyway. She was trying to deny that his blood pressure was too high even though I was taking it the most accurate way, with a stethoscope, just like a doctor would do. She kept pushing me to exercise with him. I remembered the thought I had in the car, and I stopped trying to persuade her. I told her I was calling the doctor and her husband would be resting for now. It was in his best interest to take it easy.
The moment I rightfully took control of the situation, I noticed my headache and nausea were gone. What a great lesson for me.
Next, I needed to go home and find a way to deal with those texts and emails from earlier, as well as paperwork and 11 new patients that were sent for me to schedule. I paused, hoping and praying for peace, and the thought came to me that I might be tired, but I needed to get my work done now.
I got my dinner together, made phone calls, finished my paperwork and sent out a carefully-worded email to help smooth things over with my office and referral sources. I worked all the way through the evening until bedtime. I got everything finished and went to bed with a clean slate, ready for the onslaught of the next day.
The following morning my first patient wasn’t at home for her appointment. I looked at her record and saw she had a habit of doing this, so I called my office asking to get rid of this patient. My request apparently angered my referral source as they falsely claimed she had a death in the family. Then proceeded to take it out on my support staff on the phone. This was unfortunately just a preview of what was coming later in the week.
Meanwhile I got a call back from the service manager at the auto dealer. He told me he wanted to do everything he could to make me feel better, and he agreed with me that I was charged too much. That made me feel great that I was able to get a fair deal in the end.
Since I had kept up with my work, at the end of the day I had time for a cardio workout. I went out to the beach and did some hard interval training. I felt so much better afterward. Being fairly stressed out by this point, after the workout I could notice tremendous before and after improvements in my mental clarity and sense of well being. Cardio exercise is great for your heart, your lungs, and your brain. It’s well documented in scientific literature. I highly recommend finding a way to fit cardio workouts into your schedule, especially during a stressful week.*
*Please consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
After all that I’d been through, I saw that I had fallen completely behind on all my personal housekeeping and maintenance. I needed to go to the grocery, get a haircut, do dishes, prepare food, clean house…and as with earlier in the week I needed to work until bedtime to get all of these things done, but it paid off, as I was free going into the next day. It turned out to be so critical that I went into it with a clear head.
It so happened that I had made another scheduling error. When I received those 11 patients a few days earlier, I clicked the accept button for one of the patients when I meant to decline that person. I sent a message saying I didn’t mean to do this but no one saw it. Once again, my referral source was annoyed and they took it out on the front office staff. I was told to please never make that mistake again as they were “chewed out” on the phone.
This was now the third time in a week that I received complaints that seemed out of proportion to what had happened, and each time my referral source chose to complain to the front office rather than deal with me directly. I’d had enough. I saw a pattern. There was a complete lack of sensitivity or understanding for others in this business relationship, and I knew it needed to be dealt with.
I could feel the anger building up inside of me. In the past I’ve been in situations where I would feel this way and wonder whether it was right to get this angry, but this time I had more clarity. I called up my referral source and let him have it. I did not go on and on, and I didn’t curse him out, but I made it clear that I would not tolerate him treating my co-workers like that. From his perspective, he just wanted the patient to be seen on time, and our conversation came back around to how we could work together to take better care of the patient. We got everything figured out and to me it felt like a productive conversation.
Going into the next day, I began to think about whether I was too heavy handed. I wondered how people would react to what I’d done after they’d had time to think about it. I was feeling nervous. I remembered confronting another therapist over something else that had happened that same week. Unreasonable fears were building up in my mind. I needed to be more confident that I was the right person for that situation, and that what I learned and practiced in my life up to that point prepared me well enough to handle things.
I called the office to talk about a few patients and I had a pleasant surprise. The tone of our conversation was positive and it showed we wanted to learn from the tough times we had earlier in the week. We all wanted relate better to our clients and to each other. So I was happy to see that my fears were unreasonable after all. I remembered that I often trust my instincts in a difficult moment but then I worry too much about the final outcome after it’s over. As I grow more mature I’Il be able to reflect to get better for the future, not to second guess myself over what just happened.
A week of intense stress, or any comparable challenge in life, can have such a big impact on the personal choices that affect our health. Sadly, we’ve all seen the ways stress can cause emotional or physical harm, knowing that much of the trouble can actually be avoided. But maybe we can learn from each other. I believe that if we make a point to share our stories, we give ourselves a better chance of growing through stress, becoming more resilient and capable human beings.
I hope this article helped you think about the ways you can grow stronger through life’s surprises and challenges.