Good news for those of us who read before I bed: it’s one of the most relaxing activities we can put into our bedtime ritual. Research shows that reading, even for as little as 6 minutes!, can reduce stress by as much as 68%. However, before bed, keep it light—no horror, excessive violence, or grief, and no self-help that requires intense introspection. The emotions stirred up by those genres can disrupt sleep and increase stress.
Happy bedtime reading, friends! Say yes to a good book.
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
The stresses of life pile up from time to time. These last few weeks were a little rocky. Stress at work. Apartment issues. The nerves associated with putting on a live show in New York City on a cold Monday night in January. A really not-great date. Not enough time to write. One afternoon, I was sitting with all of that and I realized I was holding my breath. This is what I do with stress. I get very still. I get quiet. I hold. I wait.
I’ve found that the breath is the beginning and end of everything for me. A thought. A feeling. An action. A reaction. If I can get my breath moving, my spirit comes back to life. Then the mind. Then the body. And if I can keep the breath going, these pieces of me begin to work together. It’s a slow but reliable process.
Sometimes breathing moment to moment is what I can do. Sometimes it’s all I can do. And that’s enough. That’s the seed where solutions begin. And I always have access to it. It’s always an option, and so I take it.
“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” ~Timber Hawkeye
One day this week tapped into my prime stressors. I had a too-packed schedule, my blood sugar started dropping because I forgot to eat, subway delays abounded and made me late to my final meeting, and I had an unexpected discussion about my apartment building fire that threw me into some uncomfortable flashbacks. All of it was manageable, but together in a short span of time those stressors added up into a palpable storm.
As I stood in the subway on my way home, I closed my ways halfway, focused on my breath, and reminded myself that despite all of these circumstances, I was okay. I got through the schedule, I grabbed something to eat, everyone understands the subway issue, and I had survived the fire. Slowly the stress seeped away into the street below my feet as I made my way home. By the time I reached my apartment, I was back on solid ground.
Letting go of our troubles isn’t a one and done deal; it’s a continual process. Smiling helps. Breathing helps. Gratitude helps. Friends help. My dog helps. If you’re facing a storm now, of any proportion, give yourself a break. You’re doing the best that you can. Eventually, every storm breaks. You will go on. Believe.
I often go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to find peace and solace during stressful times. I emptied my change purse, lit a candle, and said a prayer.
I prayed for my friend who passed away and for so many of my friends who are struggling through life now. To find a job where I can spend every day building a better world for all of us. For Phineas’s anxiety to subside so we can happily settle into our new home. For the continued opportunities to do my creative work, and for love.
About 10 minutes later, I had an interview with a startup that is exactly the place I’ve been hoping to find. I got an email from my publisher that the pre-order page for my book is now live (more details on that later after I do a bit of polishing on it). I checked in on Phineas and he was only barking occasionally behind his new gate which was barely audible when I got to the lobby of my apartment building. And for a brief moment, I was able to imagine my friend who passed away as being in a happier, more peaceful place now.
I can’t say for sure if lighting a candle and saying a heartfelt prayer made a difference for me today but it certainly feels that way, and that’s good enough for me. Whatever you’re facing now, I hope this same shift in energy finds you and comforts you.
I’m so glad to be home, so excited for what’s next. And I’m not going to lie—I’m a little nervous, too. The second I solve one challenge or put one more concern to rest, another one is waiting in the wings and immediately steps into the spotlight of my attention. It’s moving, it’s job searching, it’s getting Phineas healthy and settled, and it’s the personal and professional to-do lists that never seem to end. None of this is bad at all; it’s just stuff that needs doing and I’m the one who need to do the doing.
Mine is a naturally worrying mind. I do my best to stay focused and composed though those pesky concerns are persistent little buggers. And unfortunately, if I can’t find a good one, I invent one. You know, just to get ahead of things! I don’t procrastinate well. I’m just not built for it; I often wish I was but it’s not my nature.
I was talking to my friend, Alex, and she reminded me about all of those posts we read when someone gives advice to their younger self. And they all say some variety of “Stop worrying. It’s going to be okay.” I try to imagine my older self telling myself today the same thing.
If like me you can’t stop worrying at least put the worries over there, way over there, so you can keep moving forward. I take a long walk. I take a deep breath. I remind myself of all of the difficult things I’ve done before, all of the trying circumstances I’ve survived. And that helps. Staying calm in the face of challenges is difficult, and it’s the only way to get through them. And get through them, we will.
“Three months ago, things seemed a little bleak. But to be honest, everything worked out in the best way possible.”
I said this to my friend, Ria, this weekend. She stopped me and said, “Christa, that’s what always happens to you. And I’m saying this to you, making sure you know and understand that whenever you hit tough times, it does work out. So don’t freak out. It is always going to be okay. Okay?”
A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I was stressed about my move. How was I going to see all my friends before I go? How was I going to get this place packed up? Which movers could meet my timeline for a good price? (To be fair, a few were a little annoyed with me that my timeline is rather tight, but hey, that’s finding an apartment in New York City. It’s a just-in-time market!)
Today, I got a quote for half of what I thought it would be. I am able to rent a small SUV to drive some things up to DC myself for nearly the same price as a compact car. My building in D.C. can accommodate my move date and my building in New York is very relaxed about move-ins (and doesn’t charge a fee either!) It really is all going to be okay. Really.
Yes, I have work to do. A lot of sorting, packing, and cleaning. I’m going to get to spend time with friends here in D.C. before I go. Dinners, happy hours, coffees, and walks. And then I’ll drive up to New York with little Phin. We’ll move into our new place and it will all be fine. Everything will be better than fine.
In the moment, it can be difficult to remember to keep a longer perspective. What’s right in front of it feel so urgent and pressing. And it is, but we’ll get through it the way we always get through it: one step, one moment at a time.
When I was a kid, I used to watch the show Touched by Angel with my mom. Since then, I’ve always felt that angels walk among us. And on my moving day, I came face-to-face with one of them.
I was stressed on my moving day, and I left the house to take Phin on his morning walk. There was a Scooby-Doo like blue van parked right outside the house exactly in the place that I had hoped my moving van could park in a few hours provided no one else had taken it.
I’d never seen the van before. A man who looked like Santa Claus, long white beard and all, was in the driver’s seat. The van was stuffed with all kinds of items from what I could see, and I assumed that the man was living in his van. I didn’t recognize him but I felt like I knew him. I smiled and waved, and he smiled back. When I returned with Phin, he was still there and again I smiled and waved.
Right around noon, the blue van pulled away and my moving van pulled right up to take the space. When I went out to greet the movers, I found the note pictured here stapled to the tree outside. Angels are all around us, especially when we need them most. Just when you think you’re down and out, all of a sudden you find support in the most unlikely places.
I’m moving to my new apartment today. As I was taping up the few remaining boxes, I felt another wave of nervous wash over me. And then theatre saved me, again, the same way it’s saved me so many times before.
I started humming the beautiful song I’ve Been Here Before from the musical, Closer Than Ever. I have been here many times before. I’ve felt these feelings. I’ve dealt with uncertainty and change in inordinate amounts. And you know what? I’m always, eventually, just fine. By some miracle, it always works out because I work. And work and work and work.
This time is no different. If anything, it’s far easier than my last move. I took one more (very) deep breath and went back to taping boxes. That’s how every move everywhere gets done: one box at a time.