Written by Paula E. Bird, copyright 2014
I have noticed that the tenor of my friends' Facebook posts have changed lately as we enter into the finale part of our season. I read about additional stress due to the activities that end our semesters: recitals, final exams, graduations, final papers and projects, season finale performances by symphony and opera companies, and special church events. The activity level has stepped up or is about to increase, and several friends have warned that there will be little let up until the season is finished. So too my own schedule is about to ramp up and get crazy for the next few weeks. How does one survive this finale season without overwhelming stress? For me, there are three things that I do.
First, I carve out some time every week to sit and contemplate my calendar for the coming week (or two). This is not the same time that I will use for reading before bed or watching television. This is actual dedicated time that I will spend for the purpose of looking at my calendar. It is a little time to spend and I do not need more than 10 minutes or so, sometimes less. I find it imperative though that I actually look at the calendar and fix it in my mind. As my readers know, I maintain my iPhone calendar and have a week-at-a-glance type of calendar open on my dining room table for my husband to refer to. My iPhone calendar has a great deal of detail while my tabletop calendar has the big outlines of where I need to be and when.
During this short little time, I check that both calendars match. I do not want anything to sneak into my iPhone calendar that is forgotten on the tabletop calendar. Looking at the overall week I find helpful for many reasons. It reminds me when there is time for basic life activities, such as laundry and grocery shopping, cleaning the house, making meals-to-go for busy days, and paying bills. I figure out the best days or time of day to accomplish errands or schedule appointments, or even reschedule lessons to accommodate my students' spring softball games or practices. If my life is really crazy, I may have to stop and focus on the calendar every few days for a minute or less. I find that the written calendar greatly helps me to feel as if I am tied to my life, as if I am truly connected to the activities in my life.
Second, I use a little technique throughout my busy schedule. I read about this technique in a little book called The Seven Whispers by Christina Baldwin. I first discovered Ms. Baldwin's work almost two decades ago when I considered adding the journaling habit to my life. I found her books inspirational and beautiful. In fact, I have recently ordered the same book that I first began with so that I would have a fresh copy to scribble in (Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest). In Baldwin's Whispers book, she writes about a centered breathing exercise. Take three breaths. In the first breath, "let go." In the second breath, "be here." and in the third breath, "now what?" This exercise takes maybe a minute, but the effect is instantaneous for me. I add one little step before performing the exercise, and that step is to let all my breath out before taking the first breath.
I learned from the Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan how to calm myself down. I took a long time to discover that it was not the breathing in that would center me but the initial breathing out that did the trick. When I want to slow down or relax a student, we focus on letting all our air out first before we take a deep breath.
This three-breath exercise is dynamic in that it brings almost instant focus and clarity to a situation. Skittering thoughts are stopped in their tracks. Muscles are relaxed. The mind is stilled into a quiet place where reflection can occur. I use this breathing exercise as often as I need it. I have the three statements on sticky notes in strategic places to remind me to perform the exercise throughout the day or evening.
Silence the Phone
Finally, I turn off the phone ringer. I still have my phone set on vibrate, but the ringer is silenced. I do this so that I do not forget to turn the phone off during rehearsals or lessons. Text messages and emails still appear on the screen, so nothing important will escape my attention, but I find that I do not need to be constantly reminded. With the ringer turned off, the air has less distracting noise in it. Then I resolve not to look at it as often.
I learned this trick when I began teaching 10 hours on Fridays. I did not have time to look at my phone except to glance at it to find out why a student did not show up on time or at all. I found that I missed very little by not checking my phone all day long. My email signature states that I check my emails twice a day, noon and 6 pm. If someone wants to reach me sooner or get a response from me, I ask that the person send me a text message. Then I stick to that twice-a-day plan for emails.
These are my basic "big three" to survive a stressful period in my schedule: sit and contemplate my weekly calendar for a few minutes every week, do a 3-step breathing exercise, and keep the phone ringer turned off and check it less frequently. Keep it simple.
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