The Paralyzing Effect of Stress

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This week was not a stellar one for me.  I found myself in the familiar place of adulthood where there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.  I followed none of the advice I know is best and instead retreated into my office for large portions of the day, worked marathon hours at home and caffeinated enough to fly a jet plane around the world.

I thought that if I scheduled every minute of my day I could get it all done, the presentations, the phone calls, the observations, the projects.  Sleeping less, and planning out the day to the finite minute would give me ultimate control resulting in maximum efficiency and total calm in the chaos.  At least that’s what I had convinced myself.

Of course, that’s not what happened.

By Wednesday afternoon, I had reached my breaking point.  I had been on all day for three days straight and was working on finishing, (ok honestly just starting) a presentation I was giving that night at a PTA meeting about our school improvement plan.  Prior to this week, I had been looking forward to giving it because I sincerely love our PTA and couldn’t wait to share the wonderful work my staff has been doing.  I had even invited my superintendent to come as an informal evaluation because I was so excited to share the work. 

Instead of excitedly starting the presentation, I felt sheer terror.  I started thinking about the numerous other projects I would have to complete even after the presentation tonight and it just seemed utterly impossible.  To make matters worse, I realized around this same time that a portion of the Jefferson Family Project, which was debuting at the all-school Thanksgiving Feast the next day had disappeared.  I had no idea where the slides had gone and hadn’t scheduled time in the day to find them.  If that wasn’t enough, it was also my day to pick up my daughter from school and take her to her School of Rock lessons followed by dinner together and it was almost time for me to leave.  Life felt like a ticking time bomb. 

I froze.  My mind went blank and I started tearing up.    My inner thoughts jumped from, “You are terrible at this job.  You are not good enough to be an administrator.  How could anyone ever give you this position?” to “How can you even call yourself a mom? You’re never home.  Other moms can do it all.  Why can’t you?  What’s wrong with you?”  I told myself things that I would never ever say to anyone, but for some reason felt free to shame myself with.  

Lessons Learned

Spoiler alert.  None of the horrible thoughts I had during those moments ever came to fruition.  The Jefferson Family Project got fixed.  I gave my finished presentation to PTA and got wonderful feedback from both the community and my superintendent.  I didn’t end up getting to take my daughter to her class that night, but we spent the entire day together today and she still loves me unconditionally.  All of the projects that I needed to complete, the phone calls, the meetings, they all happened and went well.  

So am I writing this post to tell you not to be stressed because it will all work out?  

Nope.

I wrote that post in August.  It clearly didn’t work for me so I obviously need to readjust.  

Really I’m writing this post because I learned something about myself as a leader, a human, a mother, and a friend.   I want to avoid getting into that awful mental space of overwhelmed feelings and self-doubt and shame and am hoping that what I share might help you too.  (Especially if you an overthinking stressosaurus like me.)

1.  You Can’t Do it All

Nor should you.  One of the best things I did in this was to go and seek out my instructional coach.  She was more than happy to be a thinking partner in the work I was doing.  Her help not only took some of the overwhelmed feelings I was having away, but also made the work I was doing 10 times better than if I would have done it myself.  Besides helping think, she also helped with style and made the presentation look professional.  Once I had a partner in the work it was amazing how much easier it was to get my thoughts together.   I can’t believe I didn’t go to her right away with this, and will definitely remember to do so in the future.  

You know the saying, “It takes a village?”  Well, I ended up getting help from my assistant principal, coach, secretary, PTA President and wife, 5th-grade students, and teachers to finish the Jefferson Family Project and get it ready for the next day.   They all did different components and every time I pass by it I smile.  I am grateful for their help and the lesson learned.

This whole experience has made me start re-evaluating a lot of the tasks I am doing. Do I really need to complete them on my own?  Which ones can I delegate?  Who can be a thinking partner in my work?  I work with some incredible staff.  It is clear that I have been missing out on some opportunities to use them to their full capacity.

2.  Get out of Your Head, Go Be With People

The best parts of this week, and another reason my work ended up going well, were conversations I had with staff, students, and friends.  On Wednesday night, two of my staff members stopped by my office just to chat.  It wasn’t about a need, it was about life or to share a funny story, one that I’m still laughing about.  One of those staff members surprised me with chips and salsa from my new favorite restaurant because when she was with me, the company that was delivering my food had brought me the wrong kind.  Her unexpected kindness made my day, my week honestly and got my mind in the right space. 

On Thursday, knowing this is a busy time of year, in place of a staff meeting, I organized a wellness event.  We got to pick from yoga, cardio or a cooking class.  At the end, there were other optional things to choose from.  My favorite memory was sitting with staff in a circle in the library, with acupuncture needles stuck in our various limbs telling stories about our lives.  During the day we had our all-school Thanksgiving Feast, run by the PTA where we all eat lunch together.  Because of this, I got to spend about two hours connecting with students, staff and parents.   I left school feeling invigorated as opposed to deflated.  What a difference 24 hours can make!

When you spend your day talking only to people about work-related items it can be draining, but when you connect on a personal level it is invigorating and incredibly important.  I need to remember that as I go about my day.   

3.  Stop Scheduling Everything

I am not a “Type A” person in many aspects of my life.  My house is often a mess.  It doesn’t stress me out to be late to social events.  I am happy to go on vacation without planning out every minute detail.   When I feel overwhelmed by something though, “Type A” tendencies often take over and I over plan to the point of taking the joy out of things I love.  

I have also written about this before, but this time I am committing.  Because I am going to get better delegating and partnering on work, I am much more confident that it will actually happen.  Each day is going to include a half-hour of think time that I can use as I like to reflect, close my door and be by myself if needed or catch up.  I am going to try to give myself more grace if I don’t finish “all the things” in the timeframe that I thought I would as well. 

I also need to make more time for family.  This week I failed terribly at the work/home balance.  I committed at the beginning of the year to focus Saturdays on family and friends only, but in reality that hasn’t always happened.  I am recommitting to that promise.




When I get stressed, I tend to go internal and reach for some sort of inner strength or answer.  What I’m realizing is that it is better to get out of myself and connect with and learn from the strength of others.  I also need to be kinder in my self-talk when I am feeling overwhelmed.  Mostly, I am incredibly grateful to everyone who helped me this week for the lessons learned, the help given and the love I felt as a result.  

keller quote

 

 

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