I’m sure many of you also share these feelings, but this summer was particularly stressful for me. COVID messed with a lot of my plans and created a total upheaval of my lifestyle…literally overnight. While I’m grateful that many of those unanticipated changes weren’t bad in and of themselves, the complete lack of warning was really hard for me to cope with. I felt like my stress capacity was at its max, and I was constantly on the verge of it bubbling over. Thankfully, August brought a lot of resolve to those issues: I finished and passed my board exams (after they’d been rescheduled twice), I graduated, applied for my license, accepted an offer for my dream job, and my husband and I found a place to live that would optimize both of our commute times. Praise God.
Since then, I’ve been trying to be really intentional about managing my stress. This is partly because feeling strung out feels horrible, and partly because such a maxed out emotional capacity prevents me from being able to live according to my values. I came across a quote from Bruce Larson that really spoke to me, and got my gears turning about this concept:
But it is possible that the most important thing God has for me on any given day is not even on my agenda…Am I interruptible? Do I have time for the nonprogrammed things in my life? My response to those interruptions is the real test of my love.”Bruce Larson, Pastor and Author
Before COVID, I was definitely over-scheduled. I had little time for impromptu changes in my day, and I knew I was at my max because the little things were getting to me. (Read: traffic)
Once COVID hit and my schedule was wiped clean, the stress didn’t just evaporate though. I had a new kind of stress: worrying about my future. My board exams were cancelled the day before they were scheduled to take place after I’d spent months studying. Would they be rescheduled before I graduated? Would I even be graduating on time? Would I find a job? (By the grace of God, all the answers to those questions was yes.)
The list went on and on. And my stress level kept simmering at a dangerous high. Even once the world started opening up again and we were able to leave our houses, visit family, help out our friends, etc. I felt like I couldn’t. I was so stressed that even small tasks felt overwhelming. I had no margin to be interrupted by the tasks God had planned for me. I’m not even aware of what they might have been, but I definitely know that I wasn’t seeing opportunity to love because I wasn’t taking care of my mental and emotional health.
Besides COVID and a packed schedule, there have been other seasons where the life was drained out of me, interfering with my ability to show up and be present, ready, and able to follow through with God’s call on me. The most notable is when I was knee-deep in my eating disorder. The physical toll of dieting and disordered eating is stressful enough, but pair that with the accompanying mental, emotional and spiritual overwhelm and a person is left pretty much incapacitated.
At least, I was. During that time of my life, I was constantly distracted—school, work, friendships, family life, everything. I felt like I was constantly in a rush, trying to accommodate my school and work demands as well as my workout schedule and constant compulsions to count calories,. It also didn’t help that I was always thinking about food and my weight, which distracted me even in my down time. My life revolved around food, and there was no room for interruptions.
The same was true about my body image. Even once I started taking steps in my recovery to eat in a more balanced way, I was terrified of weight gain and extremely frustrated with the changes that were taking place. The cloud of body dissatisfaction hung over me for months. For as long as I was resisting my appearance, and resisting the size/shape of my body when I was taking care of it, I was unable to be fully present in my life, available to God and others.
Self care can kind of get a bad reputation sometimes, as we tend to think of it as something for “softies” or as an excuse to be selfish. But it’s really not. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves and making provision for peace in our lives, we aren’t going to be living with readiness and availability to be used by God.