The snow has started to return to MN and the days are increasingly become in shorter. The sun is now setting around 5p every night…. For some this is unwelcome sign of what is to come over the next 6 months. For me and many others in Minneapolis in the midst of everything 2020 has thrown at us, with the return of winter we can breath a bit of a sigh of relief. Everything is slower in the winter. The pace of life just becomes slower. The radius that anyone would be willing to travel has shortened, and all plans are now susceptible to being canceled because of a last minute blizzard, or simple because it is just too damn cold… I really need winter this year.

This has been a stressful year, for a uncountable number of reasons. Some that we share and some that are uniquely mine. It almost feels like the stress for the entire year culminated on the week of the election. Now I try not to be too political, and I actually have very little hope in whichever person sits on the throne in the oval. However, there was no escape from the drama. The media, the crazies on facebook and even the president himself made that week unbearable. The unknowns of our collective future seemed to be unattainable, and for me, unknown is the ultimate stress inducer.

So I wanted to reflect on this year. On that week. Not out of enjoyment or to prove a point, but as an opportunity for personal growth. I don’t get stressed out often, so these feels and emotions being sustained over the course of an entire year has been a new experience, albeit unpleasant, but also new.

I have never been accused of wearing my heart on my sleeve. Emotions are something that most of the time I am unaware that I am experiencing. They are there, but I naturally keep them buried under layers of hope, idealism and logic. When my emotions are expressed it’s always through those same filters. I tend to be more aware of my external expressions of my emotions than I am of what I am experiencing internally.

In order to help me discover how I “feel” started writing all the ways in which I knew I was stressed out. These are the external signs of what is happening inside of me, because apparently it’s too difficult for me to just know what’s going on inside of me.

So, here are the ways I know when I am stressed out:

Short and poor sleep
During the election week I only slept an average of 5 hours per night. This was not caused by going to bed too late or needing to wake up too early, it was literally all my body could sleep. When I look at my sleep cycles I also spent very little time in deep sleep. So not only was my sleep short, it was very ineffective. I normally average around 7–8 hours with 20% deep sleep. I struggle to fall asleep when I go to bed and feel extremely tired when I wake up.

Increase alone time required
My internal stress is plenty. I don’t want to need to entertain anyone else’s issues, struggles, stress or pain… Stressed Greg’s capacity to be present and available for others is greatly diminished. I often find myself doing activities solo, which in my non-stressed state I am very much the inviter and includer.

The things that don’t matter
Because I don’t want to confront the realities of life I find myself pre-occupying my time with stuff that has little impact or importance. I enjoy TV and video games on a fairly regular basis, but when I am stressed It’s almost as if those things become the most important part of my day so I no longer have to be aware of reality.

I eat
Snacks, a lot of them, a lot of the time. When stress levels are low I usually have a very strict and minimal diet consisting of intermittent fasting, 2 meals a day and no snacking. When stress is high, I never stop eating. Our team knows I am an emotional eater, and they have learned that if I am seen eating a buster bar it’s been a bad day. I had 3 the week of the election.

Creativity ceases
I am still able to operate fairly effectively during stress. I can complete my work and do what is expected of me, but it ends there. Over the last few years I have cultivated a few creative outlets that I really enjoy engaging in. I write, I make photos, I create videos, I create new business opportunities, I attempt to approve on already in place systems. I know all of these don’t necessarily seem like creative outsells, but for me, they are. I would definitely put starting a new business in the same category as creating a new video… During a stressful season all of these additional creative outlets go out the window. I know something is wrong when I having picked up my camera in a week.

These are 5 external expressions of the stress that is happening inside of myself. It has been important for me to be aware of these things so that I can be gracious with myself and also so I can attempt to change and find better coping mechanisms. While this year has been exceptional, I do believe that struggle and stress are a given in life. Knowing how we naturally cope can help us deal with stress in healthy ways.

In what ways do you discover your stress levels?
How do you cope with stress?
How has coping been different in 2020?
What are some healthy coping mechanisms you can implement?
What does it look like to have extra grace for yourself in this season?

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