I feel like I’m standing at the base of a cliff, looking up.
I’m wearing mountain climber shoes and a harness (or whatever mountain climbers wear), but the top is so very far. What’s more, there are tricky points along the way; places where a girl could lose her footing and plummet to the ground.
Or at least the end of her rope.
Now, for some people, this scene would inspire bravado and bluster: Anchors away! Let’s do this! But me? My palms start sweating and all of a sudden I need to pee. Preferably somewhere much less scary than at the base of this cliff.
Diving into my nutrition & dietetic internship
All of that is a roundabout way of saying that today marks the first day of my dietetic internship, the 9-month “residency” for dietitians. While I’m thrilled to be getting started—I can see my RD credential at the top of that mountain!—I’m also nervous, because I know internship is intense, both academically and emotionally.
I’ll start out learning to nutritionally support hospitalized patients with everything from cancer to traumatic injury. Then I’ll rotate through outpatient cardiac rehab, diabetes care, and long-term care before going back to the hospital to learn critical care nutrition. That’s all capped off with a week of “staff relief,” which means I’ll be working as if I were a full-time hospital RD, but with someone checking my work.
Come winter, I dive into 8 weeks of community nutrition and 6 weeks in food service, plus another 2 weeks of an elective rotation. Add to this about 2 hours of commuting a day and a blistering amount of homework, and there’s little time to unwind. It’s going to be intense!
So intense, in fact, that I’ll only be posting on Veggie Quest every other week at best, which makes me blue, but it’s only temporary. (Is it May yet?) 😉
Appearing on Good Morning Washington!
Yet internship isn’t the only reason I’m feeling stressed. As if starting a new chapter in my life wasn’t enough, I’ll also be appearing on Good Morning Washington! Yep, I’ll be on News Channel 8 on Monday, September 5th at 8:30 am demonstrating healthy, time-saving cooking hacks. LIVE. On AIR. With people watching. Including live online here.
(Breathe, Lee. Breathe.)
You see, it brings me joy to know that I’m helping–even in a small way–to help people eat healthy, tasty food. But I’m a behind-the-scenes type. A writer. And you know how many people are watching you when you write?
That’s right: ZERO. (Unless you have an overly attached significant other or a dog who wants to go for a walk.)
I mean, I practically hyperventilated before my I gave my first Toastmasters speech, which I delivered to a small and uber-supportive audience.
So this is going to be a real challenge for me.
But you know what? I can and will do it, sweaty palms and all.
Maybe that mountain isn’t so high as it looks. With a positive outlook and a little help from above, I can get through my internship and rock my appearance on Good Morning Washington. (Or become an internet meme if I goof—in which case I’ll be helping people by making them laugh, right?)
Needless to say, I’ll need to rely on all my stress-reducing tricks. Luckily, as someone who tends towards anxiety, I’ve got a full-on buffet of techniques at the ready. So I’m sharing my favorites here. Hopefully they’ll help you (and me, too) with that stressful job, those family issues, or whatever mountain you’re staring up at, wondering how you’ll get to the top!
5 Ways to De-Stress
1. Put on your oxygen mask first
If you’re like a lot of women, you give, give, give. Work, family, friends: Everyone and everything else gets top billing, while you’re lucky to squeeze in a shower. But long-term, it’s a recipe for burnout. In fact, when I fall into that pattern, not only do I get tired and cranky, but it starts taking me longer to get less done, because I’m not focusing as well as usual. Mix in a dash of insomnia, and it’s not a pretty picture. (Jeff will vouch for that!) 😉
In fact, trying to do it all makes me so much less effective in everyday life that I’ve come to believe self-care is mandatory. Skipping workouts, foregoing rest, and refusing yourself time to recharge sets you up to crash. Take care of the “have-tos,” and let the “shoulds” go so you can take care of yourself. Like the flight attendant says, put on your oxygen mask first! Because you have to be able to catch your breath—literally and figuratively—to be optimally useful to others.
2. Work out
The 30 minutes you set aside to work out are probably the most important moments of your day. Being active is proven to help you burn off stress and pump out feel-good endorphins.
If a 30-minute chunk feels impossible, then break it up: Climb a few flights of stairs at lunch, walk during your coffee break (or rock out to your headphones during kiddo nap time), and take a 15-minute bike ride with the kids in the evening. Done!
If you’re injured? Exercise the parts of you that aren’t. Of course, check with your doc if you have a health condition. But for the most part, our bodies were meant to move. Depriving them of activity can intensify stress.
3. Take 5 deep, slow breaths
Slow, peaceful breathing helps short-circuit your body’s production of adrenaline, the hormone that makes you feel like you’re being chased by a lion when your to-do list gets out of control.
My favorite breathing exercise takes less than 2 minutes and is supremely soothing. Sit comfortably upright, close eyes, and “follow” your breath with your mind for 5 breaths. I mean literally trace your breath from your nose, through your windpipe, into your lungs as they fill, and back out again. I also like to say “deep” on the in-breath and “slow” on the out-breath, a trick I learned from a recording of meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s surprisingly good at settling my nervous system! Give it a try with words that are especially calming for you.
4. Tidy for 10 minutes
Too much clutter can actually increase stress hormones in women, according to a UCLA research project. And clutter has long been known to be distracting in a work space—or anywhere else, for that matter. So taking 10 minutes to tidy a desktop or dining room table could actually lower stress hormone levels! What’s more? Finishing any project—like cleaning off a desktop—gives your brain a little jolt of happiness-inducing dopamine.
5. Ease insomnia with Shut-i
One of the worst things about feeling stressed, at least for me, is insomnia. Now, though, while I struggle with insomnia occasionally, I know what to do if it rears its ugly head: Go back to the habits I learned in Shut-i.
Shut-i is a research-based online program that teaches you how to fall asleep and stay asleep by changing your thoughts about sleep and your sleep habits. Shut-i was recommended to me by my doctor and has plenty of evidence to back it up. It is an investment, though. The program costs $135 and takes 6-7 weeks to complete. It also requires 1 hour a week of online training and homework. That said, having control over your sleep and knowing what to do when insomnia strikes is priceless. Shut-i was really helpful for me, and I highly recommend it! (I won’t make a dime if you sign up, by the way. I just think it’s borderline life-changing.)
Hopefully these tips will help you shed some stress! And if you’re a stress eater (like moi), check out these 7 Ways to Stop Emotional Eating.
Also, don’t forget: If you’re in the DC area and awake at 8:30 am on Labor Day, tune into News Channel 8 for some time-saving cooking hacks. Or you can watch it live online here. (Cross your fingers for me!)
Alright ladies (and gents), now I want to hear from you:
- What’s your favorite way to de-stress?