I have some big news! My son Luke graduated! Whoop! Luke was my second –and final– child to graduate from high school. In these parts (Alberta, Canada), we make a big deal about this milestone. There was undoubtedly less-stress having a boy graduate than there was having a girl graduate. This time around the preparation was simpler, and Luke himself was completely chill about it all. There were no hair, nail, or makeup appointments. We had a lovely celebratory barbecue for him the night before the ceremony (the ceremony, banquet, and safe-grad were all on the same day). I felt proudly in-control of the whole situation.
That is until the day came.
On that day, the timing was everything. And if you’ve learned anything about Mountain Man through my writing over the years, you know he can be difficult to ‘manage’. He runs on his own time. I’ve learned strategies over the years to make sure he makes it on time to the events that are ‘important’. The other, ‘less-important events’, I no longer stress over. We either travel separately, or we’re late. This is adaptation (versus acceptance).
This graduation day was considered one of the more ‘important’ events. Strategically, the photographer came to the house well before we had to leave for the ceremony. I knew that if Mountain Man weren’t ready (which–surprise–he was still driving the tractor around at the pre-determined picture time), he wouldn’t need to grace us with his presence until later in the shoot.
You see, we aren’t the family-portrait types.
We’ve never done any formal photos other than our wedding ceremony (which, by the way, I told him was 30 minutes earlier than it actually was) and our daughter’s graduation two years prior. So…with everyone getting all cleaned and spiffed, including my in-laws, I took advantage of the situation! This Graduation was (is) a significant event…for all of us…sniff.
As I was putting on my makeup to get ready for this finely orchestrated circus, I could feel something was off. So I took a moment to investigate. I noticed tightness in my chest and throat. I could also feel some shortness in my mood, like excitement, irritability, and nervousness combined. I felt on edge.
In the quietness of my bathroom, I could feel these things.
I noticed them, and I recognised them. These feelings were like old friends returning for a visit. They were distantly familiar. These feelings and physical symptoms were stress.
Stress isn’t new to me. Feelings of tension and anxiety used to be my normal. It wasn’t until this recent bathroom event happened, that I realised how much my life had changed. I had extreme stress during my university days, which is typical for most university and college students. While I was writing my Master’s thesis, I was forced to travel two hours to the closest city each week to visit my chiropractor.
It felt like there was a knife in my lower back.
The pain was excruciating. Interestingly, I didn’t need to see my chiropractor for six months after my thesis defence, and then it was just for periodic maintenance.
But there were more stressors: renovating our house, stopping work to have kids, becoming a dependant, losing my identity, having a sick child, raising young kids, having parents with dementia, striving for perfection, starting a business…you get the drift. I’m not comparing my stress to yours. I know these things may seem trivial and that some people are dealing with trauma, illness, and worse, but to me, these things were all-encompassing.
In the midst of all this, about ten years ago, I injured my hip, and the pain became chronic. I searched to find a solution to the pain. I went to doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, energy healers, acupuncturists. The physical stress led to emotional stress. At that time, I was a Holistic Nutritionist and Energy Healer. I knew the routine tips and tricks including supplements, homoeopathic remedies and more. Nothing was working. Then I recalled a suggestion by Naturopath teacher I had a few years earlier. He recommended qigong to help heal physical pain and to gain and maintain energy while working with clients.
Qigong is a moving meditation that combines breath and mental focus to restore a harmonious flow of energy in the body, mind, and spirit.
The rest is history. I got on the Google, and Master Chunyi Lin of Spring Forest Qigong popped up on YouTube. I practised a couple of movements along with him. It felt good, so I practised more. Then I took a Level 1 class. I didn’t notice anything significant or specific except I felt better when I did the movements; not only during the practise itself but in the days following the practice. It wasn’t until a few months later that everything in my life seemed more manageable.
My family seemed happier, I was more content with my life, I smiled more, I slept better, I had more energy, and I saw beauty wherever I went.
I forgot about my hip! But at some point, I realised I had no pain anywhere in my body! Not only had my hip pain disappeared, but I also had other joint pain and stiffness that were completely gone!
Fast forward ten years; stress is much less common for me now. While I do have some everyday stress around my kids, relationships, and my business, and creative anxiety around my work, I have developed techniques that help me feel grounded and in-the-moment. My qigong practice has given me this balance. I am much better at self-care and am good at being aware of how I am feeling physically and emotionally.
Once I became aware of my feelings, it was like turning on the lights.
I could feel and see what was happening. The next step was implementing tools to help deal with these symptoms. The tools that work best for me are energy breathing, going for a daily walk outside, good food, not getting too busy, drinking lots of water, and practising qigong.
It wasn’t until this past weekend that I realised most of the stress I used to experience was gone. The tightness and edginess are rare. Not only do my tools help with day-to-day stressors, but they also help me with the big picture. Not just treating the symptoms and situations, but helping me get to the root cause. I have managed to create a life that gives me meaning and purpose. I have a life I enjoy living and don’t wish to escape from. It’s far from perfect, and I’ve had some significant life challenges that I have handled not-so-well over the past five years (more on that later), but for the most part, it’s pretty darn good.
I didn’t know how stressed I was until the stress was gone, and I could look back.
I was used to it. It was normal. For some of us, it takes a health issue to initiate change. For others, they may not even notice stress is an issue. Give the same stressors to a group of people, some will thrive, some will survive but feel challenged, and others will be debilitated.
Listen to the subtle whispers before they become screams!
Back to that moment in my bathroom last weekend. Those feelings of tightness, tension, and irritability. I felt them fully. I was aware of them. I could have pushed on through like the good old days, just focusing on getting through the day. But instead, with my awareness, I could stop. I took a moment. I dropped my shoulders and breathed deeply down into my belly. I put my hands under the running water and washed them, feeling the water on my skin, the smoothness of the soap, the softness of my skin, the warmth of the water. I looked at myself in the mirror. I saw behind my eyes. I smiled at the middle-aged beauty staring back.
I thought of what this day meant.
We created and raised this beautiful boy who has the rest of his life ahead of him. He has a father, mother, sister, and grandparents who love him. He is so supported. He is so kind, thoughtful, and caring. I love him so much. I am so proud of him and who he has become. He has been my teacher his entire life, in profound ways. He has everything he could ever ask for. We saw to it. What a gift. How precious. How lucky. And I felt all the love that was there for all of us on that day. I also thought of my mom and how she would have loved this day. This thoughtful approach is something I would never have taken during the stressful years.
So as I paused and breathed and allowed myself to feel the love and gratitude for all that was going on, for that moment of awareness, nothing else mattered. I was going to enjoy myself. I was going to have a wonderful time and not sweat the details. And so I did. Even Mountain Man managed to smile for one of the photos, and we all arrived on time!
It was a perfect day, and I had a lot to do with that.
As I send my kids off into the world to make their mark, one of my biggest hopes is that they have learned from me the tools to handle life’s difficulties. I hope I have not only been a teacher in this regard but a role model. I’m okay with the eye rolls I get when I guide them to follow their breath before a test or when they’re not feeling confident, or when I send them one of my meditation recordings if they’re having trouble sleeping because I know these things will be useful and have absorbed into their skin and burgeoning brains.
If you’re struggling with stress in your life, I encourage you to investigate some techniques or practices to help you. Qigong, mindfulness, meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, therapy, support groups, dietary changes, and other lifestyle habits can make a huge difference in not only how you live your life and the choices you make but also in how you handle life’s challenges and your perception of your situation. This in-turn affects everyone you encounter.
I encourage you to put self-care as a priority.
Because when you’re not well, it affects all the people in your life and your ability to experience life positively. The world needs you to be well, to share your gifts, to contribute to the beauty of life, and to enjoy each small moment. Because it’s the little moments in the bathroom, washing your hands or driving to work or making a meal where life’s riches reside. It’s not in the holidays and parties and graduations. Those are all wonderful, but they are the small bits of life.
I would love to hear in the comments about how you handle the stressful moments or days in your life. We are all humans learning how we can best move through the world.