There is a direct link between stress and what happens in our bodies.
I’m sure there are plenty of research papers and evidence to back this up, but I know this because I get mouth ulcers when I’m stressed.
I got a mouth ulcer last week.
It’s the first one I’ve had in a while now, maybe a few years.
It’s weird because I’ve had a distinct lack of stress in my life up until the last few weeks
In fact, I was actually missing being stressed - I think a healthy level of stress can be quite fun. It keeps my brain and body moving, and moving fast is fun to me (I know, toxic right?).
A few months ago I had the first night in a while where I struggled to get to sleep because I was thinking. Mapping possibilities and planning routes forward. My heart rate was up. I felt alive and sleep wasn’t happening for me.
At the time I remember thinking “ohh this is what this feels like again”, and “ I kind of missed this”.
After 4-5 successive weeks of this I feel less fond of the feeling.
I suppose I’ve been stressed for a number of reasons.
My work has ramped up significantly, I’ve been working later and longer, and I haven’t exactly been resting at the weekends with many outings and heavy drinking (the good kind if there is such a thing).
It all seems to have bubbled up in the last two weeks where I have felt significantly stressed. Not just for a day or two but for the whole of work week and a bit on the weekends.
Specifically at the start of the week I seem to be more on edge
I have a theory about why.
Throughout the week tasks, to dos, and things to explore pile up, and Friday usually leaves a bunch of them undone, unexplored.
Come Sunday night and Monday morning I am anxious to get started.
I know that I have a lot of get done and my skin is itching to get started, to make a dent in the list.
Monday morning is usually one of my most productive times because of this - I tend to look at the most important actions for the week, to tick a pile of them off.
I think if I had a full day on Monday I could get 30% of my work done on that day alone.
But it’s not that simple...
See I am part of a semi-remote company, and the majority of our team works on Eastern Standard Time in Boston.
In real terms this means we have our “morning” standup at 2pm my time, and most of my meetings for the day follow in the part of our working days that cross over.
This can be frustrating for a few reasons.
It makes it difficult to keep up my streak of productive deep work from the morning.
My meetings usually drag or I have unresolved things from the morning that I want to complete before I finish up for the day; my working day drags into the evening.
When it comes time for our daily meetings my head is still very much so in a state of focus and deep work - I’m looking for the resolution and next action. I’m not exploring conversation but instead trying to get things done.
All of this is fine and super normal in remote teams.
It’s something I’m adapting to and I don’t hate it at all. If anything it’s a nice segmentation between deep work and work with others.
It does mean that I have become quite strict on what I do and when I do it.
This is amplified by that fact that I am a single person marketing team right now.
I am forced to be lean with my work, prioritise every action for what is making a dent in our direction, and be quite protective over my time.
This isn’t a direct source of anxiety for me, but I tend to get agitated or stressed in work when my to-do list isn’t moving, or worse — growing.
This can happen a lot in the meetings I have later in my day where is a lot of strategy and planning. They lead to things that need to be done, additions to the list.
When I have a full afternoon of blocked meetings this means my list only grows and I have no opportunity to shrink it.
Maybe it’s this lack of control that’s really causing the stress and anxiety I’m feeling.
I feel like there is a lot to do, to accomplish, but no opportunity to tackle it.
One thing is crystal clear to me at least.The stress and anxiety isn’t healthy.
I don’t like having mouth ulcers and not being able to sleep. I don’t want to think about the future implications of it all.
I want to have a healthy relationship with stress.
This weekend I took things much easier. I physically and mentally checked out of work on Friday evening and have been actively ignoring thinking about it since then.
This morning I took it upon myself to get up earlier and make some space to process the last few weeks. That’s what this post is.
I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop writing away, less stressed than my normal Monday morning for sure.
I recently had the pleasure of working with someone that had some well defined views on mental health and work life balance. They actually left us to pursue a role directly in this area, and credit to them for it.
When they left our company, they left with a simple request to all of us. That we find one thing per day or per week that we do just for us.
That we do to unravel our brains and decompress.
Writing is something that I picked up in a time of my life that was full of complex emotions and indecision. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed, but it has also acted as a stage for me to work through questions I have in my head or complex situations.
It’s something I have fallen out of a bit — I have plenty of writing in my drafts but haven’t published anything, which somewhat defeats the point.
I’m going oblige the request of my work friend and try to start writing more; perhaps on Monday mornings. Although I’ve never been good at keeping to a time or schedule…
I will write more.