Sunday, October 21, 2018

The "Focus Worksheet" for Job and Life Stress

I am a Worksheet Queen, and not just in class. :)
All right, my friends, it's the middle of the fall semester, and I'm feeling the burn. Working on weekends planning and creating student-centered materials for hours on end, just to try to have some semblance of instructional skill in class [They are begging to watch music videos? I gotta make or find a cloze activity that isn't horrendously impossible to fill in for unmotivated, easily distracted 1st semester Spanish 1 students. They won't sit still and pay attention to skits? I gotta make translation exercises to give them comprehensible input and upload the exercises to Google Classroom so students who hate physical writing will at least type on their school-issued MacBooks. They have no clue what the complicated textbook grammar explanations are trying to say? I gotta find or make simplified grammar worksheets and notes that make sense in class. And the list goes on.] And we all know what happens when you work all week and then work a lot on your weekend as well...stress overload, exhaustion, the feeling like your whole life is consumed by your job.

That is NOT my idea of the life I want to live. I'm guessing yours either.

So, as you might know, I'm kind of obsessed with Tony Robbins at the moment. I signed up for a free 30-minute Life Coaching session on Tony Robbins' website a few weeks ago and got an hour and a half call with a coach. (It was an awesome coaching call, and though for now I've decided not to invest in ongoing sessions, it's definitely something that I plan to look into at a later date, time and finances permitting.) The coach who connected with me has followed up by sending a couple of short teaching videos from the Tony Robbins library, which is very kind of him, considering he's hand-selected them based on our coaching conversation and both times the videos have been dead-on exactly what I needed to hear at the time.

The video I got this weekend was titled "How to Take Advantage of Uncertainty" and was about 6 minutes long, but I watched it three times and then journaled about it all morning this morning.  Then, I put the knowledge into action, created a Focus Worksheet in order to process my own problem areas, and used the worksheet to map out a plan for change this next week.

Let me explain how it works.

Step 1: Figuring Out What I Can Control

In the video, Tony Robbins said to "tell yourself the truth, feel the uncertainty, and then take action anyway," rather than allowing fear to keep you complacent in your current state. Stress comes when you feel like life is controlling you rather than you being in control...."Events take control unless you focus on controlling what is between your ears, not the events you can't control."

So, I found a 2-column worksheet I made a long time ago called "Potentially Stressful Situations I Can/Cannot Control," marked out the "potentially stressful" part of the column headings to make it more inclusive, and started filling it in (pictured above.)

For example, I can't control the work hours for my job. I must be in my classroom teaching and managing students from 9:00 - 11:03 and 11:55 - 3:01 every weekday. But I can control how I use and manage my time outside of those hours.

Step 2: Clearly Defining What I Will Focus On (and Not Focus On)

From this worksheet, I saw that focusing on the drudgery of the inflexible work schedule, the behavior of students, the noise level in the Freshmen Academy, the meeting load, the data entry load, and how much of a clunker my school-issued Dell laptop is, is not productive. Tony also said that if you focus on the past or what's missing from your life you'll drag yourself down and increase your stress, so I added the details of those items to the "Non-Focus Areas" side of the worksheet.

For example, sometimes I get caught up in thinking about my past mistakes and failures, unhappy or embarrassing episodes in my dating life or family issues; I also spend way too much time lamenting my less-than-perfect health and lack of freedom to pursue my passions (writing, cooking, traveling.)

On the other hand, since I absolutely CAN control how I manage my time outside of my job schedule, the fact that I don't exercise enough [and therefore my increased back, neck, shoulder, jaw, and foot pain] is really on me. "But I don't feel like going outside in the morning, and I'm too tired after school," I find myself saying. Well, then I need to rest more as well. Rest, exercise, diet, play time, self-care time--those things are all within my own sphere of control. I added all those things to my "Can Control/Focus On" side of the worksheet.

Tony said in the video to also focus on things like the difference you can make, what you want, and what you already have in your life that you're grateful for. I journaled and made lists of those things on the back of my worksheet, under the heading, "More Focus Areas."

Step 3: Creating an Action Plan For This Week

In order to address my work stress, daily pain levels (feet, jaw, back, neck, and shoulders,) and fatigue, I need to shift my focus more fully to what I can control: my time outside of work.

For example, if I get out of bed, make a cup of tea, and sit on the sofa journaling for 30 minutes first thing in the morning (like I LOVE to do,) I'm in pretty severe pain for the rest of the day. On the other hand, if I get dressed in gym clothes and go walking first thing, that pain will be greatly reduced (though right now, the pain never goes completely away. I've got a longer-term plan to address that situation, no worries. :))

I know that I can also greatly affect how I feel if I do some yoga after school every day as well as hang on my inversion table to separate out those arthritic vertebrae in my mid-low back and neck.

I also know, from experimentation, that I feel way better and enjoy life more if I buy vegetables and cook all my own food rather than eating out or buying frozen meals.

I do tend to pile a bunch of extra chores and activities on my own plate, just because there are so many things I love doing or feel the need to do, but right now some of those things need to be managed differently so I can reduce stress and not be in so much pain and emotional gloom all the time.

So Here's My 6-Step Action Plan:

1. Get up, drink water, and go walk for 30 minutes every morning. 10-15 minutes of morning walking just isn't enough to alleviate my aches and pains right now, and I saw a YouTube video a couple nights ago that said 30 minutes of walking daily was one of the best workouts you could get for overall fitness and health. It's been too chilly and damp here for the past month for me to enjoy walking at 5:30 in the dark, so the obvious answer is getting on a treadmill at the apartment gym and watching/listening to a podcast so it won't be so dreadfully boring. I did it this morning, in fact, and my low back was out of pain completely when I got back to my apartment, and even now is still way less painful than it was all day yesterday and last night.

2. Hang on my inversion table 5 minutes twice a day. It seems particularly helpful to hang on the table for my back pain right after I walk because my spine is warmed up and loosened up by the exercise. Those vertebrae can separate and stop irritating the nerves that run between them, and I get can some lubrication in the discs that lasts most of the day. And I already like hanging on it after work to relax, revive, and refocus. Since I discovered I can play on Facebook while I hang there, the five minutes goes by in a flash. :-)

3. Do the back and neck exercises my chiropractor in California recommends every morning. I call them my "Bergman Back Exercises," a standing spinal twist back and forth 100 times, a foot/calf stretch on a block, and a neck exercise with a roller behind your neck. Total takes about 5 minutes, makes a huge difference all day.

4. Do at least 10 minutes of yoga after work. This is one of those things that I find myself whiny about doing because I'm "too tired," yet 10 minutes is nothing, and I always, always feel 1000% better after doing even just 10 minutes of yoga. The breathing (and I like to inhale essential oils and rub them on my feet before doing yoga) combined with the stretching and releasing of tension just honestly can't be beat. It's both energizing AND relaxing, the best after-work stress reliever I know of (besides a glass of wine, and that's just not on my diet plan right now. :-)

5. Reduce Errands, Chores and Paperwork. I've taken a hard look at all the little organizing, cleaning, and household business tasks I do every day and decided to make some changes that as a Certified Neat Freak I never thought I'd make. Here's a summary:
  • No going in grocery stores or health food stores several times a week. Use the Walmart Grocery Pickup app or order specialty/supplement items online if at ALL possible.
  • Clean the apartment for 15 minutes per week, either Friday night or Sunday sometime. (That's enough time to clean the toilet, vacuum, and straighten and put away things. I just look around and determine what the three most critical cleaning needs are, set a timer, and tackle those first.)
  • Make two piles of Clothes Types: 1) a pile of walking and yoga clothes on the boxes in my closet (a pair of yoga pants, a pair of joggers, a couple of t-shirts, and a sweatshirt;) and 2) a pile of pajamas and sleepwear on top of my dresser. I can't tell you how much time and effort these two unruly-looking piles have saved me during the week. I just grab what I need from them and pile them back on the pile when I take them off, and eventually the various items make it to the laundry basket when they aren't fresh enough to reuse anymore.
  • No more printing out statements and laboriously balancing my checkbook, for now. Just let it go. Monitor the balance via apps.
  • Look through bills once a week, see what's coming up due, pay online when possible/easier.
  • Write if/when the mood hits AND I have plenty of energy and time, or an awkward slice of time between appointments. (I bought a new backpack that will hold my laptop that I can carry in my car and then stop at coffee shops to write on if I want between school and chiropractor appointments, etc.)
6. Get in bed at 8:00pm. I can read or whatever until 9:00, but aiming for an 8:00 get-in-bed time has helped me get caught up on and stay caught up on rest this past week. Whatever I do until 8 is up to me...if I want to spend 2 hours cooking and cleaning up the kitchen, so be it. Or if I want to heat up leftovers and play Xbox, fine.

Okay, I think that's the plan I'm going to try this week. I found a new, quiet spot to spend my lunch break at school this past week...the school library...where I can get out of my classroom, put in earbuds, and write if I want. That will hopefully alleviate the need to try to find coffee shops to go write in after work, which makes it harder to squeeze in a yoga routine and a home-cooked meal, much less stopping to get on my inversion table.

I'm hoping my pain levels will reduce again soon because my low back and jaw have been worsening quite a bit since school started, to the point now that I'm feeling kind of depressed about it. But more updates soon!

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