Yesterday was a memorable day in the land of the sacred springs (that is what Sources Sacrées, the name of our farm, means). Bas, our stallion, had to have a small operation. The vet assured us that it can be done in his paddock, that it would be over in 30 minutes, that he has done it a million of times before, that there is really nothing to worry about, that it doesn’t need any special care afterwards, that he would be back to normal and on his feet within the hour, that the risk of complications is low…
Yes, I did ask a lot of questions. I did need a lot of reassurance. I found the whole experience extremely STRESSFUL. I am sure I didn’t get this stressed about something this insignificant when I was younger. It seems that midlife inspires me to make mountains out of mole hills. Still, even though the vet may have done it a million times before, I never have. Nor has my husband, and we are to be the vet’s two essentially untrained assistants! Not only are we talking about one of our beloved horses, but we are talking of our stallion, who weighs in at least 750kg, and 750kg of confused and seriously miffed muscle can be very dangerous to everyone within kicking reach and to himself too.
So I wasn’t much looking forward to all this at all. I was STRESSED. Very stressed. Especially as last week Friday, the operation had to be cancelled as the vet couldn’t make it. I had been somewhat stressed before last Friday, but from Friday to Wednesday the word took on a whole new meaning. Nothing to do but be stressed and wait.
Or was there?
Having studied stress, the causes of stress and the effects of stress for many years, first as a medical doctor trying to help my patients avoid the physical and mental disorders and diseases caused by stress, and now as an equine-assisted coach, trying to help my clients develop better strategies for coping with stress, I really should know how to deal with my own stress with a certain amount of finesse and effectiveness.
So what can I do? Admittedly, midlife is a stressful time for most people, especially for women, who have to cope with menopausal hormone changes on top of everything else. Different methods work for different people. Everyone needs to discover what works best for them, but below I have made a list of the things that work for me and if you are stressed too, I hope that one or more of them will be useful to you too. The first two you could probably have guessed if you have been reading this blog for a while.
Here are the 12 ways to deal with midlife stress that I use most frequently:
Meditation – and especially mindfulness meditation. Works for me every time. Not the easiest solution, especially if you have never done it before, but if you do it regularly, chances are that you are starting at lower stress levels than someone that does not and your brain has already been programmed to follow this path, so the stress dissolves faster. Even if you have never meditated before, a short guided meditation can help a lot. TheHonestGuys does an excellent, short (10 min) Mindful Meditation that you can find it on Youtube.
Spend some time with a pet. Cats, dogs, horses – all have been used as animal therapists. I don’t think it matters whether you just sit quietly stroking your cat (physical contact is very beneficial) or whether you take the dog out for a run or to play with his/her/their ball – the idea is to take your mind off whatever is stressing you.
Read a book or watch a film/video that draws you in completely. This doesn’t always work, sometimes I am just too stressed to concentrate, but if I have to wait for a long time, or if I am awake at night, it often works.
Fall back on that excellent sense of humour that you have been carefully nurturing all those years. See the funny side (assuming there is one), watch a comedy/stand-up comic on Youtube, read a funny book/story (do a google search), look up jokes on-line, read that blog that you are following because the author has such a contagious sense of humour, see/phone a friend who makes you laugh. Which brings me to…
Talk it over with someone you trust. This had better be a positive, emphatic but encouraging sort of person, otherwise you are going to be more stressed afterwards that you were before. Talking it through with someone not involved, someone objective, can be very useful, as they can often offer you a different, maybe less stressful, perspective. You are not really looking for advice or solutions here, but sometimes talking it through helps you to work out how to deal with the situation yourself.
Listening to music can sometimes help. On our Mindfulness and Meditation Retreats with Horses, we introduce our guests to Music Meditation. One listens to calming music, concentrating totally on the music, while one meditates. Once again, on Youtube, there are loads of different types of music to choose from and there are guided music meditations too. My Music Meditation blog post has 3 excellent examples. For me, the total opposite sometimes works just as well. Jumping around to the fast beat of some great dance music can also help me handle stress. In addition, I get some exercise, always very good for stress management.
Which reminds me: Get some exercise, out in the fresh air, somewhere where there are trees, if possible.Go for a walk, for a run, go for a swim, take a tai chi or a yoga class in the park. It doesn’t have to be for very long, but the longer the better, just don’t overdo it.
Round here, we are blessed with several hot spring spas in the immediate vicinity, like the Caliceo Spa in Pau and the Bagnère de Bigorre Spa, where one can spend time in the water, have a massage, do an exercise class, sit in the sauna, the jacuzzi, the hammam or just sit out on the roof, wrapped up snugly in the winter in a thick bathrobe and admire the snow-capped mountains.
Pray. I am religious. I am a Christian and the first thing I always (or just about always, sometimes I forget) do, is pray. And I often continue to pray until the situation is resolved. I also find being part of a religious community very supportive. Although none of us is perfect, we do our best to be there for each other.
Write it out of your system. Keeping a journal is very useful for this sort of exercise, but any piece of paper will do, even a paper napkin or a beer coaster (I speak from personal experience here). We also do one or more writing meditation sessions during our equine-guided mindfulness meditation retreats, these are some of our most popular sessions. When I am very stressed, and I can’t manage to write about it, I make a list of the things that I am grateful for.
Be grateful. When one is super-stressed, this is not easy, but there is always something to be grateful for. Make a list. Start small. Use prompts if you need too. Loads of lists of gratitude prompts available online. Or use gratitude picture cards to start you off. Professing gratitude as a stress management tool is to me just about as important as the first two things on this list. I have written several blog posts about gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal, where you write down 3 things that you are grateful for each day, say morning and evening, has been proven (by Prof Roger Emmons) to make you happier and can be a very effective long-term stress management tool.
Do something creative. This is another one that usually works for me. I write a blog post. Some people paint, others make pots, others do scrapbooking. I can’t paint or draw pictures, but I sometimes find painting walls soothing. I love painting old furniture with chalk paint, giving it a new lease of life, especially as our house is half-timbered, and with all these dark oak beams, the last thing we need is another piece of dark wood furniture. So a lot of my «brocante» (flea market) finds end up with a coat of just off-white or cream coloured paint. Needless to say, I love traipsing through second-hand shops, flea markets and brocantes, very good at lowering my stress levels too.
I can think of a few more, but I am going to stop at twelve because it is time to go and feed the hungry hordes. Also, I am quite keen to go and check up on Bas, who did survive the operation, with the minimum damage to his dignity and without anyone else getting injured.
Margaretha Montagu -Mpowering women to embrace the second part of their lives.
Dr. Margaretha Montegu is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience helping her patients manage stress so as to avoid physical disease and psychological distress. 8 years ago she left medical practice to concentrate on prevention rather than cure and now hosts Mindfulness Meditation Retreats, assisted by 6 super-smart horses, in the south of France.
If you are interested in attending a Mindfulness Meditation Retreat here in the sun-blessed south of France, or if you would like to find out more about it, please e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a message below. Goes without saying that you e-mail address is perfectly safe, we will never share it. You can find our everything you would like to know about the retreats by clicking on the buttons on the top menu bar.
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