Lessons in managing stress: Go to Starbucks ✅

I’m trying this thing where I sit in silence for 30 minutes a day and write about it. You can catch up on how previous days went here.

I think this whole process is really showing me that the ways I deal with stress are probably not very beneficial, so if anything comes out of this whole thing I’m hoping it’s that I’ll have some better handle on what to do when something stresses me out. And this whole post is  really just a look inside what it’s like when you overthink to the extent that I do so it’s going to be a long one….

Basically, I’m a chronic overthinker and overplanner. It’s weird because I feel like in some scenarios (like say a work event for instance), I can overplan all I want but if something changes on the go I don’t really stress out about it at all and can adapt to change and deal with the situation rather painlessly. But when it’s a small change that affects something I’m trying to do for myself, it’s like I shut everything out and instead of adapting to meet the change I withdraw from the situation and feel sorry for myself, and I think doing this probably causes more stress in the long run because now I’m just dwelling on the thing that stressed me out rather than figuring out a way to make it better. That’s basically what happened this morning, when I first planned on doing my 30 minutes of silence….

Even though I went to bed past 2:00 am, I decided to turn on my “weekend” alarm on my phone. In general I’m missing the sense of routine I used to have, where I’d get up early for work during the week and sleep in on the weekends, but only to 9:30. I’ve really had no sense of sleep routine since quarantine started and I’ve actually been waking up earlier than 9:30 on weekends regardless of when I go to sleep, but the problem is that I’ll wake up earlier and realize after an hour or so that I’m too tired to stay awake and then I’ll fall back to sleep until about 11. Not that we have any shortage of time or that this is keeping me from doing anything now, but it seems counterproductive and I think if I could get back to my 9:30 wake ups on the weekends it would be good for that sense of normalcy.

I was surprised this morning when I slept straight through to 9:30 and woke up with the alarm, so I was instantly in a pretty good mood and ready for the day ahead (I almost said ‘excited’ but let’s be real here, I don’t think any of us are excited for another day in quarantine.) I got up right away and had a small cup of tea, then got right in the shower with the plan that I’d do my 30 minutes of silence as soon as I was done. In the time it took me to comb my hair after my shower however, my dad had come downstairs and swiped my spot in the living room and was watching the news. I feel this sounds very first world problem-y as I write it out like this, but I don’t have a bedroom here. The living room assuming no one else happens to be in there is the closest thing I have to my own space at the moment. And despite sleeping on the couch, which isn’t all that comfortable, and going along with my old routine of getting up and having tea and taking a shower, I was immediately frustrated that when I got back to the living room my 30 minutes of silence would now be impossible, and I had nowhere else to go.* 

(*Of course, I have the option to go and sit in my car to get my 30 minutes in, but here’s where I start feeling sorry for myself and I withdraw and become unwilling to adapt. I don’t want to sit in the car, I had this whole plan in place, and I felt I had done so well sticking to it thus far and creating that sense of routine I’ve desperately been missing only to have something out of my control get in the way.) The other part of this is that even though I don’t have my own bedroom, it seems entirely unreasonable to me that my desire for 30 minutes of silence can’t be accommodated. In theory it can be, I’ve asked, but my family doesn’t seem interested in making such an accommodation and bringing it up and having a discussion about it tends to be more stressful than just figuring out what to do on my own. 

As my dad was just having his coffee, I figured he’d watch the news in there while he was drinking it then he’d move along and I’d have my silence then. Since I fell asleep last night during my 30 minutes, I really wanted to get it in earlier in the day today as that seems more productive than risking falling asleep, and at this point I was feeling frustrated that I followed through with my alarm and now felt stuck. I am also still journaling every day in 2020 (and I still haven’t missed a day) so while my dad was watching the news I decided to journal instead.

He then took out his iPad and started showing me random things on it. I felt it was pretty clear that I was trying to journal, and the interruptions weren’t appreciated but it kept happening. Eventually when he seemed to pick up that I wasn’t in the mood (and yes, this probably brings up the greater issue of how we communicate [or don’t] but that’s more than what I think needs to be discussed in this post) he started playing videos on his iPad. Multiple different sounds are a trigger for migraines for me. I’m sure there is some evidence to support the fact that because I know this happens, I’m essentially giving myself the headache by thinking about it. I didn’t want to ask him to stop, because I worried it would turn into a fight and I didn’t want to deal with the drama, but I kept looking at the clock and I noticed an hour had gone by and I was feeling beyond frustrated. Between the time I took to shower and now sit for an hour being annoyed at the situation, I could have done my now usual ‘wake up early and sleep until 11 or 12’ routine. And suddenly it felt like my sticking to the alarm was pointless and it seemed like I did everything I could have done to go with the pretty basic plan I had for my morning and now none of it mattered. 

Perhaps this sounds dramatic, but this is what I’m talking about when I say this whole process with the 30 minutes of silence is making me well aware that I’m not the best at handling situations that are even barely stressful. I think I was less aware of this before, but now where I have this thing I’m trying to do each day that requires me to sit uninterrupted for 30 minutes, I’m hypersensitive to everything going on around me and feeling even more frustrated than usual that I don’t have my own space in the house. 

Eventually I asked if he would be staying in the living room, saying it’s fine but that I had come in here planning to meditate and if he’s going to be watching TV I’d like to find somewhere else to go. As an aside, I’ve recently started (virtually) going to therapy, and my family doesn’t understand why someone would feel the need to go or how it’s beneficial, so anytime I bring up that I want to be alone to talk to my therapist or that I’m trying to meditate it seems like they don’t know how to react and it gets kind awkward. And as soon as I said the word “meditate” that’s kind of what happened this morning with my dad. Usually he’d put up a fight if I try to get some alone time in the living room, but he basically stumbled over his words and said he was just watching the news with his coffee and he could leave after or I could try going in my mom’s room if she’s not there, and basically all kinds of confusion over what he should say because I think to them the concept of meditating is very New Age-y and weird and that combined with therapy is just such a strange concept to them (it shouldn’t be- both of these should be normal topics we should all feel comfortable talking about, but again that’s a subject for another post). 

He did leave after he was done with his coffee, and I positioned myself comfortable in my chair to get ready for my 30 minutes….and then as he went upstairs he and my mom started arguing. Not about anything serious, or worth all of the yelling (at least in my opinion, but what do I know), and I opened my eyes and grabbed my phone so that when they stopped I could reset my alarm and start my 30 minutes. After a couple more minutes went by, it was clear that they weren’t stopping anytime soon, so I opted to add an extra 15 minutes to the time, figuring from whenever they quieted down to whenever I started getting somewhere with this it should work out to having my 30 minutes of silence. 

In doing this, I was pretty content with myself. I felt like this is what I wanted to accomplish in terms of adapting to different stresses. Flat out mentioning to my dad that I wanted to know what he was doing so I could find a place to meditate already felt like some sort of progress because 2019 Brittany wouldn’t have dared even mentioning meditation to her parents for fear of what their reaction to it would be. But this morning, I somehow just got over that and wanted to figure out what I should do to still go along with my routine. Then when my parents were loud while arguing (over literally nothing….Maybe that’s why I’m single, why have all these arguments over nothing with another person when I clearly already over analyze my own thoughts) I decided to add time to my alarm and still go with it. (As another aside, even talking about my parents honestly like this in something that’s going to be on my blog is a huge change for me. I used to be really afraid of them reading stuff like this, but lately I’ve really come to terms with the fact that it’s holding me back in writing honestly about my feelings and I don’t want to be doing that.)

When they stopped arguing, a couple of minutes went by where there was quiet, and I started to really relax and I was ready to see where today’s 30 minutes would take me. Then the vacuum cleaner came on. I’m not sure if my mom was intentionally driving it into the walls making for even louder sounds out of anger where she just had an argument, or if it was completely unintentional, but it was a similar feeling to when you just start falling asleep and your alarm goes off. My eyes shot open and I felt totally frustrated and taken out of it. When she was done she came downstairs and saw that I had my head under a blanket (again this feels very dramatic when I’m writing it out like this…) but I think that’s become the unofficial sign of “I have a migraine, please leave me alone,” so she didn’t talk to me or anything, but instead sat in the next room with my grandpa, who is 95 and can hardly hear anything. (I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining about that, that would be horrible of me and it’s definitely not his fault, but what that means is that for my mom to have a conversation with him in the next room she’s going to basically be screaming at him at the same volume that she was just screaming at my dad, only now she’s even closer to me thus it’s louder.) 

Finally, I shut off the alarm and walked out the door to go to Starbucks. I was starting to feel really determined to not let the lack of quiet at my parents’ house ruin the fact that I got myself up early and had a plan for how this was going to go. At the same time though I also felt like a headache was coming on, and I didn’t want to take anything for it because I’m weird about taking pills in the first place unless they’re absolutely necessary, and I’ve had migraines more often than usual lately so I have been taking Excedrin and I get really worried about getting dependent on it. So rather than take anything, I hoped that a black coffee from Starbucks would have the same effect, and I’d be able to go for a drive and clear my mind a little and then I guess do my 30 minutes in the parking lot in my car (not ideal, and still frustrating but at this point I had put almost two hours into attempting this 30 minutes of silence so I felt I couldn’t give up on it). Now that all of that’s out of the way (and how’s that for overthinking?) here’s what actually happened during my 30 minutes: 

At first, I was still really frustrated and my mind couldn’t help but focus on that. I had gotten up at 9:30 and after waiting in the long line at the Starbucks drive thru it was now noon. So for a second I dwelled on that and the fact that it seemed sort of ridiculous that even without having my own room I was doing this whole thing in a parking lot on Route 1. Then I found myself telling myself that it’s okay to feel like this, that even if it feels insignificant to be annoyed that my plan of getting up at 9:30, showering, and sitting on the couch in silence for 30 minutes fell apart, it’s okay to be angry about it, especially now where we’re stuck at home basically just there with our thoughts all the time anyway. Even the process of going to Starbucks, which I’m really enjoying since they’ve reopened because I’m so craving routine, is different than it used to be and that brings a whole different kind of stress in some way. I think if I found myself in this same situation during a time when we weren’t in a pandemic, I would have brought my laptop with me, so after doing my 30 minutes in a parking lot which would still be weird, I could have just sat in Starbucks and had my coffee and written about it there. But today, I had to wait in an hour long line at the drive thru, sit in the parking lot, then hope to remember all these thoughts until I got home. The fact that everything is different now because of the pandemic I think is definitely making me (and probably everyone else) focus in on smaller stressors that we wouldn’t have even realized were there so much before. 

But anyway, this went on for a couple of minutes and then I think my mind got into some sort of rhythm with the noise of the cars going by on the highway. Before staying with my parents I wasn’t the biggest fan of white noise (while I’m awake, in my old apartment I always had fans on in the bedroom and that noise was fine while I was going to sleep). But lately I’ve felt the white noise has been helpful in drowning everything else out and getting my thoughts to focus on wherever they want to go instead of what’s happening around me, so somehow sitting in my car off a highway turned out to be oddly helpful. 

After this, I basically day dreamed about the weather getting nicer. I didn’t come out of this with any deep thoughts really, but it was almost like I was envisioning myself walking outside somewhere or sunbathing at the beach. I thought about how I want to read more, and how even though I love reading it seems like when we’re all stuck in doors the temptation to just spend all day binging something on Netflix or playing Roller Coaster Tycoon is all too real, and it’s sort of unfortunate the number of TV shows I’ve watched while I’m still reading the same books I bought in…January. Then my mind got more concrete, and I thought about things I wanted to write about (on here and on Castle Party) and how I’ve taken a step back from nearly all of my regular freelancing jobs (which I guess is fine now as I’m sure most of them don’t exist anyway now after all this…) but I haven’t spent that much more time writing. The whole point of working less was so I could make more time to write things I actually want to write, and since the timing of me slowing down my freelancing lined up almost perfectly with the start of the stay-at-home orders, I feel I took too much of a break from writing in general and it’s been difficult to get back into it. But this is definitely something I want to do, so at that point my mind drifted off to thinking of ways to make that happen. 

I went back to the thoughts I had a couple of days ago about sharing more random memories on here, things like random antics with my roommates in college, to maybe some Disney College Program memories, or the weirdness of middle school with the gross hiccup cup, or something. So ultimately I ended the 30 minutes with a brainstorm of things that would be easy and fun to write about when I’m at least feeling motivated to write but I’m not in the most creative mindset if that makes sense. I’m not going to share the list here because hopefully I’ll end up writing these posts so you’ll just see them then, but I did make sure to open a note on my phone and get it all down there so I wouldn’t forget. 

At the end of all this, I finished my coffee while sitting in the car back outside my house and quietly listening to the radio, and by the time I’ve finished writing this my headache is almost entirely gone. So I guess today I’ve learned that adapting to whatever wrench gets thrown into my plans is worth it (because seriously, 2019 Brittany would not have gone to Starbucks, she would have stayed home and moped about not having quiet) and that if I’m not feeling creative but some spark is there to want to write more there are definitely blog post topics that I could use to sort of ease back into writing more of what I’m interested in. I’ve also learned that apparently I’m in a place where I can at least relatively comfortably write about my feelings and just honestly share what’s going on in my life, and I’m really proud of myself for that because basically for as long as I’ve had a blog I’ve never been comfortable going there though I’ve wanted to so I’m counting that as some sort of accomplishment. 

P.S. If you also get migraines and are looking for caffeine that will help that isn’t using Excedrin as a crush, the nitro cold brew from Starbucks seems to be doing the trick for me.

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