June 12, 2008

Swamped? Try the Okefenokee Diet

[By Merry]

I originally wanted to title this post The Okefenokee Approach to Life, or, What To Do When Feeling Swamped, but Blogger gets cranky about long titles like that one. Besides, putting the word 'diet' in a title is like calorie porn; people tend to take a second look. In all honesty, this post is mostly about lifestyle choices rather than food choices.

The Okefenokee was the biggest swamp I could think of. In addition to feeling swamped and stuck in the mud and unable to see the forest for the trees, the image also conjures up pictures of alligators waiting for the opportunity to bite my leg off. All in all, a useful metaphor for a stressed-out life.

Oil & water? Angelina & Jennifer? Stress & advice?

When I'm stressed, the last thing I want to deal with is good advice. I'm too cranky to concentrate on improving things, even the situation. I cannot process the information. It's gotten to the point when I've feeling swamped just from reading lists that give advice on how to not be swamped.

Shape Up America devoted an entire post to long detailed lists of advice on how to improve every aspect of your life. I'm sure that took quite a lot of time and research to collect all those links, but I found simply reading the list of links to be exhausting. I couldn't face actually clicking on the links and trying them out.

When I'm stressed, any solutions need to be very, very simple.

Work less, stress less, end up homeless?

A new favorite blog I've found is Unclutterer. It's big on simplicity, which is great. I can't always apply the advice to my life, but I love the ideas.

I enjoyed their review of Timothy Feriss' book "The 4-Hour Workweek." Now, clearly this is something any stressed person could benefit from. My life would be So Much Simpler if I didn't have to go to work each day. (Also I'd be back living in my mother's house and scrounging for pennies , but that's another story.) Great concept . I don't see it translating into reality any time soon, but there's no law that says I can't dream about doing this... later.

The point is to be selective about the things you do have in order to live a quality life.

Well, sheesh! That's obvious.
I mean, everybody knows that.
Even I know that.

Except for times when I'm stuck in the mud and can't see the forest for the alligators, then I tend to forget the obvious and concentrate on the stressors.

Putting the Me into happy medium

It's not always the amount of stuff that I have to do that stresses me out, it's the ratio of Hafta to Wanna. Taking a few minutes for myself, like the Happiness Project's eight tips for making yourself happier in the next hour, restores the sense of proportion to the workload. Doesn't reduce the amount of work I have to do, but makes it easier to deal with, delegate, or rationalize it away.

The Okefenokee Diet: A Minimalist Approach
    My prescription for living a less-stressed-but-still-employed life is as follows: when swamped, either push back, cut back, or have a Me attack.

  • Go for minimalist veggies, i.e. I eat food that I can grab on my way out the door: bananas, pre-washed carrots, even dried fruit or a can of V-8.
  • Instead of a glass of wine at the end of the day to relax, use the time to start planning what I want out of my life. Figure out a way to have a four-hour work week...
  • Instead of comfort food, I want to do something for myself once a day. Something either fun or self-fulfilling.
  • Set limits on how much crap I will take in one day. Most stressful is having several people pile things on my back. One manager I can train deal with, three or four bossy bosses... no. This is the tricky part. If you bitch too loud, you'll end up on the street. If you bitch too little, you can get overloaded, stress out, and end up in a room with padded walls.
Quote du jour
"I have learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back." -Maya Angelou

How do you juggle stress and a healthy diet without dropping one or the other?
Or perhaps I should ask instead, do you juggle stress and a healthy diet?


  1. My job isn't overly stressful, as such. I have plenty of time to do my work, most days. A lot of the time I'm barely working, and I'm just paid to be there in case someone needs me.

    However, the hours aren't perfect (I work evenings) and the pay is minimum wage - and that's our only income at the moment.

    So while my job isn't stressful, my life can be stressful due to some aspects of my job. (ie, very little free time, not that it matters since we're living in functional poverty at this point)

    Eating right hasn't been too much of a problem for me in this situation, though. I mean, we have to budget very carefully, so our grocery list is highly planned. And there's very little money for just grabbing an extra little 700 calorie bacon and cheese bagel on the way to work just because I felt a little peckish.

    However, exercise is a different story. On the one hand, we can't afford a car, so I walk or bike everywhere. On the other hand, the fact that I work such long hours and in the evenings to boot, means that I sometimes have trouble finding time to put in some additional exercise. And on the days where I work 12 hours!? Yeah, right.

  2. After reading about an Okefenokee Diet I thought you might advice me eat crocodiles or embark into a fitness routine fighting with them, LOL

    Jokes aside, good article, thanks.

  3. My job is stressful in that...it's a terrible fit for me. Let's just say that by 2pm, having sat at my desk in front of a computer all day...homeless is starting to look pretty good. And because I'm bored, I want to snack. I've got a couple ways of dealing with it...

    I go for a walk at lunch. Even if it's pouring rain. If I don't, I'll go even more insane after lunch. I drink ridiculous amounts of water (2 purposes; healthy, and it requires time both to fill up the water bottle and visit the little girl's room every hour or so (procrastination, anyone?)). And I don't bring snacks to work. Cuz then I can't eat 'em. And I avoid the vending machines (which thankfully are out of sight on another floor) like the plague.

    I love your prescrption for surviving a swamp! Especially the me-thing. :)

  4. PS - I thought I'd check out the list of lists.... but you're right - just looking at it gives me a headache and makes me feel tired.

  5. I keep healthy foods on hand that I know I can grab and go, or use to make myself a quick sandwich for lunch. Not having too many options cuts down on stress for me, because adding one more decision to my day can be very taxing.

    After a particularly bad day at work, I always want to go for the ice cream, or chips, or cookies. So we just don't keep those in the house. If the option isn't there, I'm much more likely to hit the road for a run to work out all the stress. Besides, I know I'll feel better after a run, but after a binge I'll feel guilty and sick.

  6. How do I handle stress and healthy eating? Often, not well. I like plans. And stress often means a last minute change in plans or that I haven't had energy to make plans.

    I do try to make sure there are some healthy options available. When doing meal planning, I try at least once a week to make something that I know will be enough for more than one meal so I can freeze meals for busy days ahead. I take time on weekends to cook something I can freeze in single serving portions for my lunches (unfortunately, this can sometimes add stress on an extremely busy weekend...it's a bit of a balancing act).

    I also try very hard not to let other things interfere with my workouts. Yes, there are some days when I am tired enough to realize the thing I need is extra sleep...but most of the time I know that if I skip my workout I will feel worse. So I try not to.

    Those are my contingency plans. Not saying I always follow them, but I do try.

  7. This is probably going to sound bizarre to a lot of people but... I'm dealing with my stress lately by a thorough but slow room by room serious clear-out of my house. I'm not a big clutter bug, but things tend to accumulate. I do about a room (or closet) a day when I feel like it. I feel so much better when I've finished one. It's a great sense of accomplishment and I find I can truly relax afterwards because I don't have that "the closet needs to be cleaned out" thing nagging me in the back of my mind.

    Budgeting has also become a bit of a cathartic experience for me too. Having everything out in the open has helped me to stop stressing about it so much.

  8. For the last week of school for my kids this year, I declared I was "on vacation" during the day. Now let me clarify that I don't have a job so this was quite humorous to my husband when I told him this! The fact is that I work very hard at all of the things that I do around the house and for the volunteer work that I do. I just needed time when I sort of shirked responsibility during the day. The thing about being a full time mom is that the work is never done and you are on duty 24/7. Even a family vacation is work for the mom.

    Even though I didn't get lots of "time off" because unexpected responsibilities cropped up (of course) it was the mindset of it all. I was on vacation! It was good.

  9. I fail at this completely. When I am super-busy, or going through major life changes, I either tell myself that paying too much attention to health is bad news for me right now, and will just cause more stress, and then overindulge, or I tell myself that I need to maintain control of at least one thing, and that is fitness, so... I overdo it and it usually takes me a few months to pull out of it and start eating again, at which point I have hurt my metabolism and, well, the rest of me. Right now I am working really hard to feel healthy while still eating, and it sucks. Why is moderation so much harder than deprivation?

  10. Juggle? Not well. I'm a compulsive worrier and a comfort eater. I aim to substitute meditation and exercise instead of freaking out and shoving my face full of brownies, but I still miss the mark sometimes.

    I also think I should own a punching bag, I think that would be great stress relief.

  11. I like the idea of a list of lists, but that one they compiled is overwhelming. I found the Happiness Project's advice much easier to grasp.

    Um... Scrumpy's B? While you're on this cleaning kick... want to come over? I agree that cleaning things out is a great help for de-stressing. Makes you feel like you have things under control. Even if that's an illusion, I love the feeling.

  12. I usually always pack my lunches with me. When I get stressed at work, I reach for an apple, a banana, a kiwi etc... Something sugary, but not deadly. As for stress and exercise, well, it's very simple formula: I am SO much more stressed when I don't work out that I rarely do not make time for a work out in my day. After breaking my hand, when I couldn't do anything due to a pain med induced lethargy, I ended up watching fit channel, to watch others work out since I couldn't. Lame.

  13. That doesn't sound lame at all! Even if your body wasn't up for it, you were keeping the exercise mindset. Probably made it a lot easier to get back into the habit again.

    I keep thinking about Holly's comment about mothers never getting the day off. Except from breakfast-in-bed on Mother's day, that job doesn't have much in the way of vacation time. On the other hand, if you have quite a few children, you can have the older ones take care of the younger ones... no, that idea has its own problems. Hmmn. Must ponder this.

  14. Does Maya Angelou just walk around spouting wise words or something? I don't really know who she is, but I've seen no less that 8 quotes by her this week...and all of them good. Curse her for her thinky brain and helpfulness.

    I tend to be with you Merry- when I'm stressed, often the advice I'm offered is obvious and I'm not the best at witholding sarcasm...but occasionally I get brilliant ideas and comments form people out of the blue that really change what I do/think. I tend to just need someone listen to me whine for a few minutes and then I can go back to whacking away at whatever needs to be done and can get through it in the end. Occasional lifesavers like the Flylady website for keeping organised and daily things for me to do that over time help keep my home decluttered and give me ideas on how to be more organised have helped me a lot. Finding healthy comfort foods to keep me going that aren't pie have been good too...keeps the snacky stress release toa minimum. Most of the time I can do it.

    It's good to hear I'm not alone :)
    Thanks for a great most Merry.

  15. Wow - really need to read this post right now. Am going to be out of a job come Sept which means I'll need to leave the country as my residency is linked to my work and am freaking out at the prospect of packing 10 yrs of my life into 2 suitcases, dealing with interview hell, updating resume, keeping exercising and watching my food intake. So swamped with stuff to do I pretty much froze. After I thawed out I drew the covers over my head and inhaled the cake and wine I brought with me for company. Then after several hours of long distance chats with friends I took some deep breaths and made a list, focusing on what I can control. I'm finding an hour in the morning and evening on the elliptical every day is a great way to just empty my mind while i'm listening to books on tape. Is it just me that gets travel sickness when I try and read a book while walking on treadmill or using the elliptical? And as I keep telling myself there is always someone worse off than you.

  16. No glass of wine? Damn!

    :)Eating more healthy things often makes me less stressed.

  17. Hey, I don't mind having a great 'most' -- sounds positive, Geosomin ;)

    PT, wow! Keeping my fingers crossed and sending good vibes your way. I'm glad you're doing the elliptical route!

    A lot of people I know are out of work and looking right now :(

    Sagan, I suppose you could argue that wine is made from grapes and grapes are fruit and fruit is healthy... it's amazing how much mental exercise I can get out of rationalizing :)

  18. Merry - thanks for the kind words. I'm a big believer in karma and the lying scumbag that was my employer and caused my visa issues (bitter, party of one your table is ready) was thrown in jail pending charges on insider trading and tax evasion in Europe.

  19. I live a pretty faced paced life and most of the time i'm stressed and my mind is racing. One thing i am concentrating on at the moment is keeping my mind where i am at the time. This lets me concentrate on one thing at a time and doesnt get me stressed about 20 things i have to do.
    The other things i have been working to reduce stress is meditation, prayer and a clean diet. This has helped me enormously recently. I feel much better in myself. My mind has been clearer since i have been doing this.

  20. I've been dealing with a lot of stress lately, and the way I've always dealt with stress in the past is by eating. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, part of my stress right now is because of health issues, which were partly brought on by being overweight. So I'm kind of being forced to exercise and eat right.

    I do need to learn to do more fun things for me. I work a lot of hours and I have a lot of job stress, which also isn't good for me. I'm working on doing nice things for myself that don't involve chocolate.

  21. I have two answers for this:

    1. Short term - I can totally manage stress and healthy eating by planning, planning and more planning. I plan every last morsel that goes in my mouth the night before and pack everything for the day to go. Then in the morning I "just do it". Less likely to grab junk if it is all done.

    2. Long term - Plan 1 falls all to crap. Basically after 1 week and a half or so. Chaos follows with chocolate and more chocolate. It is not pretty. I guess the plan should be to try to alleviate the stress.

  22. i haven't really had that much stress lately, but these comments have some good advice!

  23. Stress is a way of life in my world! I've learned to make peace with it :-)

    I've been lost over the Okefenokee swamp..not a good day.

    I really like Maya Angelou's work, thanks for the quote!

    Dr. J


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