My experience of stressful thought patterns & how I overcame them

April 11, 2016

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As regular readers will have noticed, and friends on Instagram would have seen, last week I took an unplanned hiatus from posting on The Elgin Avenue.

In my Instagram post explaining why I was taking this hiatus, I explained that I was working on “future plans for the site”, when actually I was paralysed by exhaustion.

I felt the weight of the blog, creativity, ‘being good great the best version of me ever” and LIFE on my shoulders, and oh my word it just knocked me for six!

I felt like a deer in the headlights.

I was in a stress spiral.

This New York Times article delves deeper into the habitual ‘stressful’ thought patterns we can develop, if we don’t CHANGE something.

we’re lousy at recognizing when our normal coping mechanisms aren’t working. Our response is usually to do it five times more, instead of thinking, maybe it’s time to try something new.  Dr. Sapolsky.

So, I took time away from content creation, I looked to CHANGE something in order to brake my stress spiral – and evidently cycle – and allowed myself to take a step back to move forwards.

Today I am delving deeper in to my personal experience with creativity, stressful thought patterns and being vulnerable. Oh and guys – that last bit is super scary for me! I admire vulnerability in other people so much, yet find it kind of terrifying myself. In my heart I know that I connect with people when they allow me an insight in to ‘the real them’ and with this platform, I feel I’d be doing an injustice if I shared anything with you all, other than the real me.

As you know style, interiors, beauty and everything that comes with a little extra aesthetic goodness get’s my fire burning, equally I am interested in life, happiness, wellbeing and balance . . . the latter my friends is where I want to focus with you today.

I hope that today’s post will open up a conversation about those ‘stress spirals’ we likely all experience at some point, how to acknowledge, accept and ultimately move forwards from them.

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My experience of stressful thought patterns & how I overcame them

So What Happened? My ‘stressful thought pattern’ week.

This is the short version of exactly what happened last week:

Saturday & Sunday – have an amazing weekend with friends, celebrating their new engagement and taking a whole weekend of FUN. *Have niggling feeling that a whole weekend off is going to set me back on work.*

Decide to EMBRACE the weekend off and relax.

*Niggling feeling doesn’t leave.*

Monday – “That was fun!” *remembers fondly* “um, but now I’m behind with work because I didn’t work on Sunday afternoon, (like I normally do). . . . no worries, I’ll catch up . . . “

Still Monday . . . “Hmm I have a lot of emails to answer, I’ll get to these and then write a blog post.”

Still Monday . . . “Oh crap, I haven’t written a blog post yet and now it’s quite late.” . . .

Still Monday . . .  “OK it’s fine it’s fine it’s fine, I’m in London tomorrow I’ll magic up time to write a blog post (on the tube?! – doable?!) for Wednesday.”

Tuesday – in London on press appointments all day.

Feeling guilty about not being at my desk . .  “didn’t I say I was going to get my priorities straight? And content is definitely number one priority. But then my relationships are really important too. And I saw my best friend, and some family and so that’s good?”

*feels pit of dread in stomach*

Still no blog post written . . .

Wednesday – *pit of dread/tiredness/anxiety in stomach.*

“Well that’s it Monica, you are a terrible person because you haven’t written your blog post. Also you need a tan. And by the way, what is your plan for the next year five years infinity?”

. . .

OK quick interjection here guys . . . I am getting tired just reliving this inner dialogue!

Re-writing my exact exact feelings down, it is easy to see how a snowball of anxiety and negativity can quickly develop.

Today I want to share how I dealt with this snowball, in a bid to help you guys recognise your stressful thought patterns earlier on (should you encounter them) and also change you thought track . . .

Catch The Snowflake Before It Snowballs

That snowball of anxiety and negativity? If you allow it to keep free-rolling it is going to get pretty big, pretty quickly, it is going to pick up pace and soon enough it’ll knock someone over.

That someone is you.

So how to catch the snowflake before it snowballs?

I can hand on heart say that I rarely experience this type of anxiety anymore. Since leaving London and readjusting my life, I have become so much better at acknowledging stress triggers. I normally catch them early, get some perspective and get on with things.

And therein lies the technique – catch it early!

Much like any problem, if you look out for the warning signs, you can catch it early, deal with it in its infancy and put plans in place to right whatever wrong is happening.

Remember, stress can manifest itself in many ways – as this article on The Everygirl shares. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is definitely time to pay attention and look to relieve yourself of stress.

For me, my warning signs are physical feelings. I tense up, I can feel my head getting cloudy and I get that kind of ‘twist’ feeling in my stomach where I know I’m getting stressed. Bam! This is when I should move on to the steps below, right away, the second I see it, there are so few things that merit getting really stressed.

Everything is much easier to deal with at the beginning – don’t ignore your gut feelings.

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The 3 A’s – Acknowledge, Accept & Take Action

When something goes wrong, whatever it may be, this little trio of A’s is a simple reminder of steps you can take which will get you out of your funk sooner –

A 1 – Acknowledge what has happened. For me, and my circumstance last week for instance, I’m acknowledging that I went through a period of anxiety, stage fright and writer’s block.

A 2 – Accept what has happened. It took me a few days, but once I accepted that I was in a phase of difficulty I immediately felt better. I thought to myself “OK this is happening, I need to ride it out.”.

One thing that helped me during this acceptance phase, was telling other people exactly where I was. (In a way this was also the first step in the ‘take action’ phase too.) Instead of putting on a brave face, if a friend, colleague or loved one asked how I was, I’d say “This week has been tough, I’ve had writer’s block and it’s been horrible.” – this acknowledgment felt scary at first, but the more I got used to opening up to people about something ‘not perfect’ (again – feeling vulnerable!) the more love, support and empathy I found.

In fact, the turning point for me – when that snowball stopped gaining pace – was when I posted on Instagram, opening up to you guys about feeling these doubts and resistance. WOW I was not expecting the amazing response I received.

To recap on a few:

“I could honestly kick myself for feeling like a failure if I don’t get a couple of posts out, even when I’m supposed to be taking some time off. I think it’s both sensible and brave to step away from the content for a week and regroup and work out a strategy. It can only make for a better blog and more motivation when you come back to it.” @onlinestylist

“Sometimes you need to take a step back to move forward.” @auroralondonstyle

“One thing that helps me is carving out time every day, even just 30 mins, to do something that inspires me, whether that be cook, read with a glass of wine, take a walk, create something – and it really helps me decompress and gain headspace and calm. I’ve found that out of that comes better work, and I’m a better friend and partner as well.” @evr_thegallivant

“Some space just means some good stuff is brewing.” @chevronseclairs

“You can get to the point of saturation- like you want to block out all the noise. You know what really rocks the psyche, if you have the time? Going to somewhere new and challenging the way you think about things.” @prettyposhomg

 Check out all of the comments here – I’d love to know you’re take too!

A 3 – Take action on what has happened. After the first baby step action – opening up to you guys on IG – I allowed myself to just ‘be’. My way of ‘taking action’ was actually slowing down, I stopped trying to force a blog post to happen, and instead decided to take the week off of content creation.

Again, I was breaking my stressful thought pattern by doing something different.

I called on my support network, I listened to podcasts, went to the gym and just relaxed – I realised that these were my cards right now, and no amount of force, or inner struggle, was going to change what was happening.

My Dad, who is forever one of my greatest sounding boards, encouraged me to start taking small actions steps, to get back in to a working mindset. Do admin, answer an email, take a photo . . . slowly you’ll see your confidence building up again, and you’ll remember that you are capable and this is a passing phase.

Rather than running away, I stepped back and took a few small steps forward again bit by bit.

And you know what?

It’s now Sunday afternoon, and I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post all week, how I’ll word it, what I’ll say to you guys, how I’ll share and I feel GOOD again.

For whatever reason I 100% needed that quiet time away from content creation. I needed time to sleep, relax and not think. One of the biggest ‘two sides to a coin’ facts about life as a publisher, is that you never switch off. I am so entangled with what I do, I sometimes forget to ‘be me’ minus the blog.

I keep coming back to this quote in my mind – it’s also our Mantra Of The Week:

 “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching” – John Wooden.

I think a lot of the reason I felt so panicked about not posting on the blog, and how it snowballed in to such a difficult few days, is because I felt the pressure of letting down you guys, The Elgin Avenue’s readers.

I am so eternally grateful to you for reading the blog. I want for you to feel inspired and takeaway a little something lovely every time you visit here – my forever aim is to create content of value to you. In not posting, I was overcome with guilt about not delivering, yet the catch 22 was that the guilt and stress silenced me.

The Elgin Avenue is intrinsically wrapped up in me as a person, if I am not inspired, feeling good or happy I feel it is palpable – even if you can ‘fake it’ a little.

Last week made me realise that the blog is my vessel for communicating with you, and it is the times ‘when no one is watching’ that fuel that creativity.

My takeaway from this experience is to nurture my time away from the screen, do things which fuel me in my ‘real life’, and in turn I will deliver to you.

I know that I am the best version of myself, in every sense, when I am peaceful in the moment.

I’ve rounded up a few links below which I feel may help you too, all of them are about managing your lives to minimise your stressful thought patterns.

10 Practical Tips To Handle Stress on The Elgin Avenue

Innovate Your Day With 8 Minutes Of ‘Ready, Set Pause’ on Fast Company

A Mindful Minute on PsychCentral (this says it’s for kids but the advice applies to all ages)

Overall . . .

Whoah, long post guys! Like I said, this post has been a week in the making, I wanted to process exactly how and why I allowed my stressful thought patterns to overwhelm me, and ultimately how to DEAL with it all moving forwards.

Remember, catch your ‘stress trigger’ early on, and the likelihood is that you can dissolve it before it snowballs. If you are reading this post and there is even a niggle of stress in you, PAUSE. I can vouch first hand that allowing it to continue will only feed your stress.

Go for a walk, make a cup of tea, write everything down on a piece of paper that is on your mind – anything to CHANGE what you are doing right now, to make your next steps more peaceful.

Never feel guilty for taking a moment away for yourself, you will be more productive, effective and generally happier (thus nicer to be around!) when you prioritise your personal joy first.

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic guys, do you find yourself caught in stressful thought patterns? If so, what are they (if you don’t mind sharing), and how do you deal with them? 

Love, Monica x

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Stationery: kikki.K  & Opticals: Warby Parker


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