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  • Writer's pictureNicole Salter

Living in the Red Zone? Try some cool, blue water.

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

Sad woman holding head in hand
When stress hits, it's time to pay the piper.

Happy New Year! We hope you’re having a positive start to the new month, year and decade!

Our family had a great holiday – there’s nothing like helping others get their gifting done 😊 and also spending time with family. Mark’s family came in from New York, and the kids are so big now! My 11 year old niece insisted on visiting the Eaton Centre on Boxing Day, assuring me it was was just a typical day at the mall for her :) We also did a lot of entertaining and spent time with our friends (our annual New Year’s Day brunch has been going strong for well over a decade, and a great time was had by all). I hope you, too, got some much-deserved time off and are looking forward to a fresh start.

Children, presents, lit Christmas tree
My kids and New York nieces gathered round the tree, 2019

There's just one problem. It seems like now should be the time to recover from the nonstop holidays and events that began with Thanksgiving and culminated in ringing in the new year of 2020. The thing is, for most of us, it’s business as usual. The kids are back to school as of yesterday, most of us are back at work if we weren't already, and it feels like there’s barely time to sweep the pine needles off the carpet and pack up the ornaments, let alone slide back into the regular routine.

And then there’s the credit card debt we incurred with all those gifts, holiday meals and outings…

How can we manage our stress levels and keep from getting despondent as we face the bills and say bfn to all the visiting friends and loved ones?

January Mental Health Challenge: Self-Care

Self-care – a term that can be clear as mud to people accustomed to putting the needs of others before their own – starts with accepting the fact that honouring your needs just isn't selfish, says Donna Denise Wallis of Wallis Saini Psychotherapy Practice. You are a person too, as deserving of kindness as anyone else. Simply put, it means directing some of the energy that you put towards caring for others onto yourself. Contrary to common belief, self-care doesn't have to look like candlelit bubble baths and peppermint foot soaks with your girlfriends (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

Maybe, Wallis goes on, that isn't what your needs are in that moment. Self-care shouldn’t be a chore, or make you do something that just isn’t ‘you’. While it’s good to challenge yourself to think outside the box and daydream about what would make you happy if time and money were no object, the real question is: What is it that YOU need RIGHT NOW to help keep you afloat?

Coordinating outfit on bed
Laying your outfit on the bed the night before makes for less stress in the morning

Self-care can be as simple as going to bed earlier instead of staying up for another time-wasting Netflix binge (guilty!) or setting your clothes out for the morning to streamline the morning rush. Self care can be saying no to extra obligations and giving yourself permission to nap or read a book. It can mean telling your boss that you can’t work late, when the only thing on your urgent agenda is a date to cook yourself a nice, healthy meal instead of reaching into the freezer, totally exhausted, for yet another pizza to heat up.

Wallis advises people at risk of stress to make a list of what self-care practices they actually want to implement in order to get their needs met. She explains that it doesn't need to be an exhaustive list; just focus on 2-3 needs and start finding ways to implement a self-care routine. Message a friend and get them to take the challenge with you! You can share the ideas you came up with and any of the challenges that may have come up.

Green field under blue sky
When you're living in the Green Zone, life is pretty sweet

Living in the Green Zone

Donna goes on to caution that often, people can struggle with gauging where they are in terms of their stress level until it’s too late and they become overwhelmed, even paralyzed, with stress. When we start noticing that everything, even pleasurable activities, is starting to feel like a chore, Wallis asks patients to identify whether they think they are in the green, yellow or red zone.

The green zone is where you have enough mental, emotional and physical energy to do things. At this stage you find enjoyment in activities that you like and spending time with friends and family.

Lady in yellow leather jacket talking on cell phone
You said you want it on your desk by when?

The yellow zone is where you find that you are struggling but can still find enough mental, emotional and physical energy to get through what you have to do and some of the things you want to do. When the phone rings you may heave a huge sigh but you do pick it up and smile before you answer. You may notice that ordinary things like a phone chat start to feel a bit more like a burden.

Referree with whistle holding red card
Yeah, I'm talking to you

The red zone is where you find that you do not have enough mental, emotional and physical energy to do things. Everything feels like a chore and you may notice that your mood is low or that you are irritated by things that would not normally bother you.

The key is that you are not helpless in all this or doomed to veer between these uncomfortable states, no matter what is happening around you. There are usually signs to indicate when we’re headed into yellow or red. The most obvious sign is observing how we react to small challenges. Whether we’re yelling at other drivers on the road, criticizing friends who ask us for help, or making more negative comments than usual (or all three and more!), our friends and family can usually notice our state of mind before we are aware of it. Enlist the help of someone close to you to let you know when you’re stressed and ask them for suggestions of how you can take care of yourself.

Update, September 2021: A year and a half after this post, I'm sorry to report that I was completely oblivious to my own circumstances at the time of writing this. I was coming off a holiday high and had no idea I would likely never see the New York nieces again, and certainly not in that house; my husband was already planning a very interesting New Year in the form of a brutally sudden legal campaign to drive me out of my home, using my children as a threat. How's that for the red zone? You choose the takeaway: you never know what people are going through/people do not always follow their own advice/please, please pay attention to what you are tolerating at any given time. I hope you go with that last one.

Despite everything, happy holiday memories continue - they just look different now - but these things can really, really take a toll. Please pay attention to your stress, listen to and act upon what your emotions are telling you, and seek help if necessary to deal with things before they get out of control. Have you been through it lately? Go ahead and tell us in the comments how YOU are dealing with the factors, big and small, that contribute to your stress


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