From High Strung to Happy: How I Raised My Chaos Threshold

I’ve always been a little bit high strung. I never liked change and I used to get stressed out very easily. I have a theory about why this is the case, but that’s a topic for another day. My husband would describe my easily stressed nature as “having a low chaos threshold.” His chaos threshold, on the other hand, has always been extremely high. I used to worry that this made us incompatible. He routinely keeps 10 – 15 tabs open on his internet browser. I physically recoiled from the screen the first time I saw this on his computer.

Shortly after Dan and I moved in together, I realized that if we were going to stay together, I was going to have to calm down. It took a lot of effort. But now that I’ve come as far as I have, I wish that I has done it for myself years before I did it for the sake of our relationship.

Stop Spiraling. One of the problems that I used to have was spiraling. If something goes wrong, I like to have a contingency plan. But it’s not good to work yourself into a lather over multiple levels and scenarios in the contingency plan. You can’t worry about the seven successive things that could go wrong in the event that the first thing goes wrong. That’s called spiraling and it’s not healthy. When I first heard about the concept of spiraling, I immediately recognized that I was guilty of this way of thinking. Have I completely stopped? No. But now I’m much more likely to acknowledge that I’m doing it, that it’s irrational, and that I should stop.

Bite off more than you can chew. This one is hard. A lot of times it might be easier to pass on a new challenge or opportunity, but stepping outside of the comfort zone more frequently makes doing so less daunting. As I mentioned, I’ve always had a hard time adjusting to change. Let me give you a quick rundown of 2016 for me. In January, we were putting things in motion to move to Boston, when a recruiter contacted Dan about a job that would keep us in NJ. By the beginning of February, he had accepted the job. In March, we started a long and arduous house hunt. June 28th, I started a new job. June 30th, we closed on our new house. July 8th, we moved in. July 9th, we went to pick up our new puppy. In August, we got my new car. In September, we found out I was pregnant. Reading this paragraph would have given the old me anxiety. But I actually lived it. And you know what? It was fun. It was crazy and stressful and there were rough moments, but it was fun.

Addition by subtraction. There’s an important difference between learning to live with the chaos in your life and recognizing which bits of chaos in your life that don’t need to be there at all. At one point during my maternity leave, my mother in law came for the afternoon to see the baby and help out. She took care of a lot of empty cardboard boxes sitting in the front hall. The hall looked so spacious and serene with all of the empty boxes gone that seeing it made me take a deep breath. She called this “addition by subtraction”. If unnecessary stuff piling up in your house (or car, or office) stresses you out, get rid of it! Add to your life by subtracting the excess junk.

Notice, and move on. I recently read here that even when women have partners who take on their fair share of the household work, they are still more stressed/tired because they “do the noticing”. Someone has to notice that we are almost out of toilet paper. Someone has to notice that the garage is full and needs to be taken out. Even if my husband goes to buy the toilet paper or takes the garbage out, I still put forth effort because I noticed that these things had to be done and asked him to do them. My husband isn’t clueless or lazy, far from it. He just notices different things than I do. Sometimes he has a different standard than I do. He might want to push the garbage down so that whatever he’s trying to throw away will fit, where as I will see that it’s full and want the bag changed. Is one of us right? Maybe. Should I let this stress me out? No. Move on.

If I told you that these things have completely cured me of my worrying ways, I’d be lying. Do I still get stressed out? Of course! Give me a break! I have a four month old! The important thing is that I’m better at managing stressful situations now.  I can see the humor in the occasional disastrous day. I have more confidence in my ability to get through tough scenarios. And I’m much happier for it.

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