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Like a layer cake, though it’s not cake as we usually think of: chocolate, red velvet, lemon. It’s the layering of stressors that leaves us feeling overwhelmed and like we’re not moving forward. Or like a t-shirt with another shirt on top and a sweater over that. An onion. There are lots of ways to think of layers.

Recently I realized that I was doing a good job of recognizing this for my clients, but not so good for myself. As I reflect on the last year, I am now able to see the layers pressing on me.

Chronic illness and its friend fatigue exacerbated by autoimmune hives. Several months of looking for a treatment that would stop the itchy, red, hot blotches of skin. Seeing more hives than not on my arms and legs, belly and back, face and neck, hands, fingers.

Coronavirus is a multi-layer stressor:

  • Scrambling to move clients from in-person to telehealth sessions. The computer issues and having to purchase a new computer. The ongoing issues with connectivity and internet slowdowns. The week in August when I had no internet and had to cancel all clients. All that a counselor misses when using telehealth.

  • A husband teaching from home. Who gets to use the internet now and who has to wait? Knowing he is frustrated by technology issues and slow internet.

  • Fear about one of us getting the virus. Me with my autoimmune body and him with heart issues. Plus worry about family getting sick and not being able to be with them.

  • Not being able to go home to visit my parents and brother. For the first time in my life, it has been more than a year since I’ve seen them. That’s a long time for me.

  • Missing the social activities and faces of friends who keep me on track and balanced.

An aging dog who coughs. A lot. The interruptions to sleep. The heart-wrenching moments when you see her flop over coughing and not be able to rise again for a few minutes.

The social and political divisions in our country. Things so far beyond my control and yet so hard to ignore.

What layers are you dealing with? List them in a notebook or journal. Seeing them on paper will help you to put the feelings of overwhelm and stress into context. It can also help you have more compassion for yourself. Identifying what you can and cannot control is another way to try to cope with them.

Take a deep breath and give yourself time to figure out what is most important in this moment. Trying to tackle everything all at once will just lead to more frustration and overwhelm. Break things down into manageable chunks. Prioritize.

Practice gratitude. By looking at what is, rather than what if, you ground yourself in the present moment. Praise yourself for what you have accomplished. It’s okay to feel proud of what you’ve done, even if it isn’t everything on the to do list.

Finally, see that you’re not alone. Life is especially stressful right now for many people. Understanding that others are dealing with the compounding effects of layers helps us to feel less alone and sometimes gives us permission to have some kindness for ourselves.

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