Tag Archive | "stress"


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Yesterday, a dear friend of mine had a major meltdown, in more ways than one.  Retired early from Corporate America, she now performs a non-paid labor of love, facilitating groups nationwide via a global human service organization.  Priding herself on perfection, my friend also has a large house, which she keeps spotless, two dogs whose paws she wipes clean after every outdoor foray (seriously), and a self-employed husband whose construction business is tanking in this economy.

Along with everything else on her plate, she takes in human strays — not literally, but with as much emotionally and financial support as she can muster in these tough times.  Although these ingrates usually wind up kicking her in her can, she continues on undaunted with her altruistic crusades.  Her perspective is that God loves everyone, so how can she do any less?  After a friendship spanning more years than I’ll admit to in print, I still can’t figure out if the woman I’ll call Dara is too good for this earth or just plain thick-headed.  Whatever she is, she has a heart of gold and I love her dearly.  And yesterday, she imploded.

With the phones ringing off the wall simultaneous with her doorbell chiming, emails pouring in like government bailouts to the robber baron bastards, the washing machine and dryer both chugging along at once, and the iron plugged in to tackle a load, Dara slipped something resembling a double Frisbee in the micro and let it rip.  Enclosing a gel, the thing serves as a long-acting heating pad for her two puppies, who love to be warm.  But instead of reheating the thing for the maximum 6 minutes and 30 seconds, my friend, in her distracted state, set the oven for 60 minutes and 30 seconds.

Twelve minutes later, it occurred to her that the micro had been spinning for far too long.  To her horror, the timer on the oven confirmed her fears.  The minute she opened the oven, she was hit with a hot, rancid blast that left her literally staggering, gagging, and wiping her streaming eyes.  The thing had exploded!  Looking like a fallen soufflé and stinking of something concocted in hell, it had oozed its putrid gel all over and beneath the oven.

Immediately, she shooed the dogs from the room and called Poison Control, which was no help.  The product claimed to be environmentally friendly: safe for humans and pets.  However, the rep could not state whether or not that safety applied to improper use of the Frisbee-thingies.

Dara ran from the house with the still-steaming mess as if it was nuclear waste.  Throwing open all the doors and windows, scrubbing the micro down with steel wool and antibacterial soap, and spraying the house with a natural citrus spray, she realized it was an exercise in futility.  The micro would forever reek of that Satanic odor.  And the thought that the thing wasn’t safe nagged at her.

She dashed to a major retailer and dropped $100 on a new, ugly microwave, just because it was in stock and she was desperate.  That hundred bucks had been slated for a utility that had threatened to cut off service if the pre-arranged payment was not received in time. Dara plopped herself at the kitchen table, had a meltdown, and called me.  Beating herself up for not being perfect, for not being able to juggle, all at once, a needy, non-stop client base, the dogs, the husband, and all of the household chores, she wailed,   “How could I have done something so stupid?”

I told her to hang up and take a ride out to a park not far from her home. I told her to sit under a shady tree for a while, contemplating the grass, the flowers, the small woodland animals that would cross her path.  I told her to be aware of the scent of flowering trees on the air, the breeze on her skin, and the sun in the sky.  I advised her not to exchange a single word with a single human, however needy they might appear to be.  She thought I was nuts, but agreed to my insanity because I was adamant and because, in our long friendship, I am one of a handful of people she knows she can trust.

A few hours later, Dara called to thank me.  A bit of time away from her self-created loony bin had calmed and strengthened her.  She said, “I realized that if the worst thing I did all day was to blow up the micro, I’m doing well.”  Indeed!

We all have these “I want to jump out of a window” days.  And while we all have them, some of us, like my sweet friend, contribute to them.  We take on too much.  We want to save everyone and everything.  We want to save the planet.  Suffering from self-created insanities, we do too much because, somewhere along the line, we were conditioned to be perfect: to grin and bear it and then bear some more, and more, and more.  Hey, even Atlas shrugged (just ask Ayn Rand).

If you are among those like my friend Dara, please, do yourself a favor: be kind to yourself.  Realize that you don’t have to be everyone’s rock.  Know that you are only human and are entitled to make mistakes.  Understand that while God loves us all, we are not beholden to give our hearts, souls, and wallets to every emotionally needy Tom, Dick, and Harriet who may cross our paths.

Most of all, realize that you’re entitled to some happiness.  Then, take that happiness wherever and how often you can grab it.  It can be something as simple as treating yourself to a pedicure, a lunch out with the girls, a guilty movie you see alone, stuffing popcorn into your face into a darkened theater, a stroll in the park unencumbered by another human, or a bubble bath in a candle-lit bathroom.  Hide away among the shelves in a bookstore, sample music you’ve yet to hear, or ponder the paintings in a museum.   For a few hours, let the doorbell, the phones, and the emails go unanswered (it’s so liberating)!  Giggle at the thought of all those who want a piece of you and who can’t have it, for once, because you’ve chosen to take care of yourself for a change.

You’re too important not to.  Don’t have a meltdown just because you’re not perfect.  Cherish yourself.   After all, there is only one of you. 

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

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Life can be overwhelming.  It relentlessly pursues even those who attempt to hide from it.  Today, life encompasses an aggregation of personal, professional, social, and familial commitments.  And, given the impact of technology, life moves at an ever-increasing pace.

Symbolic of this fact is the earbud and its omnipresence.  Go into any crowded public place, and I am certain that you will see that a significant percentage of those present have this appendage firmly affixed to their ears.  Some people, I imagine, only remove their earbuds to sleep or shower – and then, with great reluctance.

You see, the earbud is a reflection of a new and dramatically higher level of connectedness that we experience today.  Cellular phones, text messaging, instant messaging, and email, to name just a few, offer us easy access to networks providing virtually instantaneous communications.  Global positioning system (GPS) technology allows us to find intended destinations as well as track people and property.


Previous generations had none of these capabilities and, if presented with the opportunity to utilize such technology, may have considered it unnecessarily intrusive.  Life, prior to the Information Age, had the same personal, professional, social, and familial components, but each part of one’s life was significantly more distinct from the others.  When someone was working, he or she was not shopping or making personal travel arrangements online or instant messaging friends.  Likewise, when an individual was traveling or recreating with family and friends, he likely did not receive incessant messages from his place of employment or from other friends or acquaintances.

Connectedness has its price.  And, that price is paid in interruptions and, to a degree, losses of freedom, privacy, and effectiveness.  Interestingly, while technology advances in scope and complexity, Mankind remains largely the same.  We can only effectively focus on “one thing at a time,” no matter how fleeting that time.  Those who believe that they can multitask are largely deceiving themselves.  As the number of tasks to be performed simultaneously increases, the concentration on any particular task decreases and, frequently, the quality suffers.  Unlike a computer, Man cannot truly multitask.  He can merely spend small increments of time on individual tasks, rotating his focus and time spent until all the tasks are completed.

And so, when overwhelmed with life, we are left with two viable solutions.  If the issues which inundate us are matters of importance, we should first prioritize them and then, beginning with the most important issue, focus our attentions and steadfastly work through each issue to resolution.  But, if our feelings of powerlessness are based upon the increased chatter and noise produced by living a “connected” life, we should “disconnect” from our networks for a time and hearken back to a day when life was simpler and less stressful. 

My Cup Runneth Over — Help!!!

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Multitudinous shopping malls, health spas and nail salons, tattoo parlors, universities, medical institutions, restaurants both fancy and casual, great beaches, well-manicured parks, Corporate America, and endless highways clogged with traffic … or a quiet rural setting with none of the above.  Which would you choose?  If you’ve chosen to reside in the Great Garden State, you have also chosen, along with the abovementioned amenities and frustrations, to live with a higher level of stress than your countrified neighbors.


Because this is the most densely populated State in the Union, and because many residents of New Jersey commute to work in New York or Pennsylvania, traffic is always jamming Jersey’s parkways and interstates.   Add to this the years-long construction projects impacting what surely feels like every road, ramp, and intersection, and you can have what the Rolling Stones referred to as your Nineteen Nervous Breakdown.  The mere act of sitting in your car, waiting for traffic to flow again, can be unnerving.  Blaring horns and the stop and start of traffic as you creep along in search of the right exit are exacerbated by detours necessitated by the never-ending drilling and re-patching of highways.  Add to this the inevitable cut-offs by drivers with kamikaze mentalities, and the Sunday drivers who think that the left lane has been created to maintain a steady cruise of 40-45 miles per hour, and you have a recipe for reducing your lifespan, literally.


Stress kills.  Or rather, it kills us sooner than natural causes alone would.   Under stress, levels of cortisol rise in our bodies.  This hormone contributes to the accumulation of belly fat, sleepless nights, generally sluggish metabolisms, and a depressed point of view.   Even strokes and heart attacks can sometimes result when our bodies and minds are stressed to the max like electrical systems on overload.   On any normal day, we are always confronted with stress-generating issues.  But now, the holidays are just around the corner, lurking not with visions of sugarplums, but with promises of increased anxiety.


Most of us are trying to figure out how to deal with all the extra planning, shopping, and work that seem to go hand in hand with a “successful” holiday.  Saying “No!” to people and events who seek to pull us like taffy at the Jersey shore — and not apologizing for it — as well as cutting back on some cooking preparations will go a long way in easing some stress.


The intent behind and act of celebrating holidays are important.  Holidays mark the special times in our lives, prompt us to gather with friends and family, look ahead to better days, and honor the good times that have gone by.  However, to maintain our sanity, we need to put the brakes on.  Heck, we can’t control traffic on the highways but we do have some control over what takes place under our own roofs.


Think about it.  Did you really need that 20-pound turkey with all the trimmings last year?  How often are you overrun with leftovers that go to waste after such a gut-busting feast?   After a few days of turkey sandwiches, soups, or casseroles, you’ll think you’re about to morph into a gobbling bird yourself, and you’ll just toss out some of those leftovers.  Overdoing side dishes and desserts just puts too much pressure on the cook, who must juggle pots and pans and turkey basters like a crazed circus entertainer, just to bring everything to the table on time.  And of course, checking on the guests to be sure that everyone is happy is just what one needs (not!) while preparing a meal that would make King Henry VIII smack his chops in glee.


The joy of celebrating usually centers upon the preparation and enjoyment of food.  But as the saying goes, less is more.  Just running around buying groceries and planning the menu can be trying enough.  If things are too much for you, ask for some help from the other guests; ask them each to bring a dish to your holiday feast.  If you do this, some planning is necessary so that dishes are not duplicated and the work is not distributed unevenly (i.e., with your kid sister dumping a store bought box of corn mix into a bowl, adding a few eggs and calling it muffins while you slice and dice and sweat over a hot stove to whip up a fresh chestnut, apple, and wild rice-aborbio risotto that takes a few hours of prep time).


If the thought of asking people to bring food to your house seems a bit daunting, then simplify the menu.   With the proper planning, some recipes can be made ahead, frozen, thawed, and heated with great success.  Store bought items, such as rolls or pies, are also great time savers.  As long as the meal is palatable and everyone has a good time, no one will complain about a few shortcuts.


While holidays only occur a few times a year, the routine of our jobs can grind away at us on a daily basis.   How many times have you wished you could be Susan Powter, screaming for the insanity to stop?   A lean economy means that those of us still employed are doing the work of several people, often simultaneously.  Adrenaline, surging due to fear over a loss of income if we don’t pull our weight, propels us to perform at superhuman levels, until quitting time, which never comes fast enough.  Then we go home, snap at our kids and spouses, sit in front of the boob tube, and get up again eight hours later (if we’re lucky) to do it all over again.  Our blood pressure skyrockets, our breath grows short, those tension headaches mount like Vesuvius about to blow but still we plow on.   When this happens, give the boss a wide berth; if not, your stress level will be as high as the Himalayan Mountains!


When the going got tough, I used to smoke.   The act of lighting up a cigarette enabled me to escape my job for a few moments and grab a teeny-weeny bit of peace.  But when chronic bronchitis came to pay me a visit too often, I finally gave up the “coffin nails” and freed myself of this unhealthy crutch.   While I still sometimes think about lighting up again, I know that smoking is only going to relieve my stress for a few moments while permanently damaging my heart and lungs.    So, I have started to step outside for a few minutes just for some fresh air or better yet, to take a short walk.  I ask a co-worker to cover for me (and then return the favor) while I enjoy the sights of the turning, falling leaves and the little wild creatures that call Jersey home.


Those of us who don’t smoke may reach for food as an edge reducer.   Sugar is the one substance that all human beings are born craving.   Whether it is in its refined stage of, say, ice cream or chocolate, or is disguised in the form of a crunchy potato chip or a nice warm, cheesy slice of pizza, comfort food is all about instant gratification and closing the door, temporarily, on our stressors.  We may wind up with digestive problems, more calories than we need equating to unwanted weight gain, and even the urge to down more bad carbs, but still we eat to forget and relax.


Sometimes, when I feel that I have a little too much on my plate … and not necessarily just my dinner plate … I find that a little pep talk, from myself and to myself, helps.  Talking about my stressors out loud (usually not within earshot of anyone who may call out the men with the white coats to come and get me), can be empowering.  Other people prefer to make lists, dividing the page into Pros and Cons so that they can actually see both sides of an issue.   And prayer can be very soothing, as it is the act of giving up our troubles to the Lord.  Simply praying to put one foot in front of the other in order to proceed can give us the strength to continue.  


So, if you are like 99% of our population, watch your stress level.  Don’t let it kill you, literally, and don’t let it rob you of the little joys that can be yours on a daily basis.   If you feel that you are ready to short circuit, ask for help, physically and/or emotionally.  It’s okay to reach out for help. We are, after all, human.   If we weren’t, we’d be a more highly evolved life form that has learned how to eliminate stress altogether!

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