Dealing With Stress, Part I: The Setup

Dealing With Stress, Part I: The Setup
Look at how stressed this poor woman looks. She can't be happy.

Are you stressed?  I don’t generally think of myself as a very anxious person, and my stress is often dealt with by enjoying a vodka-lemonade on the porch after work.  However, that isn’t always practical if, for instance, I have to drive carpool later in the evening.  Also, sometimes it’s winter.

To establish myself as sufficiently credible in the area of stress, here is a partial list of the various anxieties that are currently knocking around inside my head.

  • Girl #1 is a freshman in college and I fret about what she’s doing with her seemingly abundant amount of freedom and free time.  Stress relief strategy: don’t think about it.
  • Girl #2 is a senior in high school, and she is stressed about where she’s going to go to college next year.  She has selfishly passed some of that stress to her mother.  Stress relief strategy: unresolved- we're doing our best.
  • Boy is a sophomore in high school and regularly threatens not to go to college (usually in response to gentle prompting that he study for a test), yet he cannot articulate alternative plans- and I’m getting impatient with hearing that Bill Gates didn’t go to college.  Stress relief strategy: pay a math tutor to get him through the class I least want to help him in the hopes that he’ll eventually see the light (best money ever spent, by the way).
  • Girl #3 is in eighth grade.  While she is the easiest child ever, I worry that I don’t pay enough attention to her.  Stress relief strategy: use vacation time to attend her very inconveniently located and scheduled volleyball games.
  • College is expensive (who knew?).  Strategy: make husband figure out how to pay for it.
  • The kids have unreasonable expectations that they receive food at semi-regular intervals.  One child has recently declared herself a vegetarian, another child complains of stomach pain after each meal, and the boy (15 years old with estimated body fat of -4%) actually physically never fills up- it’s fascinating.  Strategy: spend an exorbitant amount of money on food of all varieties.
  • My husband took a 9-month job across the country, so I am currently functioning as a single mom.  Strategy: keep detailed lists of tasks I find unpleasant that he can do when he decides breezes in for a weekend (Example: buy dog food at Costco- yuck).
  • I work fulltime.  Strategy: pretend I actually want to work fulltime.
  • My sister is getting married in two months and I want to lose ten pounds so I’m not the “big” bridesmaid.  Strategy: unresolved, still the size leader.

And there are all those little stresses, too, such as the DVR failing to tape an episode of Real Housewives (strategy: move all of my shows to the top of the season pass priority list to prevent future mishaps).  Sometimes I write really funny and interesting blogs and no one reads them or nasty people write mean comments (strategy: cry and threaten—to myself—not to blog anymore).  So you can see what I’m dealing with.  Actually just looking at my list is kind of stressing me out.

However, some of my relief strategies aren’t all that realistic, particularly the ones where I have to trick my brain into not thinking about something or believing something other than what I know to be true.  Plus, keep in mind that even positive events can be stressful (ever have a baby or get married?).  And different people deal more/less effectively with stress than others.

I recently took a stress relief class at work (what does it tell you when that class is offered right inside my office on a regular basis?), and we kicked off the class by learning all about the health ramifications of stress, which was at the very least alarming if not downright stressful in and of itself.  I checked the Mayo Clinic website for a partial list of effects of stress.

On your body:  headache, muscle tension of pain, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, upset stomach, sleep problems

On your mood:  anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, sadness or depression

On your behavior:  overeating or undereating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use, social withdrawal (ha, my computer didn’t recognize the word “undereating”- I’ve never had reason to use it before)

The head of my department made a weak attempt to get the instructor of our stress relief class to acknowledge that some stress is good, and indeed it can be a motivator to some people, but to others it manifests itself in all sorts of unpleasant ways.  It’s not realistic to eliminate all stress, although an evaluation of what you find stressful can sometimes results in solutions to reduce it.  For instance, I hate having a dirty house, but I don’t want to spend my free time cleaning it.  It’s worth it to me to pay a cleaning lady once a month to do the things that I don’t want to do and my kids wouldn’t do well.

We learned about a host of stress relief techniques with the idea that certain people would find some helpful but not others; each person needs to find what works for them.

In my next post, I’ll talk about various stress relief strategies with (of course) a special emphasis on those involving music.  Stay tuned…

Filed under: Parenting

Leave a comment