Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.Full Bio
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Do you hate stress as much as I do? I mean, it just feels just so...bad. And it has a LOT of side effects. It makes me lose my appetite, eat too much, sleep too little, oversleep, lose my memory, my patience, my motivation, my mind. When it comes down to it, stress scares me. I know it can impact your health in a big way.
Come to think of it, stress has a big effect on just about everything, doesn't it?
I used to blame PMS. That was prime time for stress, good for at least 1 week out of each month. Then, of course, stress was all about raising young kids and dealing with things like peer pressure and making the team. Stress really hit its stride with the bigger problems of having bigger kids, aka teenagers. After that, I could blame stress on - what else? The peri-the pre- and then the real thing: Menopause.
Having passed through many of the mega stress-inducers, what's my excuse now?
Life. Just life.
But one thing I'm convinced of is this: When we're born, along with the color of our eyes and the texture of our hair comes this other gene, which pre-determines how stress affects us; for the purposes of this post, let's just call it the SCG - stress-coping gene. My theory - not the scientific community's - but perhaps one day I'll do my own research.
So, because I'm light in the SCG department and stress can easily sideline me (unlike the other people I admire who let it seemingly roll right off their shoulders), I've made a mission out of trying to control it. Notice I didn't say "eliminate" it because, well, that's just about impossible, unless you're that kind of person who can all but tune out the world, and I'm most certainly not.
In my quest, I've tried to tap into some simple things we do everyday – and find ways to make them work while reducing stress.
Become a laundry queen. When I'm folding clothes, I usually am doing it in a rush, while muttering to myself something like, "I hate folding laundry; why do I always have so much laundry to fold; it's hopeless because tomorrow I'll just be doing it all over again." Instead, something as mundane as yes, folding laundry, can be relaxing, if you let it. The trick? I try to focus my attention on what I'm doing instead of letting in all the distractions. It's when I really focus on making that perfect crease that my mind is able to relax a little.
Nix bad odors. I like to cook. And many times, cooking involves garlic, onions or other foods that taste so good but whose smell lingers and then usually turns kind of sour. I don't smell it while I'm in the house, but when I leave and come back in, I do. And I never realized that it stressed me out so much until the other day when I came into the house and scrunched up my nose and felt annoyed by the smell. I lit a lavender-scented candle. The house smelled so lovely and before I realized it I was relaxed and feeling like my house was the most wonderful place in the world to be. (Using a scented hand lotion creates the same sort of sense of well-being, especially when I take my time to massage it deeply into my hands.)
Clean up work spaces. Now this is a tough one, as I tend to a). print out everything I read off the computer 2). have a LOT of papers and projects around at any one time c). have no room for all my papers and projects. So, I call it having "neat piles" of papers but really, I'm fooling myself because the piles actually intrude upon my space and make me feel - you guessed it - stressed out. One day, when I got really ambitious, I managed to find a spot for everything and for about 2 days, my office looked absolutely calm and actually like a place I wanted to be. And I was calmer than I'd been in a long time, too. (Okay, so I didn't keep my promise to myself to not let it get that way ever again. But at least I know what I need to do to feel less stressed.)
Sit and do nothing. Do you ever do this? I remember doing it as a kid; just staring into space. I don't know about you, but I've forgotten the fine art of staring into space without a single, solitary thought intruding (doesn't that sound fabulous?) I came close the other day when I attempted to sit outside on my porch and enjoy the solitude...until my neighbor's dog (who was left outside while the family was away for the day) started barking. And barking. A lot of time passed and it didn't stop, not even to take a breath. So I had to give up my favorite thing in the world, which is sitting out on the porch that we added onto the house so we could enjoy sitting out on our porch. But I did the next best thing - it was time to...
Take control. Well, this has a happy ending - and a lesson to be learned. Annoyed because I was denied the pleasure of sitting out on my porch, I came inside and left a message for my neighbor. In the most pleasant way I could muster, I explained that I was not able to sit outside because her dog was barking incessantly. And I kindly said that I'm sure we could work things out. My voice hovered between being apologetic (for complaining) and being in control (for taking the initiative to complain).
And guess what? I was not able to go back outside (at least, not on that day), but my stress disappeared as soon as I hung up the phone. I'm convinced that by taking control, I got a glimpse into how it feels - and how simple it can sometimes be - to be stress-free.
This Matters> If we can take control and figure out some ways to turn around everyday situations, we can control our stress. Knowing that makes me feel calmer, already.
Everyone has their own ways of dealing with stress - I'd love to know yours. My hope is that together, we can turn this list into a much longer one.