Monday, January 21, 2008

Stressin' Out

Stress. It’ll kill you. Or so people say… a lot. It seems like there’s a constant dialogue going on about Americans’ sky-high stress load. In the past I tended to believe we weren’t any more anxious than our ancestors. I mean, my parents worked about 22 hours a day, never took vacations, and didn’t exercise . Their diet basically consisted of heavy cream and pig fat and they were farmers, apparently one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. But if you want to go back farther than that…way back to our ancient antecedents, I think they must have been a little wigged out too. I mean, worrying about becoming some passing carnivore’s next meal couldn’t have been exactly relaxing.

Lately though, I’ve been looking at the whole situation a little differently. Cuz…well…I’m a mite stressed myself. I remember talking to Tami Hoag years ago before she was…well, frankly, before she was Tami Hoag. She said people don’t know what writers’ block is until they sit down at the computer and stare at the screen for three hours with their hands shaking so badly they can’t write a single word.

Let me insert at this time that I DON’T BELIEVE IN WRITERS’ BLOCK. I DON’T BELIEVE IN WRITERS’ BLOCK. I DON’T BELIEVE IN WRITERS’ BLOCK. But I gotta tell you, I do believe in pressure. Because despite the fact that intellectually I realize the world is unlikely to implode if I don’t get my current project in on time, sometimes my hands tremble when I’m staring at the computer screen. And sometimes, I noticed recently, I stop breathing. I’ll just be sitting here, searching blindly for my muse (who, by the by, doesn’t show up on a regular basis since ‘83) and think…hmmmmff…shouldn’t I be inhaling every once in a while?

So I did a little research about stress. Here’s some of the information I came across:

Physical Symptoms:
Headaches or backaches
Muscle tension and stiffness
Diarrhea or constipation
Nausea, dizziness
Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
Weight gain or loss
Skin breakouts (hives, eczema)
Loss of sex drive
Frequent colds

Cognitive Symptoms:
Memory problems
Inability to concentrate
Trouble thinking clearly
Poor judgment
Seeing only the negative
Anxious or racing thoughts
Constant worrying
Loss of objectivity
Fearful anticipation

Anybody experiencing any of those? Anyone not experiencing any of those?

To reduce stress the experts tell us to: Meditate, practice yoga, have sex, laugh, take a walk, or plant a garden.

I gotta tell you, I do all of those things. Well…expect for the plant a garden thing, but it’s literally about 25 degrees below zero here in the Northland and I just don’t see how freezing into a pillar of ice is going to reduce my heart rate.

So, I’m asking you guys, what are YOUR secrets? What do YOU do to reduce your stress load. To live a normal life in an abnormal world?


Playground Monitor said...

25 below? Uh... I guess I won't complain about 18 (9 with the chill factor).

I read to relieve stress. And watch movies or interesting stuff on cable shows. My new fave show is "How to Look Good Naked" with Carson Kressley. It's about how we perceive out bodies to be worse than they really are and he takes a different woman each week and shows her how to change her perception, work with what she's got and feel great about herself.

When it's not 18 degrees I enjoy putting in my herb garden, watching the birds in my backyard (I have 4 feeders plus 2 bluebird houses that have had nests the last two summers). Walking is good too. I live in a flat subdivision with sidewalks -- great for walking. And this afternoon I'm seeing the orthopedic surgeon to schedule surgery on my foot so I can get back out and walk again. I'm not excited about surgery, but I'm excited as heck about being fully mobile again once I've recuperated.

All those cognitive symptoms you listed -- been there done that and in combination they can make it impossible to get a word on paper. And if I do, I'll most likely edit it to death or just hit Ctrl+A and Delete.


Helen Brenna said...

I think getting enough sleep is key. If you're not sleeping well, or not getting enough sleep, everything falls apart.

I listened to a talk about the pressure we put on ourselves a few weeks ago and the guy talked about how much less stressful things were years and years ago. He put an old Farside cartoon that had a pictures of an example calendar from the Jurassic period. Every day said, "Kill something and Eat it."

Michele Hauf said...

I agree with Helen on the sleep. I get at least eight hours every night, and usually nine, cause I do like to linger in bed. :-)

I feel very unstressed most of the time, but maybe it's because I just don't feel the need to be a supermom or to please anyone with my efficiency. Dust-bunnies? I name them. Laundry? Buy a bigger basket so it doesn't overflow so quickly. Bringing out the trash? Not my job, nor is it to squish the stuff down in the can. My hubby has been known to frequently shout "Jenga!" when he gets a glance at the trash.

What I'm trying to say is, give yourself permission to enjoy life, to stop and smell the roses (or rose air freshener if it's -10) and go take another bath,Lois! Baths are always good. :-)

lois greiman said...

Marilyn, I like the bird feeder idea. I don't think all our birds have frozen to death yet.

Helen, I'm a phenomenal sleeper...could give lessons...maybe you remember from our sojourn to Winnipeg. But lately I'm clicking (and chipping) my teeth at night. Not good.

And you're so right, Hauf. I shall go take a bath and read a Rita book right now. :)

Cindy Gerard said...

Life without stress. Hum. What an intriguing concept. As writers I think we have many opportunities to pour it on. If we don't publish, we stress. If we do publish we stress over sales. If we don't get a great contract - stress. Get a great contract - more stress because more money sort of reeks of more expectation. Don't make a list? Stress. Make a list? More stress because the next time it needs to be higher.
In my writing life, I try to surround myself with things that help level me out a bit. I decorated my office in colors that sooth me. I have bird feeders outside my windows (and I have lots of windows so I don't get that boxed in feeling) and gaze at the birds occasionally just to remind myself that a world exists outside of my PC. I burn a vanilla candle because I love the scent and it makes me happy. I try very hard not to beat myself up when I have unproductive days. I listen to music. I take the puppy for a walk. I read Anne Lamote's Bird by Bird to remind myself that for the most part writers are all a bit neurotic and to get over myself.
I call friends - writing friends to talk about writing and non writing friends to remind myself that there is life beyond the computer.
I'm sure there's more. I'm sure there should be more but I've relegated myself to the truth that stress is a part of my life and that I simply need to do my best to keep it under control.

lois greiman said...

Wow Cindy. So Zen. But obviously you're doing everything right.

Virginia Lady said...

Well, for me when life has gotten so stressful that it's insane, I crochet. My mother and grandmother taught me when I was a little girl. It is by no means a regular hobby. But for some reason it works a great stress reducer for me, but only when things are truly out of my control.

For daily stress relief, sleep is paramount, though I hate to waste the time, I know I need it. Exercise of at least 30 minutes, twice a week and some time alone, no phone, no kids, just me. It keeps me sane.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Marilyn, once again we are sympatico. I love Carson's new show. I loved "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy," and now they all (all?) have separate shows, which is fine, but couldn't they do a "Queer Eye" once in a while? They're so much fun together. Anyway, that's my style for reality shows. The makeover that doesn't involve surgery. I like "What Not To Wear" because they do women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. And some of the home decorating/makeover shows, too. I find them relaxing.

Ah, Lois, I've had so many of the physical symptoms. I've used a nightguard for nearly 20 years. It was my dentist who noticed that I was grinding. Apparently I was quiet about it. At one point I developed a habit of "gulping air" when I was at the computer. I told the dr that I by the end of the day I was feeling incredible pressure in my chest, as though I needed to burp but it never came. She knew what was causing it--said it becomes an unconscious habit like nail biting (I do that too) and told me that just realizing it was half the battle. And it was.

I also tense up--arms, shoulder, back--at the computer. Again, I have to monitor this and remind myself to relax. Fortunately I tend not to sit for too long without moving around.

I'm a worrier and a compulsive "fixer." More traits that require monitoring myself. It helps to get together with close friends regularly. Had breakfast with "the girls" this morning and came away feeling revitalized.

I haven't mastered the art of meditating. Too impatient, probably. One of my gifts to myself--and I think we need to give ourselves these gifts--will be taking yoga or some kind of Eastern philosophy class in '08. I need more Zen.

The Serenity Prayer is one of my favorite stress relievers. It helps to have it in front of me in black and white and read it over and over aloud until I can feel myself letting go.

Debra Dixon said...

Well, for career stress one of my greatest stress relievers is that I can tell my husband that I quit and I shouldn't have to do XYZ anymore. And he says, "Okay."

No talk of what it would mean to chuck the years of struggle it took to get where I am in whatever it is that's causing me stress. No rational argument about why I must be kidding.

Just a simple, "Okay."

And oddly that reminds me that the world will not come to an end if I don't do something. Or even if I do something poorly. It reminds me that I'm the one in control and I get to call the shots in my life. It reminds me he loves me because of me and not because of the things I can do. (Well, except maybe for *that* but we'll pretend I didn't say that.)

And his calm acceptance reduces the stress. I'm a lucky girl.

For general stress, sleep is very helpful. Also, sadly, comfort food. :/ But I was raised in the South. I mean, really, what chance did I have?

The other think I recommend for stress and should actually do more of is saying the word, "no."

Kathleen Eagle said...

Absolutely, Deb. "NO" is not a personal rejection, not a cuss word. And that part about the world not coming to an end if I don't do something--I need to write that on the palm of my hand. I know it. I'm even getting better about believing it. I'm even beginning to suspect that the world might do better sometimes if I sit on my hands for a while.

I've started knitting again. Haven't knitted since the last time I was pregnant, and that's been....well, a while ago.

Christie Ridgway said...

Lois: I use mantras! Now, I usually resort to them at night, because I'll wake up anxious and can't get back to sleep. I make up something fitting the current circumstance, say, "Writing each scene of this book is coming to me easily and effortlessly." I repeat that over and over in my mind to push away any unpleasant thoughts or worries and eventuatlly drift off to sleep.

Maybe instead of staring at your screen you can have an affirmations notebook where you write a page of them longhand. You can do a couple of different ones, or change them as needed. Some people time them out.

Right now I need one that goes like this: "I'm energized and excited to be working on this new project. It's going well!"

Because I need to start the next book and I just turned the last one in 7 days ago.

lois greiman said...

Kathy, I bought a night guard too, but I hate it.

Comfort food....ahhhh....but the problem is...well...we all know the problems associated with using food to make the world move back a step. Still, hot potato soup...there's nothing like it. You have to slow down just so you don't burn your mouth.

Debra, I think you hit the nail on the head with the word 'no.' I'm just not good at it. I don't want to have to say no. I want to make everyone happy. Sigh.

Betina Krahn said...

Lois, I'm with you on the stress thing. And my extended family thinks I have nothing to worry about!

So, I walk when I can. . . outdoors. . . without the canine. So much more peaceful that way. And down here, summer is the worst time to be outside. Right now it's a little nippy, but nothing like 18 below! I just put on a jacket and go. When I can't, I like to put on the stereo and do moves I recall from sundry aerobics classes and when I run out of those, I dance!

When I get royally stressed, I resort to morning pages and write my way out of the terrors of my life. And lately, I've been reading that book The Secret-- which has nuggets of wisdom scattered in amongst the "secret" stuff. And it's very positive and affirming-- so I pick it up periodically and leaf through until I find something that touches me.

Also, I call a friend and talk until we get around to what is bothering me. . . then we talk until one or both of us have cauliflower ears!

flip said...

I have late night stress attacks. I start worrying about everything I must do. To calm myself, I break it down. What can I do about it. I can't do anything at 2 a.m. What are the priorities? What can wait? Are there things that I can do a damn thing about? It tends to calm me down.

lois greiman said...

Debra, I think you're right. Mantras. Mine tend to be very simplistic. Like...all is well. The universe won't explode today. Your children are healthy.

Walking does help, Betina. I go without the dogs lately too. Two to six miles in the morning. But the rest of the day tends to crowd in on me sometimes