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  • Sue Hawley

My stress is stressing me out!

Everyone has stress; kids, schedules, traffic, jobs, money. The list could go on but you get the picture. The key is how we deal with the stress. Most of us probably don’t cope well even though by now almost everyone has heard of or read at least one study about the negative health effects of stress… This awareness often leads to even more stress! Not helpful but what's a person to do?!

Many people handle stress with activity—not my first option but it works for many. Running, exercise, long walks in nature, or even cleaning out a cluttered closet can be of help. I have tried many of these throughout my life and yes, I have to (but hate to) admit that exercise often does make me feel better mentally even if my body is sore afterwards. Walking my dog in one of the many beautiful local parks was great- when she was young enough to do it and we weren't being pelted with sleet or snow. As for cleaning- well, I tend to tidy up as I go about my day so while there's plenty of random clutter I could tackle (and heaven knows my kids wish I would) I'd just really rather not.

The circumstances of my life also rarely allowed me the opportunity to develop any one of those techniques into a long-term habit. Parenting, the slightly remote location of our house, and my personality never really meshed will with the methods prescribed by most doctors and health books/websites. Over the years I have developed a few strategies that seem to work for me though. Often, I'll called up a close friend or family member to share my struggles and concerns, which can be great for getting perspective but isn't so good if you need to mentally escape from the situation.

When on mental overload my ‘go to’ game plan is to grab any number of well-worn books to re-read. There’s nothing like an old friend from the bookshelf to calm the nerves. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories seem to work best. Miss Marple is so calm and thoughtful I can feel the tension ease from my body as I read. Her logic, along with a situation that is completely different from my own life, is just what I need when I really need to get away from it all. Maybe it helps that by this point I know how many of them end- so no anxiety at all about the future, unlike real life.

However, another course of action for me is jigsaw puzzles. I am addicted to them! My favorites are by Charles Wysocki and I seldom buy a different artist. As of this moment, I own over 50 puzzles of his and I have been known to re-do one from 30 years ago. I enjoy the peace and quiet needed to focus on the colors, brush strokes, and tiny hints of where each puzzle piece belongs. Unlike a book that can be read anywhere, a jigsaw puzzle has a specific place in my home. I have a table in the living room devoted entirely to my puzzles. Nothing but my puzzle, a lamp, and my tea (or coffee, depending on the time of day) are tolerated on this table. Especially not the cat!

While these are all activities I enjoy when all is calm and smooth sailing I'm so glad they also help to handle my stress. Even if they are a little less conventional than what you hear coming from health gurus they work for me- and I can do them no matter the weather or time of day! When I realized I already had good habits in place I began to feel even better. It helped me to stop worrying about whether or not I was following some other person's rules on stress management and allowed me to focus on the good I was doing for myself. And really, that's the most important thing, I think. Finding what works for you so your stress doesn't end up stressing you out!

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