We all have our own ways of coping with stress. If you’re like me, you probably have a mix of good, bad and neutral methods. I used to think I handled things pretty well over all. Then I got married and was quickly disabused of that idea.
The last several months have found me employing a wide variety of methods as Life has pitched a mix of curve balls and sliders along with the occasional 90 mph fastball. And I find myself asking, “Why do I do these things?”
Perhaps the earliest coping method I learned was to absent myself as best I could, i.e. hide. For the first eight years of my life, this usually meant going outside to play. After we moved to the big city, it was more a matter of escaping to my attic bedroom with old wallpaper that had tiny flowers on it. I would stare at it until I started to see spots and swirling colors. Nowadays, they call that meditation.
The second main method I learned at a young age was food. My Grandma C. babysat me a lot before we moved, and like so many of her generation, every life event had something to eat at the center. From chicken soup when sick to cake for a scraped knee, food was the panacea for all. Where else do you think “comfort food” came from?
Perhaps the most prevalent and seemingly innocuous of my coping mechanisms through life has been reading. I quickly tired of staring at the walls of my bedroom and decided to stare at books instead. This is when I discovered the internal escape of other times and worlds in fiction. And reading has been my number one go-to when stressed ever since.
As an adult, I’ve found that these all have their place to a certain extent, but they come with limitations. For example, daydreaming, pleasure reading and similar flights of fancy are generally frowned upon at work, unless you work for Disney Studios or are self-employed.
Likewise, running away and hiding has rather drastic consequences. You can’t just get on any freighter and travel the world like the old days. And hitch-hiking across the country is iffy in the west where there are so many dead zones for cell phone coverage.
One can still count on food, though. Even in the workplace. As my waistline is my witness, someone is always making a run for a fast food lunch, or eating snacks an arm’s-length away. Birthdays, promotions and new hires always warrant a celebration with something to eat. I worked in one department that had so many potlucks and cake days, they had to ban disposing of food items in desk trash cans because of a fruit fly infestation!
Presently, my coping has produced mixed results. I provide entertainment to my office mates as I forget what I’m going to do when I get to the middle of the room. Or I’ll be numbering samples in sequence, only to discover I started a new – invalid – sequence in the middle. That’s when I take a deep breath and try to focus at the task at hand, talking to myself to keep on track and eliciting more laughter from the cheap seats.
Running away isn’t an option if I want to stay married (I do), and even a long drive to calm down isn’t viable at the moment due to time constraints. TV is mostly noise; I’d much rather read and escape that way. But then the housework gets left undone.
Writing is also one of my favorite go-tos, particularly as it helps me to clarify my thoughts. Oddly, I find myself avoiding writing right now. One reason, I think, is that there is much I just can’t talk about yet, so I feel like my hands are tied. But I could journal. Avoidance, again? Probably.
Things should be resolved soon. Then a new and different set of stressors will move in, but ones lower on the scale and more manageable. Meanwhile, every morning I remind myself to be ready to laugh. As for talking to myself? I saw a sign recently that explains it well: