Monday, May 17, 2010
When life is pressing in... day one
I had a number of comments and e-mails asking how I've learned to deal with stress. Other than eating chocolate? I know I must find ways to relieve stress, especially during times the sources of stress are always present. Well... that got me to thinking and here is a little of what I pondered... I'll share over the next two or three days.
The source of stress never leaves but my days go from hardly noticing anything to really, really bad. Thankfully the bad days are rare. Most of life is lived in between. God gives the grace but on those days when there is a perfect storm of circumstances... perhaps my husband is having a very bad day at the same time the income is not stretching at the same time the fatigue is overwhelming... those days need extra grace.
Before I share what I do, I must tell you the real secret is to rope in the wild herd of my thoughts. The battle can truly be in the mind. It has taken me a long time to realize my life can be good even if circumstances are less than perfect and my prayers seem not to be answered (at least in the way I desired).
I guess I am a slow learner for it took quite awhile (years and years) to realize life does not begin when the less than perfect circumstances all leave... real life is walking in the circumstances in a way God can use me and knowing His purpose is being fulfilled in His way. I do not have to understand to enjoy the journey.
Part of stress relief lately has been to get away from that which brings stress and is not essential to my life. I used to be a 24/7 news channel fan but these days I choose carefully what I watch. I have learned if there is anything I need to know, it will come through my Inbox as a Fox News Alert or will be the headlines on my local news in the evening. If the national and international news is important or very interesting, then I'll tune in to learn more about it.
For years and years I have removed myself from home and driven to a favorite coffee shop when possible. Just "getting out" for awhile always helps to calm down and clear my head. If the weather is bad or my billfold empty, I may have to just close the door to my bedroom and prop up pillows behind my neck and "get away" with beautiful magazines or favorite decorating books.
Some of my stress relievers have changed through the years. For instance, when we were a young two-career couple with one child (living in Michigan), our favorite stress reliever was driving to the quaint lake town near us on our days off of work. Some of my fondest memories are sunny Saturdays spent walking the dock with my husband and young daughter... and the people watching one does in such a place, lunch at a favorite restaurant, and perusing the charming shops (especially my favorite gourmet cooking store).
Many years later, when we lived a little farther north in West Michigan, circumstances were very different... we were homeschooling and my husband was out of work for over a year (Stephanie was already married). Yet... when the weather was warm, Christopher and I spent many days taking a small picnic to the shores of Lake Michigan and getting in lots of "Science" as we walked trails and visited the Nature Center at the state park... not to mention hours spent sitting on an old quilt with toes in the sand and watching large cargo ships out in the distance making their way to ports in Northern Indiana and Chicago... bliss. We would return home refreshed.
I've written before about that same year when I would take my Bible to the pond in front of the house where we were living. I spent hours each week reading and thinking and praying and remembering to breath in and breath out. It was the season my life changed for good but it was also the year I learned to live in peace.
Just as I often told my kids... for every natural and spiritual gift we have, there is a corresponding weakness... I'd have to say for every stress reliever there is also a side we have to be careful not to cross over. Lessons learned from my own experiences and shared with whomever cares enough to read.
For instance, I can "get away from it all" watching "home and garden" shows. Such behavior is actually quite positive as I almost always come away with good home, garden, and cooking ideas. When I go to the dark side (Luke... I am your mother... but I digress), the TV comes on and I plop on the sofa and watch mindless shows one after another. There is nothing positive about that.
These days, when I receive a financial gift, it is very relaxing to go out "thrifting" or perusing the garden aisles at my favorite nursery with just a little cash in my pocket, searching for treasure. However, we all know shopping in itself can be a devastating bad habit to develop (especially at the mall and using credit). Much like an immoral relationship, there is seldom a happy ending to developing a shopping addiction.
Similarly, when I tie an apron around my waist and lose myself in a recipe... I often forget my troubles. If I find myself standing in front of the refrigerator late at night eating leftovers and junk food, that is not so positive. (Heather's comment last week reminds me that stress relief can be vanilla scented.) :)
Of course, there have long been books. I did not come from a bookish family but almost as soon as I learned to read, I found a retreat in good books... whether my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries, or vintage children's literature (actually discovered after having children of my own), or coming to understand why a book has been a classic for hundreds of years.
Both excellent fiction and nonfiction books can be just what I need during a difficult day. I often find it amazing how I can peruse my bookshelves and find a book I either purchased or had been given years earlier which is just what I need to read on that particular day.
There is always music and art and bubble baths and long walks and furry animals and chubby babies and duck filled ponds and watching clouds and working in the garden and listening to the radio with the windows down on country roads.
There is the enjoyment of watching farmers at work as I drive into town and Saturday mornings at the farmer's market, standing in awe of God's provision of color and texture in the food which has been grown and how a tiny seed can produce something so wonderful.
While I enjoy the farmer's market during any season, there is a special relaxing magic (Narnia magic) on a crisp, autumn morning when the autumnal veggies are on display, the aroma of fresh apple bread is drawing one to the baker's tables, and dulcimer music is playing in the background... sigh. How can troubles make a nest in my thinking in such surroundings?
I have friends who lose themselves in sewing and quilting and knitting and crocheting and beautiful cross stitch and embroidery and all forms of creating... much in the same way I find time has passed when baking bread or making a stew.
For those days when the stress level has gone beyond the danger limit, I plunge into the Psalms and quite often find a retreat only in following this with a nap. The Word and sleep... a healing combination.
More to follow...