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...


Anonymous said...

I encouraged the ladies at Bible Study one week when I was teaching on the Spiritual Disciplines to invest in an mp3 player, even if you have to ask your children how to use it!! Sermons, conference audio, and uplifting music can all help so much with the mental/emotional struggles we all face.

:) me

The Working Home Keeper said...

Thank you for sharing. What an excellent post and one I really needed to read today.

Mary Ellen

freetobeme - Anita said...

Good post. I love it when you write little examples from your own daily life, like going to the shore of Lake Michigan with Christopher, during home schooling days. It's like opening a window and letting me see you in real life.

Anonymous said...

This post so blessed me. When my husband became unemployed nearly 2 years ago my stress and fear level were through the, not so much...even with no regular job, and starting up 2 new small businesses, daughters getting married, grandchildren coming, etc. I do have those really bad days more often than I would like...and all those coping skills that you shared are so vital to me regaining my footing...also, when I have really lost my focus, Bible, pen and paper are the only way my faith returns to "sight". Tnank you! Cathy

Jennifer said...

What great tips, thanks for sharing.

Vee said...

Sleep is so very healing in times of deep stress. I'm imagining myself propped up in bed with my magazines and pillows. What a lovely thought!

I'm here today to say "thank you" for telling your readers about Dean's Watch. I finished reading it early this morning. (No, I did not stay up all night reading. ;> ) Do you remember the advice from that book? I found it intriguing..."take joy" and "love is all that matters." At one point, the Dean is telling Miss Montague how exhausting this "taking of joy" is. She says, "Of course." It made me laugh. So I hope to do a review one day of this book, but am off on another adventure: The Scent of Water. It strikes me that I've not had time to absorb it all because of library constraints, which is why I shall have to collect these books after all.

Oh, "me" above has such a good suggestion. I have scripture tapes read by a truly gifted reader and they have been a blessing in tough times.

Mrs.T said...

Oh, this is so encouraging for me today! I haven't visited your blog in a long time -- I just don't have time to visit any blogs these day! -- but today I did and it is just what I needed. I will be back to read the thoughts you share in coming days. Thank you.

God bless,

Anonymous said...

SO well put, and you are not alone in this journey. Dealing with kin with shall we say, "difficulties" is not easy. At least today I can say to my husband, "Hey, you are acting like an aspie today." (In my opinion he also has a mild case of asperger's as does 1 grandchild). Brilliant people sometimes have this too I have found. (Makes me glad to not be so bright, frankly!!) Taking pleasure in the small things is so important...and some good music too goes along well with it all. I too have loved the Psalms...and sometimes one finds some laughter in how life is described in Proverbs as well. This life is our testing time...I believe it will be so very different when we reach the Kingdom...and things happen to remind one that we ain't there YET!! Blessings and thanks for sharing your life so well.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I look back on times of super stress and worry and remember I have been there before and come out of it. Things did work out. Life did go on. To remember that God is still on the throan and is still here for us. The worry and stress can be so all consuming. Worry and stress does not solve anything. It just makes us miserable. Just upsets those around us even more and so the level goes up. To plan ahead as so many women have suggested and you have too Brenda is a good idea. To have books and tapes and places where you feel comfortable to just be and relax. To know God is near and hears your pleas. You are so good at keeping prepared for emergencys and this too is one we can prepare somewhat for. Good post!! :) Sarah

Pastor Chuck and Sue said...

Thank you so much for all your comments on handling stress and strife in our lives. I love reading your blog and have benefitted by many of your articles. Blessings to you, Sue

Cathy said...

Thank you Brenda. I feel as if your message today was especially for me. Answered prayer in a stressful time. I enjoy your blog so much and learn from it daily. Hugs-Cathy in Florida

Mrs.Rabe said...

I too, have stepped back from watching the "talking heads" as we like to call them. 24/7 news can be aggravating. Do similarly to you with this.

I do read, and also I listen to good sermons and music on my ipod. Love to do this when mowing our property. Very encouraging and I am not interrupted by the phone, etc...

Love these kinds of posts!

samcoll said...

Your post today was wonderful! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!! My father has been in the hospital for a month and the stress has had me on a crazy emotional roller coaster! One day he is perked up and it seems that he might be headed home and the next day, it appears that we might be planning a funeral soon. Thank you for the great ideas for reducing stress. I think my Bible, music and my kids are the best for me! I might try some of your suggestions too! Thanks again! I'll be watching for the next post. (I live in south-eastern Michigan. It is a magical state!)

Anonymous said...

Thank you. It seems so often you and I are on similar paths. God uses your words of wisdom to speak to me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post today. I was having one of those days when impending storms were coming at me from all sides. So good to be reminded that I should not focus on the problems. Sometimes a little quiet time away with God is what is needed to clear my head, and renew.

Anonymous said...

It's funny, my daughter and I were just talking on the phone this afternoon about very much the same types of things you wrote about. Thank you for sharing your inspirational, beautiful, helpful insights.

Pauline said...

Thankyou for an encouraging post - I was particularly sore today, spent last night curled up on the sofa as I couldn't manage the stairs. I had my laptop and turned to your blog and heard your beautiful music for the first time! My son had used my laptop and must have had the sound up, something I rarely do. Your music touched my heart