A Natural Approach to Stress

A Natural Approach to Stress

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress


A Natural Approach to Stress

As my husband and I walked around the lake, our pace was significantly slower than many of the joggers and cyclists who sailed past us. We made our way to a bench nestled in the shade of a giant cottonwood tree. Sitting there, we paused to take a breath and allow ourselves to slow down and enjoy the beauty around us.

We laughed at the antics of an indignant squirrel as he made it clear that he did not want us anywhere nearby. He chirped and fussed, racing up and down the tree, seemingly annoyed at our venture into his domain.

Across the lake a small island held a stand of trees with numerous nests of egrets and cormorants. As the beautiful birds swooped in and landed on the branches, I found myself caught up in the peace of our surroundings, and it was a welcome peace.

Only a few months before, my husband had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Our lives had changed in an instant. As one might imagine, the stress during that time was tremendous.

My husband was rushed into induction chemotherapy, which placed him in remission. Another round of chemo-therapy followed, with the hope of keeping him in remission until doctors could find a match among his brothers and sisters for a stem cell transplant. When his sister was determined to be an excellent match, we prepared ourselves for the move to a hospital in a neighboring city for the transplant.

I would travel back and forth to be with my husband, sometimes staying the night, sometimes heading home for the evening to be with my adult children. But then, the week before he was to enter the hospital, we received news that made me feel as if the floor below me was falling away. In addition to his time in the hospital, my husband would need to stay nearby in a hotel for two to two-and-a-half months following his release. There were good reasons. If an infection or other problem developed, he would need to be able to get to the hospital in thirty minutes or less.

Our home was an hour’s drive away on good days. During heavy traffic times it could be much more. How could we possibly make this work? My stress level started to rise.

Now don’t misunderstand me. Stress was nothing new to us. As the parents of three adult children with special needs, we knew the effects of stress all too well. Yet through our experiences, we had forged a good and happy life. Our adult children lived with us in our home. They were quite independent, but I worried about how our new challenges would put that independence to the test, as I moved away to become my husband’s full-time caregiver.

Dear friends and family came forward to help, some spending periods of time with the kids in our absence, others driving one son back and forth to work. We developed a plan to move through this challenge. Yet in spite of all the plans, I still found myself feeling stressed and anxious, not only about my husband, but about my family at home.

Many helpful suggestions were offered by caring people. “Make sure you find some time for yourself,” counseled one friend. “Take lots of walks and read lots of books,” recommended another.

After my husband’s transplant, I was invited to participate in a research study exploring stress among caregivers. As part of the study I used a machine that monitored my respiration. I would strap the cloth band around my diaphragm and follow the prompts playing through the headphones. “Breathe in, breathe out,” the gentle, recorded voice told me. “Try to structure your breathing. Relax.”

The daily breathing exercises did help me to relax. The walks and times spent within the pages of well-loved books also helped, but as the days went by I recognized that the greatest stress reliever for me was found in nature.

Whether it was pausing to watch a beautiful sunset, seeing bunnies playing on the grass below our hotel window, or just feeling the evening breeze on my face, there were things all around me that replenished my soul and eased my stress. Those things helped me see God’s hand not only in my own life but in everything.

As my husband and I sat on the park bench and watched that silly squirrel, I breathed deeply and smiled. I was grateful for a moment’s peace and for a greater appreciation of the natural stress relievers that were everywhere.

~ Jeannie Lancaster ~

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