Savor, Shake, Sweat, and Share

Savor, Shake, Sweat, and Share

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress

 

Savor, Shake, Sweat, and Share

Stress was everywhere in the culture and family of my childhood, and never mentioned. Our parents waged an uneasy, unspoken battle with each other — our misbehavior got us warning looks instead of correction and instruction, and disapproval was the favored method of discipline. Disappointment was met with tightened lips, anger was put away in silence, and tragedy was never mentioned again. The lesson was clear: The right way to deal with stress was to put it away inside and ignore it. Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t talk about it.

It’s funny, and not funny, how stress grows inside you until it becomes a way of life. The more you ignore it, the harder it is to meet new stresses in any other way.

“You are so calm,” my co-workers used to say to me. “Even when things are the most chaotic, you’re calm and organized, and it helps us be calm too.”

“What’s there to worry about?” I would reply with a smile. “In a hundred years, will anyone be reading about this in the history books?” This is also what I said to myself, all the while knowing that the calmness was not quite right. My mind tiptoed around a huge pile of unmentionable things that sat in the middle of my memory, never looking, never touching. Of course I couldn’t stop now, because everyone, myself included, relied on me to be calm and hold things together.

Then one day, only three days after the incredibly stressful events of September 11, 2001, I returned from the island of Maui to find that my husband, the love of my life, had moved out and left me while I was stranded in Paradise. Suddenly the pile of unmentionable things in my mind doubled and tripled, and the edges began to collapse. I went to bed and cried for four days. I barely ate. I didn’t dare drink. I saw no one. I spoke to no one. I was in a precariously deep dark place, alone.

On the fifth day I showered and got dressed. I had to get out of bed because I couldn’t stay there anymore. Besides, I had a date. A neighbor I didn’t know well had asked me several weeks earlier to take an Italian course with her in San Francisco, and I had agreed. Today was the first class, and I was driving. I picked up Jackie, my neighbor, and we hadn’t been on the road long when she asked, “How are you doing?” It was a valid question for anyone in those first days after 9/11.

As we crossed the Bay Bridge, for some reason I set aside all I had been taught my whole life, and I spilled it all — how bad I felt about the airplanes and the people who had died, how hard it had been to be so far away from home and stranded, how devastated I felt that my husband had left me as if I meant nothing to him, how angry and depressed and overwhelmed and alone I was. I cried and cried until it was hard to see to drive. When we got across the bridge I pulled off at an exit and parked the car. Jackie and I both sat there sobbing, until we stopped. Then we mopped our eyes and blew our noses, and drove on to our class. It was the first time, the very first time, I had ever shared anguish with anyone.

Once I opened up to Jackie, it became hard to close down again. Over the next weeks, and then months and years, I worked hard to heal. I saw therapists, read books, and experimented with friends. Little by little I learned new ways to face down anger and anxiety and doubt and uncertainty and disappointment, some of the underlying emotions that cause stress for me.

Here are the most important things I learned to do:

Savor.

Savor your emotion. Be glad you can feel, that you have doubt, that you care enough to feel disappointed or sad or angry. Then savor yourself, your skills, your enjoyment of life. Savor sunrises and sunsets and rain. Savor red wine and ripe peaches. Savor whatever you like.

Shake.

If you watch an animal in the wild, you will see him shake off stress after a chase or when he slips away from a predator. All animals do this — it helps them get rid of pent-up energy and the chemicals their bodies produce when they are under attack. Humans probably have the instinct to do this too, but we think it looks stupid to shake. Who cares? When you’re stressed, shaking helps release tension. Go ahead, put on some dance music and shake all over.

Sweat.

Shortly after talking with my friend Jackie, I started running again and I joined a yoga class. Running had always provided a time for me to work out problems. In the past I had used this time to focus on solving work problems, but now I turned the time and skill on myself. Yoga relaxed my body and mind, so I felt strong and rested. I chanted forgiveness and love and strength and goodness. It doesn’t matter how you do it, regular exercise is a terrific de-stressor. How can you be rigid and tight when you are exerting yourself to the max and sweating like a pig? While you’re at it, make your mind sweat a little too. Learn something new, do something challenging that has nothing to do with the cause of your stress, stretch yourself.

Share.

Telling someone was the crucial first step I took. It helped me open up so that I could learn to manage the stress in my life in a more productive way. Now I talk more, and more honestly. A few years ago I started writing about my life. In doing so I had to think about a lot of things I had never put into words. In fact I had put some of these things away so completely that I had never actually thought about them before. When I wrote them down, I began to understand them, and the stresses around them became much weaker. A truth about stress is that it’s strongest when you deny it, and it’s weaker when you expose it and talk, or write, about it.

The fact is, stress is everywhere in life. It’s at work and at home. It’s in your family and in your community. It’s on the news and in the phone call you get from your mom. Sometimes it’s real, as in the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, and sometimes you make it up, as in worry about things that haven’t happened yet. There’s nothing shameful about stress, everyone has it. The only time stress is a shame is when you let it get the best of you, when you let stress shut you down. You don’t have to do that! Savor, Shake, Sweat, and Share, and soon you’ll send Stress packing. Instead of stressed, you’ll feel serene. Whew, what a relief.

~ Dana Hill ~

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