A Stress Reaction
This past weekend was filled with stress, but Sunday was especially stressful. I really don’t want to post about the event that caused the stress, but it basically resulted in NHL being sent home from Hebrew school and being confined in his room for nearly the rest of the day. He was allowed out for meals, bathroom trips, and to do his homework, but not to play. (At least until after dinner when we allowed him some playtime with his brother.)
To keep the boys separate and prevent one from egging on the other (and because we had dropped him off there before picking NHL up and he refused to leave), B stayed at her parents’ house with JSL for awhile. That left me in the house alone with NHL.
Now, I’m usually a pretty laid-back kind of guy. I don’t like stress and will try to avoid it as much as possible. Despite my avoidance attempts, though, stress all too often finds its way to me. When it does, I find that I have a few nearly instinctive reactions to it.
My first reaction is the avoid the stress. This might mean burying myself in work, looking up obscure (and completely meaningless) trivia on Wikipedia, or watching TV shows until my brain is numb. Basically, I’m preventing my brain from thinking about the stressful event. It doesn’t help solve the source of the stress, I know, but sometimes I can’t help it. Something stressful happens and a switch flips in my brain causing me to seek distraction.
Is this successful? For minor stresses or for stresses that I couldn’t fix if I wanted to, it can be. Sometimes stress is counter-productive. If one of the boys is sick but is tucked in bed at the moment, then driving myself to the edge of sanity by worrying about him isn’t helping anyone. Better that I distract my mind for the short period of time so I can calm down and more rationally think about a course of action.
I’m a problem solver by nature. If I see a puzzle in front of me, I want to figure it out and solve it. If something is going wrong, I want to figure out why and how to correct it. So, when confronted with a stressful situation, I will sometimes go into problem solver mode and try to figure out a fix. Of course, if the problem is beyond my abilities to fix, this can wind up just causing more stress.
This is a bad one, I know, but I do stress-eat. It isn’t all the time and it usually isn’t much. (If I stress-eat too much, I feel sick which puts an end to this stress reaction.) However, yesterday I found myself reaching for the leftover Halloween candy. After the second mini-candy bar was consumed and my hand went reaching for a third, I dragged myself away.
Clearly, this tactic isn’t a very healthy one both for my body and for the stress-causing event. If anything, it is only going to put more stress on me the next time I step on the scale. That’s why I try to redirect myself whenever I find my reactions heading in this direction. Stress leading me to that bag of chocolate? Hey, what was the date that Marty McFly landed in the old West in Back To The Future, Part 3? (September 2nd, 1885 in case you were wondering. And, yes, I looked it up!)
This is sort of the mirror image of the stress eating. Sometimes, instead of eating, I’ll just start cooking something. In many ways, this is another avoidance tactic. I’m filling my mind up with ingredient lists, cooking instructions and the like in order to crowd out stressful thoughts. Still, I often find cooking a very stress-reducing activity. Yesterday, after pulling away from the candy, I roasted the pumpkin seeds from my first carved pumpkin. I also grabbed a butternut squash that I had been meaning to cook for awhile and chopped it up along with some apples leftover from our apple picking trip. Those got tossed into the slow cooker with some dried cranberries, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Maybe this is one of the reasons that I like being the house chef even though I work full-time. Heading into the kitchen and whipping up a dinner is a welcome stress-reliever after a hard day at work. Of course, when my culinary creations are met with cries of “We’re eating THAT?!!!”, “I don’t want THAT?!!!”, and “Can I have something else?!!!”, it tends to counter-act the stress-reduction obtained by cooking.
This isn’t really my reaction of choice, but it does happen with varying degrees of seriousness. It’s almost always the same spot too: the muscle just under my right shoulder blade. I’ll feel it twitch and hurt as my stress rises. One time, the muscles in my shoulders, back and neck all spasmed at once with such intensity that I, for hours after the initial pain died down, I found myself walking like Carl Fredricksen. Obviously, this doesn’t do anything to relieve the stress and only serves to add more stress (as now I’m in physical pain and dealing with stress.) Unfortunately, this one isn’t something that I am consciously in control of and I can’t simply tell my muscle to relax.
So, how do you react to stress? Do you eat, bake, use distractions, or do something completely different? I’d love to hear. Of course, after talking about stress so much, I feel the urge to look up how many years it has been since Batman was first introduced. (Answer: 71)