Stressing About Stress, Week 22 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Oh Boy, another opportunity to stress.  We are going away to unload stress from city living, and yet here I am stressing about going away.  I’ve gotten used to the steady hum of anxiety just below the surface.  I have yet to speak to anyone during the pandemic that hasn’t acknowledged added stress. These feelings manifest themselves in many forms.  For me, I have a hard time focusing, going from one task to another without completing any of them until I’ve come back around twice.

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For the first time in years we will be at a place where there is no WiFi or cell service.  To that end I set a deadline for myself to complete this post before we left.  Last night was my made-up target.  When I failed to do that, I had to search for another word rather than fail to come back to myself with some patience and understanding.  Now I’m telling myself I simply did not finish this last night, and am doing that now.

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This also meant that my walk, run or bike ride was going to be short today.  I didn’t wake up early.  Instead I slept until I woke naturally and abbreviated my previous goals.  Perhaps we’ll settle in early enough for me to take a walk around the large property this evening.   Or, not.  Either way, we’re on an adventure.  I am in turns, excited and nervous.  And I’m interested how my stress will wane in the wooded Catskills.

 

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Self-Care Tips

 

  • Do something sensual. This isn’t necessarily sexual.  This has to do with your five senses.  Find a scent you like, make touch a sensate experience.  Mold clay, taste something divine.  Listen to the birds or music, or secondary sounds.
  • Make-up with yourself. Think of something for which you got mad at yourself.  Now let yourself know that you are your own reclaimed friend.  As a friend to yourself you may feel more inclined to treat yourself with respect and compassion.
  • Learn something new. Whether you listen to someone who knows something you didn’t know, or whether you look up information online on a site like lifehacker.com or zidbits.com, it’s fun to learn facts, hacks or material new to you.
  • Do it differently. Like I had to shorten my run today, as well as my blog post, it can be relieving to accomplish something outside your routine.
  • Get away. If you’re not going anywhere try a virtual tour on Fodor’s or another travel website.  Or, take a new route on a walk.  Or leave your home for a safe place in a new venue.   All can expand your outlook.

The Frustration Budget, Week 20 in the Time of Coronavirus


The light breeze in the high heat and humidity of this New York summer is a simple pleasure these days.  When I amble along on the sweltering sidewalks I can feel the gentle air waves stroke my head and shoulders lifting me up from the heaviness of the muggy day.  It’s a simple joy to feel the wind when it comes.  It eases the countless frustrations that have set upon us during this time of the Coronavirus. 
 
Given how easily I can be set off these days, I have come up with a made-up system.  I have begun to enact a frustration budget.  Living through a pandemic can wreak havoc with our nervous systems.  So, I am going to assess what is a livable measure of frustration, and anything above that quotient will not be spent.  I am not my best when I’m overstressed.  And, then I circle back on annoyance with my mood and behavior, thus adding to my agitation level.  
 
At this point I think I need to set up my budget with a low level of frustration.  I am subtracting rather than adding to my to-do list.  I am laughing at myself for my lack of memory, including my lack of access to common words, and forgetting seemingly simple tasks.   I open my pajama drawer when I mean to retrieve socks from a parallel drawer.  I am at work, and I am unable to make a point since the word “overcome” will not make itself known to my brain in that moment.  Pre-pandemic, I would get annoyed with myself, and maybe even defensive.  Now, deep in the storm of Covid-19, I am amused by my foibles.  At least that’s how it is this hour.  
 
The frustration budget will be a work in progress.  I just thought of it this week, as I felt exhausted by the end of my day, and quickly followed it up by being less than pleasant when I came home.  It was then I thought, “why not limit what I take in that doesn’t bring me joy?”  And, why not?  I don’t need to finish those articles now when I don’t have the bandwidth.  I can look at the New Yorker cartoons, and save anything else that really interests me.  I can leave the room if the TV is on a program that I neither like nor care about.  I can shorten my walk if I get exasperated by those who are not following the CDC recommendations.  I can lengthen my meditation so that I purposely have more calm moments in my day.  
 
I am amazed by the changes that have occurred since our world changed.  Much of it is difficult.  But some of it, like noticing that I can’t continue on building a wall of aggravations on top of displeasures brings a sliver of mindfulness. It’s a kindness that I can give myself.  I imagine the daily distractions and activities in the past allowed me to ignore certain annoyances, but now they are front and center.  It is time to tear down the wall one frustration at a time until I am thriving within my frustration budget.  
  

Self-Care Tips:
·      Notice what frustrates you and see if you can let go of anything on your list
·      Start a Bullet Journal.  It’s a creative way to track what’s important to you.  
·      Keep a Mood Tracker so you can care for yourself no matter what you’re feeling
·      Write personal affirmations and put them on post-its, then place them where you’ll see them like on the bathroom mirror, in your sock drawer, or on the calendar.  
·      See if you can laugh at yourself when you find you’re being hard on yourself.  It really shifts your mindset.  If you can’t laugh at yourself.  Maybe you can smile at the fact that it’s not easy to go from frustration to humor.  

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One Step in Front of the Other

 

 

-9bcc6173bfec0f98.JPGWhen I was 10 years old I was allowed to walk on Haddonfield-Berlin Road, crossing highways entrances and exits to go to The Woodcrest Shopping Center. For a short time they had The Jerry Lewis Movie Theater, and I could get in for 50 cents, the amount of my allowances after chores. Or, I would go to W.T. Grant’s, deemed a twenty-five cent department store, but more of a five and dime. that sold colorful birds, toys, clothes, plastic jewelry, and featured a lunch counter. I was much too shy to go to the counter alone. But I loved getting lost in the aisles ending up with some sort of sweet. There was also Crest Lanes where I could bowl. I loved the crack of the pins being hit, and the overhead light of the score pad. In the other direction I would walk to The Haddontown Swim Club. It was lovely after a hot August walk to reach the pool and jump in to the cold splash of wet relief. These were some of my first destination walks.

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I would get upset that my mom didn’t drive me places, but with four children and a house to run, driving me to and from a destination that was just over a mile away, was not to be. What upset me then, actually provided me with a pleasure I’ve enjoyed throughout my life. I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 35 years, and a destination walk remains one of my favorite activities.

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Some of my best visits with friends have been walking to work with them, or going to a movie theater in another neighborhood. Films may not be fifty cents anymore, but the destination is still as satisfying. I love going to various farmer’s markets, or to a specialty stationary store. I walk to museums, or parks. Last week I took the subway just to walk in parks in other parts of the city. The destination is more often than not, motivation, but the walk is the true treat.

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Although I love city walks, and will make sure I go on foot when I visit other cities, walking in the woods, or taking a hike is equally as pleasurable. In these hectic times, walking has been wonderful for stress, it’s been reliable transportation, it’s been an education, and it’s been a gift.

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I am Cautious

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I am cautious. I ride a low bike so that when I stop my feet reach the ground. This is reminiscent of my old banana seat bicycle in the 70’s with the purple handle bar streamers. It was comfortable because of its lack of height and its smooth, plastic seat. I was a proud rider on the streets of Haddontown, Kresson Heights, Brookfield and Woodcrest, riding my modern bike in my bright red keds.

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This past week I braved the New York Streets to take my bike out for the third time this summer. I was halfway to my destination, Central Park, when I realized the traffic was too thick. Cars and trucks were double parked. I am not that adventurous. I am cautious. So, at Third Avenue I turned around and headed for the promenade on the East River. When I get to the park I ride to the crosswalk because I can avoid riding up on the curb. I like a flat ride, no bumps. That’s not easy in New York, so I do what I can.

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It wasn’t very crowded. It was Tuesday, and some had just started back to work, while others were just getting back from their Labor Day getaways. I rode as if I were a child, gleeful to have the promenade virtually to myself. I ring my high-pitched bell when the few people walking are four wide and there’s no place for me to go. They part and I move on, happy I didn’t have to stop. I am in heaven. There’s something so sweet about moving in space, especially when I know at any given moment my feet can touch the ground.

 

The Voice

 

MPW-3067.jpegThe movie Funny Girl opened in 1968. I was eight years old and in Third Grade, struggling with Mrs. Mishaw, the dower educator who wore Irish wool suits and had no patience for fools. I was a dreamy fool finding solace in movies. Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice became my hero. Fanny Brice for celebrating her kooky self, and Barbra for singing so magnificently. She was the balm for an otherwise abrasive year.

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This past week I got to revisit the magnificence of Ms. Streisand singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” She brought down the Brooklyn house with her clear, luminous voice. I was enthralled then, as I am now. And, if that weren’t enough, she sang at least three Sondheim songs, my favorite composer.

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I was late to the game. I first heard about Sondheim from Paul Puccio a co-worker at Strawbridge & Clothier when I was in college. I went to see Angela Lansbury in Sweeny Todd in 1980, and have subsequently seen most productions of the shows and revivals in New York or London. So, having Barbra Streisand’s splendid voice, and Steven Sondheim’s magical lyrics and composition, was simply perfect.

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We all have moments like this, when we experience art and emotion, and feel transported. There is hope for the future, and deep satisfaction in the moment. The concert, thanks to Barbra Streisand, gave me, as well as thousands of others, that transformative moment. Life isn’t always easy. In fact, we have witnessed so much heartache and struggle in the media recently, and, for some, in our private lives. So bearing witness to art, music, theater, dance, literature, or other artistic mediums, gives us an opportunity to replenish our faith in ourselves and the world around us. It can move us deeply, and replenish our soul.

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I am still a dreamy fool late into my 50s. And, Barbra Streisand’s voice remains a balm through thick and thin.

(all images are taken from the internet)

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Slowing Down

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This past week I had jury duty. My first reaction was one of annoyance.   I’ve done a lot of jury duty, even one stint for three months. So as far as I was concerned, I’ve done my time. But then I thought again. It’s an enforced day of quiet. I promptly changed my schedule around and planned my reading accordingly. First were some back issues of The New Yorker. Then, much to my delight I was going to be able to read Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door. The book came out the day prior to having to serve and I made sure I had my copy.

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Years ago when I walked downtown to the courthouses, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, I had a clipped pace and could make the five-mile trek in 90 minutes. But this time it took me 110 minutes. 20 minutes longer than in the past. It wasn’t the cold weather. I walked throughout the winter in the long trial. Though cold and windy, I enjoyed the empty sidewalks allowing me to walk with ease. Perhaps the 20 minutes isn’t so bad given it was 20 years ago when I moved quicker, getting to my destination with time to spare. But I did notice I’m losing some stamina.

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I enjoy walking just as much as I did in the past, but I’m slower, tending to walk shorter paths. 20 years ago I’d walk to and from 100 Centre Street, last week one way was more than enough. I also started noticing that I’m doing less outside of work. I’ve always been a busy person, mainly pursuing the arts such as exhibits, theater, films, and the occasional dance performance or opera. Now I’m more selective, finding I prefer to rest more.

I guess I couldn’t keep up with my previous pace. And, I suppose I don’t have to. Losing a minute a year for a five-mile walk allows me to enjoy more of the scenery on the way.

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Letting Go in ’16

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What a concept! Letting go has been used as a catch phrase describing a way of not feeling what we don’t want. I am not amused when I make a complaint and I’m told, “just let it go.” If I could have let it go I wouldn’t be complaining in the first place. But 2016 feels like a good time for me to let things go. Partly because I haven’t liked what I’ve felt, but mostly because what I have previously over-enjoyed isn’t serving me right now.

 

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I usually make lots of plans, however, my plan this year is to plan less. I’m letting go of being too busy. It means more Yes time to do less, and more “No”s in the scheduling category.

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I feel relieved with this plan. In the past I would get overwhelmed with all that I had to do. I am smiling as I write this because I’m looking forward to less. And in this case less is more; more freedom, more ease, more inner peace.

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I don’t imagine living a less fulfilling life. In fact I image I will be more fulfilled doing less. But New York City still offers a lot. I will try to relax as I choose plays more judicially, or pick what art exhibits I’ll see. I go to the opera and dance performances less, so that feels easier. Movies may be difficult to decide on, but I’m up for the challenge. I will be reading less based on recommendations and more on what moves me at any given time. I’ve been fortunate to have gone to a lot of parties and events over the years, and am happy to slow down significantly. I’m just not in the mood right now. I still look forward to going to work, walking, running, and spending time with my family. And I’m always up for a good laugh.

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(stock Images)

It will be interesting what I end up doing or not doing, as the case may be. Yet, letting go does not feel like an imperative at this juncture, it feels natural, as if I made it to this point and letting go is what’s next.

Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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