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.

When Will This End? Coronavirus Blog 5

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We’ve hunkered down and we’ve stayed the course.  We’re tired, we’re unfocused, we’re cranky, and we’re over it.  Yet, caring for ourselves and making sure we’re all well is not a one-time deal.  I hate that.  In all things I prefer to go after something, get it done, appreciate what I’ve accomplished and then, Bam, I can go on to the next thing.  Take cleaning.  It’s been a great distraction to clean.  My office is sparkling.  My closets are in order.  Yet when I was dressing this morning, I saw that things were not exactly the way they were when I refolded and cleared out my drawers on Friday.  And when I got to my office today, I could see dust accumulating again.  Cleaning can be great, but it’s a never-ending job.  And, that’s pretty much how it feels to move on with life during the Coronavirus.

I didn’t think it would be easy to cancel all my plans, work remotely, and live in a small apartment with my family, each of us with our own style of being.  Nor did I know that who I thought I was prior to the Coronavirus needed an update during social distancing.  I am more defensive, and less productive than I imagined I’d be at the start of this.  I have to dredge up self-compassion from well below the self-criticism that has become the proverbial inner-chatter.  I need more sleep.  I’m reading less.  I’m deleting emails with recommendations on best practices now.  There’s too much to read, watch, and engage in.

My impatience, and, I imagine, the impatience of so many of us, to “get on with our lives,” is a disruptive hum as we go on with life as we’ve come to know it.  This is a process fraught with uncertainty.  Our minds like definitive answers, and there are none now.  It is challenging to stay in the moment, living for the now.  And we’ve come to understand that the only thing we are certain of is the uncertainty.

Unconsciously, to combat the uncertainty I’ve been hard on myself. It’s an old habit that comes out when things get tough.  We all have old behaviors that sneak up on us when we’re stressed.  Some of those behaviors have taken hold as we march on in quarantine.  My challenge is to name it, and to then bring compassion, patience, and loving understanding to myself, even as my thoughts veer to benign cruelty.  I don’t like that I’m mean.  So, I’m working to do better.  It is an on again off again process.

Though I’m not 100% grateful for this, one of the gifts of this prolonged social distancing is that we can work on self-care in a way we might have missed out on before.  My moods and negativity are now front and center.  Making incremental changes that will help me to live life with more consideration, more care is a priority at this time.  And, as the announcements come in prolonging social distancing, I am given more time to employ compassion moment by moment, day by day.

 

A few simple exercises in which I’ve engaged to prompt benevolence to an impatient mind.

 

Stretching – It allows me to feel my body but it’s gentle.  Sometimes I add sound, like a Sigh, a groan, or an Ahhh to it, for a more substantial release

Taking a Moment – I walk away from whatever I’m doing.  This helps to see something from another vantage point.  It allows me to look at something different, and in this new view, my mind shifts.

Breath – I know, I know, it’s so pedestrian.  And, yet, focusing on our breath, whether we choose focused breathing or some other form or discipline, gives us a pause, and creates a bridge to a calmer moment.

Drink a glass of water – Getting the water and drinking it gives us a chance to recalibrate.  Not only do we hydrate, but we take ourselves out of the negative moment into something more neutral.

Turn on a Song and Dance – Moving changes everything.  I might cry or smile so big.  It’s a mood changer like no other.

 

 

View at Medium.com

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.

 

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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Hidden in Plain Sight

 

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This week Larry and I went on a tour of Gracie Mansion, an activity over 15 years in the making. We live a half a block from New York City’s first family home. Yet, we’ve only seen the façade prior to today. I would usually walk into Carl Shurz park passing by the city-guarded mansion.  We spoke of going on a tour during the Guiliani years, but we always found ourselves too busy. So, two weeks ago, I thought, screw that, we’ll always be busy, let’s just do it. And, we did.

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The tour is free. We just went to the .gov site and got on a list. Tours take place Tuesdays. They start on the hour beginning at 10 AM. We got a 2 PM time slot, a slim opening I had on a full work day. And, that was it. We were scanned going in, and then shown a home built in 1799 during the Federalist period. When it comes to style, I’m much more of an early and mid-twentieth century buff, but I appreciate history and Gracie Mansion is chock full of history. The architecture, furniture, art work and fixtures were the key focuses of the tour. We had a well-informed well-styled woman to take us around along with about 15 others. Another group tour of 20 well-heeled woman from a Bronx senior program were taken by their own tour guide.

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It was fun to learn new facts about the city. I learned that Frederick Douglass was a visitor, but never a resident, of New York City. I just assumed he lived here since there’s an impressive two-way Boulevard named after him. And, I learned that most of the present furniture were gifts rather than original pieces.

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It’s fun to find out that no matter where we live there’s something new to learn. I don’t always retain the information taken in, but I do cherish the experience. We enjoyed a peak into another era. It’s so easy to deny ourselves the simple pleasures of living in the city.

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I’m much more apt to go downtown to the theater than walk down the block on a Tuesday afternoon to take in a quiet treasure. Sometimes slowing down to enjoy what’s hidden in plain sight can enrich us in ways we underestimate.

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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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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Delayed Flight

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I’m at La Guardia’s newly refurbished Delta Terminal. I’m on my way to Charleston. Everyone says what a great town it is. I look forward to getting there, but with the rain, the short runways, and delays, I’m at an iPod café ordering a dinner that will be a stark contrast to the wonderful cuisine to be had in Charleston.

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This is a wonderful people watching opportunity, and if I would look up from my laptop I might enjoy the many fellow travelers in my midst. We have any number of head coverings. The guy furiously texting has a grey cap turned with the lid to the back. The woman across from him is wearing a black burka. Across the aisle is a business woman with a pair of sunglasses she’s wearing as a band, It’s been raining all day and it’s dark out now. But I assume she must have her reasons . A tall fellow with a salt & pepper beard is sporting a yamaka, while carrying his fancy black hat. A bald gentleman is reflecting the fluorescent light coming from above. There’s a pair of shiny red earphones on another bald man, though he purposely shaved his head. It wasn’t an accident of fate.   One man with a kind smile has his long hair tied back in what looks like a large bun. No hat for him.

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It’s nice to travel in the middle of the week. Mostly people are calm, unlike the many family trips we took President’s Week, when families act out loud voices, agitated, and not shy to display their bad moods. Needless to say their children are misbehaved. But none of that tonight. For that I am grateful, and I’m willing to let the hours go by while I wait for our plane to show up.

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I’m at the airport to go on a solo vacation. I wasn’t stressed when the delays came because I’m making up the trip as I go along. I did get stressed when they changed the delay from 10:30 PM to 8:06 and it was after 6 PM, and I was still home with no cars available for another 30 minutes or so. I did get a yellow taxi, silently thanking Uber for my good fortune in the rain. Pre-Uber I never would have been able to snag a cab. And then after a long wait on the FDR drive, we made it to the RFK Bridge. I wasn’t aware that I was holding my breath until I received another text saying the flight was postponed until 8:30. I could finally unclench my jaw and breath a sigh of relief. Since the cab ride, it was delayed twice more. This after the back and forth in the afternoon. It feels like working with a really erratic patient on the Psych ER telling me, “We’re being invaded by aliens.” No, I mean Romanians. No Wait, I mean a covert ops organization with our government. No wait…” All I know is to stay alert and listen for what’s next. And, what’s next is a smooth night flight, non-stop to Charlston.

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