I recently had a come-to-Jesus moment with stress, and it involved hives -- and lots of 'em. Itchy, rashy, little itty-bitty bumps that first started on my upper arms, then spread down to my wrists, then appeared on my chest and thighs and calves, and eventually made their way to my neck and even my right cheek (just a couple there, thank goodness). By the time they'd made their way to my face, though, I'd about had enough and entered full offense mode: bathing in oatmeal wash, taking Benadryl every night before bedtime (and praying that its drowsy effects wouldn't make me sleep through my alarm in the morning) and applying hydrocortisone cream like it was Lubriderm.
A little background: I've always been pretty good at handling stress -- I grew up in a very regimented household, with a heavy emphasis on grades and extracurriculars, and I never really had any problems juggling everything. I've always quietly managed it all, taking secret pleasure in seeing just how many things I could pile on my plate at one time. (My boyfriend teases me still as the girl who was in a million clubs.) This can-do attitude followed me to college, and eventually to my professional life out here in New York.
But now that I'm a full-fledged adult, the stressors have morphed from academics and activities to more serious shapes -- you know, the ones that we all have to deal with, yet wish we didn't have to. So when just a few too many stressors decided to manifest in a week-and-a-half time span, I probably shouldn't have been surprised when my body decided to revolt.
So in the week following the first appearance of the hives, I didn't just take medicinal action (with all my creams and drugs and lotions) -- I realized I needed to take mental action, too. Conveniently enough, I had a trip to San Francisco booked to visit my best friend shortly after the hives appeared. I took this as my one big shot at relaxing and unwinding, and I made a concerted effort to not worry and take things in stride for the trip. (For the record, I still itched while I was on the trip, but at least not as much.) That five-hour flight across the country (and then back again) also left for some great reflection time, to think about what (and who!) exactly stresses me out, what measures I can take to minimize said stressors, and what is just simply not worth stressing out about.
So, in that vein, I'm joining my colleagues in our mission to de-stress and collected a list of things that I've decided just don't deserve the angst and anxiety (and be sure to check out Sarah Klein's and Meredith Melnick's pieces!):
Worrying that I'm overreacting or having irrational feelings about something. When someone upsets me, my closest friends will tell you that my very first instinct is to immediately ask everyone if I overreacted in response to the situation, and if my feelings to the situation are valid. Maybe they're just being good friends, or maybe I really am just always right (ha!), but usually the answer is no, I'm not being crazy. But after doing this probably thousands of times -- "So are you sure I'm not ridiculous for feeling this way?" -- I've realized that who cares if I am ridiculous for feeling a certain way? It's how I feel, and at the end of the day, if I'm upset over something, it's my prerogative to feel that way. I'm not right or wrong because of my feelings -- it is how it is, and that's OK. (But friends, I still retain the right to vent!)
Putting on lotion. So... I was born and raised in Arizona. You know, that state down there by New Mexico and California that's known for its dry heat. So if anyone has knowledge of what scaly, dry skin looks like, trust me, I do. Yet, I'm terrible about putting on lotion. Super terrible. I always forget. It smells nice. I know it's ladylike to have soft and supple skin. I do put on sunscreen when I know I'm spending time outside, but for the most part, nope. Don't really care. Though I'll probably regret it in 20 years when I look 100 because of my skin.
Not keeping up with my piano playing. I've played piano since I was about 4 or 5 and took lessons up until college. I loved it (and still do!) but since leaving home, I haven't had the opportunity to practice (not having a piano right in your living room may be a contributor). For the first couple of years while I was out here, I would get really upset when I would try to sight-read something and be terrible at it. I felt like I was a failure for not being able to play to the level I did when I was still playing every day and receiving formal training. But I've come to realize several things. First: I'm not a professional pianist, nor am I trying to be, so it's OK if I am not the most awesome player in the world. Second: It's the feeling that I get when I'm practicing something that brings me joy. I don't have to be able to play the hardest piece ever to love music.
Catching something on the subway. Lord only knows how many diseases I'm exposed to every day on the subway, but I've been fortunate so far to have only caught some colds and one particularly nasty case of the flu (knocking on so much wood right now that that's all I ever catch!). I have friends who are obsessive about hand sanitizer, or who refuse to sit down on the subway seats, or who will get up and move so that they don't have to be near a stranger. But you know what? This is the city, and this is how cities are. I just tell myself my immune system is getting stronger by the day.
Having to like everyone I meet. Now, I'm not saying it's OK to be mean to people. But, as a girl who was raised to "make friends with everyone," I've realized something as I've grown up: It's OK to not like someone and not want to spend a lot of time with him/her. This may seem like a "no duh" realization to most of you, but as a self-declared nice girl, it's been especially freeing to realize that some friends are really just meant to be small-doses friends. Not every personality is going to jibe, and that is completely OK.
Having an undying love for pork. I SUPER LOVE PORK. And, alas, my favorite porcine cut is pork belly -- the fattier, the better. As a health editor, I realize this is pretty not-good. But you know what? I generally eat healthy (well, I do also love noodles, but that's a whole other story) and eat mostly vegetables and grains like quinoa. Plus, I rarely eat fried foods or fast food. So if I want to indulge in some pork, I'm gonna.
Not liking running. Maybe I'm not being clear enough -- I have a deep disdain for running. Yes, I realize that running is healthy and an awesome form of cardio. But there is just something that I find particularly boring about the exercise. Why am I running? Who am I running to? Am I running from something? Can I please stop running now? To me, there are so many other ways to exercise -- a fun fitness class, team sports, etc. -- that I am giving myself permission to think running is boring.
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This story appears in Issue 44 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, April 12.
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