As regular readers will note, we've started a new series on what we're pledging not to stress about any longer. And though we're all taking up the same mantle, it's clear that we wear our anxiety in different forms. For me, stress isn't a quick, chemical surge that quickens my heart rate. I know, biochemically, that this must be happening. But that does not describe what I feel in my body. Rather than the assault of adrenaline and cortisol that's described in the medical literature, when I'm stressed out I feel a pervasive fog come on. I can't focus. I get shallow and passive in my thinking. For relief of these symptoms, relaxation seems like the wrong prescription. And in an appropriately-matched inverse, the way I relax requires detail work: elaborate recipes and other creative tasks.
But you know what's better than a de-stressor? Not getting stressed to begin with. So I'm calling out my biggest offenders right here on the Internet. I'm naming names.
I will no longer be stressed out about...
Making My Preferences Known
It troubles me greatly to not give the people around me what they want. I like to be agreeable, I like to please. But what has occurred to me lately is that often in my pursuit of delivering for others -- ensuring their good time or choosing their convenience over my own -- I am coming up short for myself. Coming to the table with my own desires doesn't make me demanding, it makes me equal. (And now that I have that in writing, hopefully I'll keep it in mind.)
My Unmanicured Nails
The nails are just the beginning of a long list of small totems of femininity that I fail to keep up. I never have earrings on, for example. I am hopeless against the task of styling my hair. Before it became a buzzphrase, my power clashing was held in absolutely no regard. My personal style has been described (affectionately!) as "disheveled birthday girl." High praise, right? I think I'll just stop fretting about my nails and, you know, take it as such.
Being Type B
I grew up in Manhattan, went to prep school, the Ivy League and now I work in media. I know from Type A peers. But the secret truth is ... I'm not one of them. I'm preternaturally calm. I can't organize a closet to save my life. And the idea of bossing other people around? No thanks. This has long been a source of some self-loathing -- I'm a smart, ambitious person, I tell myself. Why can't I get it together? Guess what? I have it together.
I've felt bad when in classrooms, cocktail parties or meetings I've heard some version of this particularly insidious humblebrag: "Oh, well, I notice that kind of stuff because I'm compulsive." Or, "I work on Sundays, but only because I need professional help."
This is the Type A battlecry, a way to assert one's habits as the norm: It's a way to let people know you go the extra mile simply because of some innate mechanism and not because of effort. It's a way to highlight achievements without having to cop to your own swagger.
When I work hard, it is with concerted effort and not out of some hiccup of brain chemistry. It is not an impulse, it is an intention. And what's more, though I am not the most detail-oriented person in the world, I have a lock on the big picture. I'm deciding that that's enough.
There's something else about being Type B -- it doesn't fit neatly into our narratives about femininity. In every romantic comedy, the female lead is high strung and making an adorable scene, falling unwittingly into the arms of some slack-jawed chill bro. Well, I'm that chill bro. And I've decided it doesn't make me any less feminine.
I want people to tell me I'm awesome. Don't you? Maybe you noticed -- people seem to hate Anne Hathaway. I have no great reservoir of love for needy dramatic types, but the vitriol aimed at her has been a bit unsettling. And this great blog from Sasha Weiss at the New Yorker gets at exactly what rubs me the wrong way. Of a novel's scene about a shy, young girl who tries to break the ice by showing off her shoes, Weiss wrote that it was "unbearably touching because it so deftly encapsulates a problem we all face: having to temper naked pleasure so as to be thought socially appropriate. Little girls learn very quickly not to ask so openly for praise, and to modulate their excitement if they want to be acceptable."
I would like to no longer modulate my excitement or apologize for taking pride in myself or the things I have done. I vow to no longer stress about tempering the naked pleasure. Life is too short and pleasures too few and far between.
Existential angst is my favorite. Sure, it isn't stress exactly, but one perennial and particularly devastating stressor is the feeling that time is passing and cannot be stopped. I have previously seen growing older as a closing in -- a narrowing of choices, of places to live, people to be -- haircuts to have. I don't know if that's actually true, or just the particular nightmare I've planted in my own head. But even if it is the case, I will choose delusion. And in doing so, I will hopefully continue along the most stress-relieving journey: learning to feel at once like myself and like an adult.
How Much Cheese I Eat
So much. I eat so much cheese. I know I shouldn't -- and, as a health editor, I know exactly why I shouldn't. But I'm not gonna stop. I exercise, I limit my sugar. I mostly keep my kitchen vegetarian, and I'm terminally enthusiastic about kale. But seriously, my kingdom for a giant wedge of goat milk Gouda. I'm just deciding not to think about it.
What Disease I Might Get In The Future
I've been around sick people. I know how overwhelming it can be and how penetrating -- it's like a murky liquid that seeps into everything around it. If you're sick, you can't travel or enjoy visits from loved ones. You don't have the strength or stamina for intellectual and creative pursuits. It's not just sad, it's profoundly boring. It's such a waste of time. Since many of the closest people in my life have been sick -- and I mean really, really sick: cancer sick and bedside vigil sick and multiple-rare-genetic-disorders-lottery-odds sick -- I have often played the world's worst internal parlor game. The "when it's my turn, what will I get?" game. But the odds are cruel enough, and there's no reason to do violence to myself in advance. I'm healthy now. And I'm putting in the effort to stay that way.
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