Read an Excerpt
Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series: Stress
Important Facts, Inspiring Stories
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Leslie Godwin
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved.
Looking for the Moon
"Moon, Mama," Jessica says, grabbing my arm and pointing at the window. She is obsessed with the moon. But until she was five years old, she didn't even know it existed. Before that, it was just the two of us and bright lights and hospital beds and a long and gradual awakening to awareness.
Once she discovered the moon and how it changes from one evening to the next, she fixated on it, demanding to know how it waxes and wanes. She memorized the words: "crescent" and "half," "gibbous" and "full." On her seventh birthday last July, the new moon had not yet risen. After she scanned the sky unsuccessfully, she asked with a sigh if I thought the dogs had eaten it.
I practice patience with her obsessions: rock collecting, the three songs we must sing in order before bed, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and her shrill rejection of the word "little." Patience when she was a newborn and nobody could explain why she was having seizures; patience when she was seven months old and the neurologist finally gave a name to the illness—tuberous sclerosis, a rare disease that causes tumors and seizure disorder, and in Jessica's case, malformed her brain; patience when the surgeons removed most of the left side of her brain, leaving me to cope with the wreckage of my dreams and a little girl who couldn't even hold her head up. I know a lot about patience, more than I would like to know.
Sometimes my patience runs out, like right now, as I try to fix dinner while she demands that I look at the moon. She always stands precisely where I need to be next. It's little kid radar: how to best position herself where she cannot be ignored. In some regards, she is like every other child I have known.
I've got a heavy pan in one hand and a colander in the other, and I'm keeping an eye on the stove because the burner is still lit, and it would be just like Jessica to stick her hand on it. It doesn't matter how many times I tell her not to touch the stove, she doesn't remember. Her mind is like this colander. How many times have I told her? Ten thousand times. But then try to get her to forget something, like the word "dammit," or the phrase "your father is a pain in the ass."
"Moon, Mama!" Jessica says more urgently as I uncap the olive oil.
"Yes, the moon," I say absently. The phone rings. I toss the drained noodles back in the pan, add a slosh of olive oil, wipe my hands on my jeans and answer the phone.
It's Publisher's Clearing House, but I know I'm not a winner and hang up. The oil sizzles on the stove, and I catch the pan up, narrowly avoiding a collision with Jessica.
"What kind of moon,Mama?" Jessica persists.
"I don't know. I can't see the moon," I say, tossing the noodles into a bowl. I wonder what happened to my wooden spoon. It was here a minute ago. And what did Jessica do with the Parmesan cheese? Jessica was probably trying to be helpful, and took it out of the refrigerator while I was on the phone, which would mean it's ... where?
I look at the counter tops cluttered with dishes but don't see the cheese. I do find the spoon on the floor, just exactly where you'd expect it to be. I toss it into the sink, then scrabble through the drawers trying to find a substitute.
"What kind of moon, Mama?" Jessica raises her voice and plants herself in my path, thrusting her face toward mine. Sometimes she takes no prisoners.
"I don't know!" I say. "Where's the cheese? Where'd you put the damned cheese?"
Her eyes fill with tears. Great. How hard can it be to make spaghetti without causing your kid to cry? How hard can that be? I am sure other mothers accomplish it all the time.
I kneel down and take Jessica's face in my hands. "I'm sorry," I say. "I had a tough day today. And it's snowing again, and I'm tired, and I yelled when I shouldn't have."
The tears tremble for a moment.
"Can Mama have a big hug?" I ask, and I give her a big hug, and I say I love her and I'm sorry I yelled. I rock back on my heels and look into her big brown eyes. I want her to say it's okay, or that she's mad I yelled.
Instead, she looks up at me and says very seriously," Moon is full."
Yes, indeed. Well, that's the main thing, I guess.
"The moon is full," I say, and ruffle my fingers through her short brown hair, and find the Parmesan cheese in the microwave, just where you'd expect it to be.
* Jennifer Lawler
Take a Deep Breath
You're on edge, jittery, anxious ... you're stressed! Join the club. Between trying to cram more activities into less time, coping with life's challenges and taking care of loved ones, many of us are feeling the effects of stress.
Stress has plenty of negative effects on your body and mind. Ever get a tension headache? That's stress. Ever search frantically for the car keys—that you're holding in your hand? That can be stress, too. The good news is that if you regularly practice techniques to reduce stress, you'll reap such benefits as:
Enhanced ability to concentrate
Greater patience and tolerance for typical frustrations
You don't have to spend your life in a scented bubble bath to stress less—you just have to make some healthy lifestyle changes. Let's get started! Take the "What's Your Stress Style?" quiz to learn the best way for you to de-stress.
WHAT'S YOUR STRESS STYLE?
1. When you're confronted by change or challenge, you:
a) feel energized.
b) want to put off dealing with it.
c) feel that this is a normal part of life.
d) worry about how it affects those you care about.
2. When you have several projects or activities happening within a short period of time, you:
a) enjoy the busy pace.
b) worry that you won't be able to cope.
c) readily rise to the occasion.
d) feel that as long as your loved ones are okay, you'll be okay.
3. You feel stressed when:
a) you have too much down time.
b) you have too much happening at once.
c) you have too many responsibilities in which you can't control the outcome.
d) your loved ones are sick or in crisis.
If you answered mostly As, you are Addicted to Adrenaline. You enjoy the adrenaline rush of a deadline or an intense project. You may not notice that the pace or the pressure are affecting you negatively.
What To Do: It's hard for you to tell when you're stressed, so you'll need to make a conscious decision to lower your stress when your busy pace affects your health, relationships, or ability to complete projects up to your standards.
If you answered mostly Bs, you are Overwhelmed. You struggle with what others might experience as a low level of stress. A meeting with your boss, an unexpected visitor, or a sudden change in plans can throw you for a loop.
What To Do: You've probably found it helpful to have a routine you can count on. But when the unexpected happens, have a plan for how to get grounded or centered again. For example, you can call a friend who helps you feel calm, do a brief meditation session, use guided imagery, or work out.
If you answered mostly Cs, you are Superman/ Superwoman. You're not daunted by an ambitious schedule or tense situation. But you tend to ignore warning signs of stress and neglect your health and well-being in the pursuit of your impressive goals.
What To Do: You would benefit from learning early warning signs of stress—both physical and emotional—such as noticing when your mind is racing or when you feel rushed and impatient at minor delays or frustrations. You'll also need to make a conscious effort to slow your pace before stress gets a foothold.
If you answered mostly Ds, you are a Caretaker. You tend to be more aware of the stress or suffering of those you care about than of your own needs. A sick child or a spouse struggling with a difficult boss is more likely to make you consciously aware of being stressed than your own illness or difficulties at work.
What To Do: It might help to realize that you can be more effective with others, or on the job, if you take good care of yourself. Just as flight attendants tell parents in the case of an emergency to put their own oxygen masks on before putting on their children's masks, you are better able to help your loved ones cope when you're calm, content and rested.
Think about ...
why I want to de-stress
The reasons I want to de-stress are:
__ To increase my energy
__ To improve my memory
__ To improve my ability to concentrate
__ To do a better job at work
__ To enhance my sense of well-being
__ To improve my patience
Other: ______________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________CHAPTER 2
The Invisible Thief
Over the years I experienced two major stress-related burnouts on the job. Co-workers may beg to disagree and add a few more, but I count two. Early in my career the small start-up I worked for became an overnight success and grew rapidly.
We added people quickly, and they were expected to hit the ground running. Computers were just being introduced to small businesses, promising to be the solution to all our problems—eventually. I grappled with issues in a competitive industry I knew very little about and in my spare time searched for the secrets to managing different personalities and skill levels. In learning on the job through trial and error, I discovered I was good with technology and tasks but less so with people. At least some of the job got covered; problem was, all of it needed to be.
I put my nose closer to the grindstone, worked harder and smarter, and absorbed all the stress the universe could throw at me like a badge of honor. When I could no longer crawl out of the well of self-denial or keep my game face on every day, I cried "uncle." Thinking it was the root of the problem, I kicked a substance abuse problem and motored on. It took a few more years for the realization to hit that an addictive personality remains addictive; it just substitutes a different substance. In my sobriety, I ended up replacing the high with more adrenaline and stress.
When my second burnout occurred, I had twenty-plus years of stress I could claim as my own—most of it self-imposed. I lashed out, acted inappropriately, was defiant, resistant to change, impatient ... the list read like a textbook, and I felt like a bomb waiting to explode. But like many type A personalities, much of that behavior was looked upon (or overlooked) favorably because I got results and was successful. On a daily basis, most emotions got internalized. Feelings were shared and vented only with a small group of trusted friends, a group that suffered from attrition and grew smaller each year. I began to dread sitting down at my desk. I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt challenged, interested or turned on by what I did for a living. Instead I felt tired, unhappy, unappreciated, ineffective, negative, overwhelmed and depressed.
My home and husband were my refuge, but the cumulative effect of work-related stress was detrimental to my physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. I gained weight, felt fatigued, developed a chronic illness and had no desire to do anything but come home and trance-out in front of the television until my mind went numb.
Thankfully, the new millennium had dawned and was shining a spotlight on a kinder, gentler workplace. A balanced lifestyle, identifying problems and taking responsibility for the changes in one's life to nurture well-being, not a job or ideal, was becoming culturally acceptable. I was a coconspirator undermining my well-being, aiding and abetting an invisible thief stealing small pieces of my tranquility on a regular basis until I was running on empty. I saw the light. I didn't need to wait for a career crisis or a life-threatening health issue to hit me over the head—I was close enough to the edge to know it was there.
I joined the gym—and went. I began to meditate—daily. I looked at my life and took an honest inventory of where I was and what I wanted. I prioritized the things that I got the most pleasure from and started to fill my day with those activities, people and ideas. Gradually my tolerance for dysfunction diminished, replaced by my desire to be surrounded by healthy, positive things and people. I took small steps and made gradual, determined changes, always mindful not to put more stress on myself in the process of learning to reduce it.
Slowly but surely I began to feel better. My perspective shifted and I began to redefine myself. I recognized that I was consumed by the addictive insidiousness of stress; its physiological effect on my body and my psyche, the adrenaline rush that kept the veil of depression at bay, and the excuse it gave me for not taking responsibility for myself and being more available to my family and friends.
A period of reorganization at work gave me the opportunity to make a significant change in my responsibilities, and I took it eagerly. We tightened the budget and made some lifestyle adjustments. It didn't take long to realize the benefit outweighed the risk. I got reacquainted with feeling challenged, learning new skills, exploring my spirit, discovering my creativity and living life rather than watching it.
Today I am healthy, and I feel strong, balanced and well—a thousand times better than I did at twenty-five when I began my long waltz with stress. People who have a basis for comparison say I look better as well. I see abundance every day and have never been happier in my work.
When that lightbulb went off a couple of years ago, I didn't know what to expect. What I discovered was a new paradigm—positive stress! I still thrive on hard work, challenges and that rush of adrenaline when a deadline looms, but my body, mind and spirit are healthy enough to appreciate the experience and reap the rewards. I intend to keep it that way.
* Mary Reginald
Stress and Your Health
Ever wonder why you keep catching colds? Stress may be the culprit, because it suppresses your immune system. And that's not all. Stress can cause frequent headaches, stomach distress, depression, dyshydrotic eczema (itchy, prickly blisters, usually on the hands), and even more serious problems— like a heart attack. According to one recent study, working under deadlines can trigger a heart attack, and an intense deadline can increase your risk six times, especially in the first twenty-four hours after the deadline.
The stress hormone adrenaline raises blood pressure and may even cause high blood sugar. It also increases the chances of cardiovascular disease, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Stress can also make you fat. That's because of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes you to crave comfort foods like chocolate chip cookies and mashed potatoes. How many times have you found yourself digging into a pint of ice cream when you're feeling rushed or stressed?
Don't feel discouraged! In later sections, we'll tell you how to beat stress—and boost your health— through diet, exercise and other means.
Stress and Your Mood
Stress can make even the most cheerful person moody, irritable and quick to snap at those they love most.After a while, this can cause serious damage to those relationships.
IS STRESS AFFECTING YOUR MOOD?
The answer may be yes if you often feel:
__ Moody, sad, or withdrawn
__ Serious and no fun to be around
__ Irritable and impatient
__ Distracted and not "in the moment"
__ Overly focused on the needs of others
__ Like you need a drink to relax
TIPS FOR BEATING THE MOODY BLUES
If people close to you tell you that you've been moody or difficult to be with, try not to get defensive. Instead, ask for an example, or ask them to point out the behavior they're concerned about when it's happening. Then consider whether they have a point.
If they have a point, thank them for letting you know and tell them you'll work on it.
Work on your part of the problem even if others are contributing to your reaction. Once you've changed your behavior, you can reevaluate the relationship. Others may even be more willing to look at their roles in the problem once they see that you're making a sincere effort.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series: Stress by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Leslie Godwin. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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