by Kim Keller
I’ve always been a worrier — even as a little kid. It’s a quality I inherited from my mother who inherited the same quality from hers. A learned behavior, and one that I’d like to learn to leave behind.
In 2005, when my father became critically ill, my stress entered a whole different dimension. Life became more of a challenge, trying to weather all the various difficulties we faced as a family, but it also was a reality check. Worrying about my parent’s mounting medical bills, about my father suffering through countless medication snafus, and about the seemingly endless communication breakdowns between the doctors and nurses on Dad’s medical team all suddenly took a backseat to the most pressing reality of all: the prospect of losing my father.
I know I’m not alone struggling with anxiety and stress. Lots of people do. I’m sure many of you can relate to this. I talk with friends about their various techniques for reducing stress and tension. Different things work for different people, of course. These days, I have two favorite tricks, both taken from a book I recently read called May Cause Miracles, by Gabrielle Bernstein. And they work like magic!
I set my alarm on my iPhone to go off at noon each day. It sounds like bells tolling, and a message pops up on my screen: “Gratitude Moment,” it says. And just like that, I remember, No matter what, be grateful, Kim. You have a lot to be grateful for.
It never fails to put a smile on my face.
My other wonderful technique is to abide by a phrase I now write everywhere, in my notebooks, on my screensaver, on my book mark: “I’m willing to let this go today.”
For all the hundreds of small annoyances that create stress for me in the course of the day, this phrase helps me put it aside — just for today. I give myself permission to let that thing go, permission to breathe and move forward.
I’ve asked friends for some of their best tips to share with the In Care of Dad audience. Here we go:
• “I don’t have anything I do consciously, but in times of stress, I do find myself taking a minute to get into nature, whether it’s just looking at a lovely little mound of moss or leaning against a big old tree. That simple experience grounds me, brings me home, and connects me to the bigger picture.” ~ Eva from New Canaan, CT
• “Navigating stress is tough. When I am having a bad day, I remember how the only constant is that things keep changing. You can’t know if they will change for better or for worse, but you can have faith that they will change. For me, that has usually meant that things will get better or that, at the very least, I will feel more empowered to deal with them.” ~ Mindy from Weston, CT
• “When I feel stress, I go into mini-meditation mode. Breathing and focusing on it. I realize, and have come to believe, that in the ‘present’ moment, there isn’t stress or tension. It is usually when we are in the future that we feel that. Movement of any kind and fresh air are also really helpful to feel good inside and out.” ~ Stephanie from Fairfield, CT
• “Life is short, play with your dog! Seriously!” ~ Joan from Norwalk, CT
• “Since I am a numbers person, it probably makes sense that I count — that is, I count backwards from ten and breathe with each count. I’ve done this for years, so I know that ten seconds can change your perspective. And sometimes I just remember that ‘This too shall pass.'” ~ Cecily from Munich, Germany
• “When [sister] Karen returned from a meditation trip to India, she brought back a phrase that has helped me through some of my most stressful times: It doesn’t matter. When I am feeling overwhelmed by too many tasks with too little time, I stop for a minute and try to decide, ‘Do I really need to accomplish this today? Does it really matter?’ So, often, I am able to put some of my work aside, often permanently. This phrase has forced me to prioritize, leaving me more time for what is truly important. It is my mantra, and repeating it calms me down immediately.” ~ Betsy from Bloomingburg, NY
• “Exercise. Since I started exercising regularly, I don’t have the stress that I used to have. I actually ask people this question when I’m interviewing them for a job. My favorite answer came from a woman who said, “I talk to people who love me.” I love that! The thing is, I think you need to be willing to allow yourself to hit the reset button.” ~ Jane from New York, NY
And I leave you with this:
• “Ever the contrarian, I don’t think there is simply one kind of stress that can be dealt with in one way. Some stress I think is actually good. It gets the adrenaline flowing. It gives you that performance edge that can be very helpful in dealing with some situations.
There is also the kind of stress that relates to one’s previous experience but without rising to the level of free-floating anxiety. This would be when you encounter a stressful situation that is similar to one you have been in before. Therefore, your level of anxiety rises more quickly than it otherwise would, especially if you had been unsuccessful in dealing with the similar situation in the past. This is where the working edge comes in. This is where you breathe, perhaps walk away, gain some distance, and evaluate how things are similar, how they are different and weigh your options for dealing with it (or not dealing with it), so that you are making clear-eyed proactive decisions rather than reactive ones.” ~ Beth from Belfast, ME
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.