Are you an emotional wreck due to stress? If not, what’s the matter with you? Stress is the trendiest must-have accessory since self-esteem was invented in a Berkeley laboratory in 1971. But don’t feel left out if you still have your emotional equilibrium: stress is more contagious than chicken pox, and not always as visible.
Let’s say that despite your overbearing boss, children who only eat foods starring nitrates or sugar, credit card bills that make your hair stand on end, and visits from in-laws (did you ever imagine one week could last so long?) you are still not fretful, because you have faith that everything always works out for the best. This may be emotionally healthy, but it is not fashionable. If you’d like to see how most of Generation Stress operates, you can begin by Googling the word “stress.” You will instantly face a torrent of more than 229,000,000 resources on the topic, including the web site of The American Institute of Stress, which offers annual meetings where they discuss topics only a Ph.D. in neurophysiology could love, such as “repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation” and “electroporation millimeter wave therapy.” Don’t try these at home, kids.
Of course, to fit in with the stressed-for-success crowd, you could also subscribe to one of the popular women’s magazines. They love to ask, “Stress getting you down?” on every even-numbered page. Then, after getting you worked up about your angst levels, they promise you “tricks” and “secrets” to instant calm. These include lighting a lavender scented candle and soaking in a bubble bath, ignoring the shouts of “Mommy? When are you coming out of there?” and the accompanying pounding on the bathroom door. Once I took one of their quizzes that asked me if I had any of the following symptoms of stress: memory problems, indecisiveness, anxious thoughts, constant worrying, feeling on edge or overwhelmed, loss of objectivity, and loss of car keys. I answered “yes” to all of them. I think I didn’t test positive for stress as much as I tested positive for motherhood. Then I came up with my own instant “trick” to staying calm: I cancelled the magazines that were harassing me over my stress levels.
Even writing about stress has been stressful for me, not only because as I typed these words, my computer froze up repeatedly, wasting a precious hour and forcing me to reboot the blasted machine five times, but also because I’m still not sure how to end this column. And that’s not all. Today I also realized with horror that we missed the mortgage payment, and while I was on the phone with the bank, offering my rendition of “the dog ate my mortgage statement,” my kids all started barraging me via text messages for requests for cash. All requests were for good causes, they assured me, such as emergency visits to amusement parks, pizza dinners with friends celebrating birthdays, and new clothes, which for girls are always emergencies. There seems to be no end to the number of people who want my money, my time, and my energy. The Red Cross even wants my blood!
I know what you’re thinking: big deal! Let me tell you about the guy who’s suing me, my best friend’s illness, the scuttlebutt about my company getting bought out, the volunteer committee at the school I agreed to chair during a moment of insanity that’s taking over my life, and how I’ll be able to lower my blood pressure like the doctor said I must despite living in this pressure cooker. Then you’ll know what stress is!
Frankly, all this talk about stress has got me rattled, so please excuse me while I take a break for yoga, sip some calming chamomile tea, and turn off my iPhone. I’ll pray for serenity, and later tonight, read a funny book, because laughter may be the best antidote of all to the omnipresent stress monster.