Stressed out? Look in the mirror

Published October 5, 2006

A neighbor and I were talking about stress. She told me that lately she was feeling very stressed at work. She was feeling so stressed she was thinking of changing jobs.

I told her that lately I, too, was feeling rather stressed. But, I said, I felt that most stress was from internal, not external, forces. Whenever I felt stressed, I usually had to stop and take a look at what was really stressing me.

I decided a long time ago that it was because I had things I felt I had to do that I didn't really want to do. They just didn't fit in with my agenda for the day.

Sometimes I stress myself out because I put the wrong priorities in the wrong place. Take the other day, for instance. I woke up and practically jumped out of my cozy bed. (I didn't really jump because I'm not that kind of person. Let's just say that my brain jumped out of bed.)

I sat down with my husband for our morning coffee, which I didn't really need on that morning. He asked me the usual question: "So, what's on your agenda for today?"

I replied that I had to write multiple articles for the newspaper, but before I did that I had to get to the store or we wouldn't have any bread or lunch meat.

I told him that when I was finished with all of that, I wanted to start painting the trim on the house. I also said that I had thought about scrubbing the floors and sweeping the rugs.

He asked me what I was going to do in the afternoon. I gave him one of those "Are you crazy?" looks and replied, "Well, for starters, I have to go to Rome and repaint the Sistine Chapel. When I return, I thought I'd try my hand at painting a picture of the Mona Lisa using watercolors instead of oils. A new medium might make her look better. Then, of course, I have to make supper."

I asked him, "So, what's on your agenda for today?" He replied, "I'm going to work."

"That's nice," I said. "Is there a reason you wanted to know what I was doing this afternoon?" He replied, looking a little sheepish, that he needed a pair of shorts ironed and a button sewn on the shorts.

Then he wondered if I had time to bake some of those peanut butter cookies he likes so much.

My adrenaline kicked up a couple of more notches. Being one who likes to please, I was mentally trying to adjust my agenda so I could iron, sew and bake cookies after I finished what I felt had to be done.

So you see what I mean by internal stress. The world would not end if I painted another day, if I sewed buttons the next day or ironed the day after that.

In fact, the world would not end if I never painted the trim on my house. But, in retrospect, that was the one thing I really wanted to do. The rest I enjoy doing, but not on that particular day.

There are times when we have to do what we have to do whether we really want to or not. So we do them. It's kind of like that old Nike commercial: Just do it!

I find that if I don't, I wake up in the middle of the night doing it in my sleep. That is, I am mentally doing it, but when I awake I still have it to do.

It's like writing an article. I like doing it, but if I put it off until tomorrow, I dream about what I will write when I go to bed. So it is easier on my sleep habits to write when the idea is fresh.

I have never been very good at procrastinating. My brother, however, is an expert. He believes that anything that can be done today can be done tomorrow.

I wish I could be more like him. He doesn't dream in his sleep about what he was supposed to do or what he has yet to do. How can this be, when we came from the same gene pool? I would like his genes better, even though I think his genes may be from a different manufacturer, and he probably will live longer.

At any rate, I guess we are who we are. I have heard that your personality is formed by the time you are 3 years old. Wow! Someone must have put a bug in my ear early on in life. And to think that I am the one who sometimes says "Don't sweat the small stuff."

I will end by saying this: When my husband and I went on vacation this summer, we sat and read books, lay on the beach, played golf and never once worried about what we had to do. I believe my only true cure is to go on a permanent vacation where there is no house to paint, no floors to scrub, no bills to pay and no suppers to be made. Because as long as work is around me, I will see the need to do it.

(By the way, I'm getting better. I still haven't sewn that button on that pair of shorts, but I'll probably dream about it!)

Georgi Davis lives in Homosassa. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.