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by Janet Ross
The first definition of stress in my 1951 ThorndikeBarnhart dictionary is “distressing, painful,or adverse force or influence” followed by “severe strain upon endurance, feelings, etc.” Today's Google definition lists as first “pressure or tension on a material object”; second is “state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Not much change in sixtysix years despite the advent of major changes in technology and the arrival of social media as an ubiquitous form of communication.
It has become unpleasantly difficult, from one day to the next, to anticipate what new man-made or natural disaster will demand our attention. Stress (not my favorite word) seems to have infiltrated all our lives from both external and internal causes. Before social media use became the norm, wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil advised numerous ways to make our lives less stressful, more fulfilling. One suggestion was to turn off the television set and ignore the newspaper for a full week. Translated for today, that would probably mean going cold turkey with one's numerous devices for a rough, tough seven days. Weil also advised, as I remember, to treat oneself to a weekly bouquet.
Instead of a time for joyous anticipation, the holidays are now promoted with headlines offering ways to avoid the stress of shopping, gift giving, entertaining, family relationships, etc. etc. etc. Whether it is politically correct to say “Merry Christmas” becomes a stress point for many. Even how to roast a turkey has become a major challenge. As for spending too much, or not enough, on a gift for someone you dislike – stress city. If you survived the Thanksgiving holiday without feeling stressed, congratulations! Now that Hanukkah, Kwanza and Christmas are on the way, are you prepared, or suffering from paralyzing stress?
Dr. Weil I am not, so any advice for this month to be stress-free is suspect; in fact the advice I offer is to be taken with a large dose of skepticism. However,what is the worst that can happen? First, get a piece of paper and pencil or pen (no cheating with a device that allows you to create an email, Tweet, document or text message). Now, you're going to write one of four communications. Begin with a letter to your Significant Other; assuming your life together is not totally perfect, and after beginning “Dearest ,” list all the things he/she does that cause you stress. If it takes more than one page, so be it! When you have finished, read the letter you have written out loud. Then – and you MUST do this – destroy this letter (tear it into small pieces and flush it down the toilet, burn it over the sink and wash the ashes away, but get rid of it permanently).
Your second letter will be addressed to a family member or good friend. Once again you're going to list all the stress triggers in this relationship. Read it aloud. Get rid of it.
Letter number three is destined for any public figure whose actions drench your life in stressful thoughts. Read this letter out loud. Get rid of it, ignoring the urge to send it to the newspaper.
Your last communication will be to yourself. How stressed are you? How much of your stress is selfinduced? Make a list. Perhaps you cheat on your diet and harbor heavy guilt feelings ... maybe you lose your temper too easily. Maybe there's a chore you hate. Could be that driving on the freeway fills you with dread. More than one page? I hope not! Once your list is complete, read it out loud and then, do NOT destroy it. Tape that list to your bathroom mirror, on the fridge, or any other spot you'll see every day.
One last bit of advice: do not Tweet, do not read Tweets, do not respond to Tweets. And a Merry Christmas to all!