Dealing with Stress

Patient Expert

Let me tell you a tale of two Deborahs, and two different ways to handle stress. The first tale takes place in 1993. I was working at the corporate headquarters of a bookstore chain. Although I was doing a good job and getting stellar performance reviews from a very exacting boss, the company was in trouble. There had already been one round of layoffs, and another was expected. I wasn't worried about losing my job, but I was being given more and more work. Most of it involved running reports and analyzing data in a frantic attempt to find ways to prove to our parent company, Kmart, that we really were doing well in sales. Being overburdened with doing work that you know is not going to be enough to keep your coworkers from being laid off is a recipe for being pretty stressed out.

At the time my desk was right near a conference room. Despite the belt-tightening, food was served during at least one meeting a day in that conference room. So a lot of extra food made its way to the coffee table in our area, which I had to pass by on my way to the ladies' room. I'm a stress eater, meaning that when I'm stressed out I eat whether I'm hungry or not, and I barely even notice that I'm doing it. Within a few months I had gained about thirty pounds. Being the heaviest I'd ever been in my life didn't exactly make me feel less stressed out, as you can imagine.

I finally quit that job and started working for a HMO. The company and the position were great, and my co-workers were friendly. My boss, however, was another story. He was verbally abusive and micro-managed me and everyone else. Fortunately, he was fired a few months after I started, but in the meantime, he made my life miserable. I hated going to work and came home in tears more than once.

I decided that I was going to manage my stress differently this time. Actually I hadn't really managed my stress the previous time. I just kind of let things happen, and my response to the stressful situation obviously was not a positive one.

So I joined a gym with a pool. I'd go after work, stressed out, with muscles tight and knotted. I'd swim furiously back and forth for at least fifteen minutes, and then go slow for another twenty minutes or so. At the end of the period of vigorous exercise, I felt great I felt lighter and my muscles were all loosened up again.

Whenever I wanted to stress eat at work, I'd visualize the pool and exercising away my tension. When I had my first attack of Multiple Sclerosis, I found that I could no longer exercise vigorously, as my muscles simply don't have the energy. But I replaced the aerobic exercise with yoga. It's not quite as satisfying, but it does accomplish the same goal. Get the stress off your body as soon as possible, in a positive way.