Dealing With Stress (Holiday & Otherwise)
With the Holidays coming up, many of us are going to have more to do than usual. It’s the inevitable consequence of family dinners, Christmas/Hanukah shopping, and Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and God Please Kill Me Wednesday (my personal favorite). What this ultimately leads to is the one thing all RA patients dread – that six-letter word that means flares, days in bed, and fevers. No, not in-laws, I’m talking about stress.
Stress is the Old Man, the Big Kahuna, the main squeeze, and other references from the 50s as well. It affects normal, healthy people by making them more susceptible to illness, but it really takes a bat to the knee-caps of rheumatoid arthritis – or a drill, depending on your taste in movies. It’s a direct trigger for almost anyone with RA, and there isn’t much you can do about it once it hits. The only way out is through, as the saying goes.
So, how do we deal with stress?
Well after thirty years of RA, almost dying at least twice, heart attacks, cancers, divorce, and just about every other thing that can happen to a person, I have figured out some techniques for how to deal with stress. They really work, too, I mean, you know they have to! Otherwise, I’d be a fREakINg BALL Of AnGER and I’d want to KiLL EVERYONE aLL THE TIME!!! ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES DAN A DULL BOY ALL WORK REDRUM REDR…
Ahem. What I mean to say is, the methods are battle-tested under real-world conditions. They work for those who are chronically as well as those who aren’t, so tell your friends. Now, let’s dive right in.
What’s the worst that can happen?
The first technique I like to call “what’s the worst.” Most of people’s stress doesn’t come from what has already happened. Where stress really multiplies exponentially is the fear of what is yet to come and potential consequences. The “what if’s.” It’s in our nature to want to do our best, and when we start to feel like that might not be possible, the stress-o-meter hits the red. So how do we get the power back? Give your fear a real face. Take a deep breath and say, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
So, you don’t get the turkey cooked in time for 5pm dinner. Ok, your family will wait to eat.
So, some of your relatives will talk smack about you for it. So what? Those people were going to find something to talk about anyway, whether it’s the late turkey or the fact you bought honey roasted peanuts instead of regular. Bring your own nuts Aunt Betty.
What if I can’t get out of bed that morning? So, you’ll explain to your guests who know you have an illness, and order Chinese food or go out to eat.
What if I can’t get the kids presents wrapped in time? So, you tell them that Santa made the mistake of shipping the presents via USPS and they couldn’t deliver a baby. Or you tell them Christmas is actually at dinner time this year. They are kids, they eat crayons, trust me, they’ll believe anything.
Get it? If you ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen it will help to give your fears a face that you can face. Not just the phantom “fear of the unknown” and “what if’s” which can’t be tamed because they are formless. Of course, right about now, one of you is saying “What if I die? Huh, smart guy? What if that’s the worst?” To that, I say, well, if you’re dead, then you literally couldn’t care less about what happens to the turkey. I personally have never heard of a ghost coming back from the dead just to nitpick the dressing at Thanksgiving, and believe you me, in my family, if that were remotely possible it would have been freakin’ Miracle at the Malito house every year. “Yes, Nana, I used your recipe, now will you please stop rattling those chains, you’re scaring the kids.” Whatever bad stuff happens, you will deal with it, and if you die, well, then, not your problem anymore. Put a face to your stress-laden fears, and then play it out. It’s never as bad as you think, and as a bonus, you’ve just created a contingency plan which should put your mind at ease even more.
Get some pre-holiday sleep.
Another great way to mitigate stress is to get some sleep. Yes, eight hours a night is great, but if you spend the entire time with a sore neck cursing the MyPillow guy’s existence and feel like Frankenstein’s monster after the mob chased you, then you’re not getting real sleep. Our bodies are designed to recharge when sleeping, and it’s not just a metaphor. The chemicals that build up and ultimately cause stress are cleaned out during sleep, and that happens most when you are really, truly, asleep – something called R.E.M. sleep. No, not the band. R.E.M. stands for rapid eye movement, and it’s what happens when you are dreaming and deep asleep. Forget the science, though, you just need to sleep well, sleep hard, and sleep long. What that means is don’t stay up until 4 am the night before a holiday re-watching The Wizard of Oz on TNT because you want to check if you can really see a munchkin hang himself in the background (spoiler alert: you can). I know some of you have kids and jobs and all that but do yourself a favor and put the rug rats to bed early for any reason (again – kids dumb, eating crayons, covered above), curl up with a good book, and drift off to a decent sleep. You’d be shocked at how many people go through the day like the Walking Dead. Don’t stay up watching that either! Especially this season. Ugh.
Prepare, prepare, prepare.
My last tip today is to prepare everything you can ahead of time. For Thanksgiving, I make the sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and vegetables the day before. Stick the stuff in the microwave to reheat. A little nuking never hurt anyone. Probably. If anyone complains, ask to borrow their cell phone and nuke that as well. It seems like common sense but having to wake up and do nothing but prepare the turkey makes Thanksgiving amazing. Wrap two or three presents a night starting December 1st. Split up the Christmas lights and do a little bit every few days, who cares if your house looks like colorblind Picasso decorated it. Tell ‘em “It’s the season of giving you jerk. Feel it.” The point is anything that’s coming up that can be stressful, parcel it out over time, or at the very least, come up with a plan on how to tackle it. Plans always make me feel better, not only because I’m mildly OCD, but also because plans are cool and, and, well, mainly the OCD thing, but it works! Planning is the enemy of stress.