Right now the best cure for stress is the Covid vaccine. Several people have told me recently that they hadn't even realized they were suffering from stress, but as soon as they got their shot they felt the weight of anxiety fall off their shoulders. Suddenly they could breathe.
But if you're like me, and haven't been able to get a shot yet, you're still feeling the stress. There's stress from the self-isolation that has just . . . gone . . . on. . . too . . . long. And stress from waiting for the vaccination . . . and waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting.
I counted up. I am on six different lists to get a shot. But so far nothing has come through. I just sit here, waiting, feeling like I have no control over the situation.
Stress can cause a lot of problems. I remember in the few years before I retired, when my company was stumbling and losing profits and laying off people, I suffered from a pinched nerve in my neck, causing pain and numbness in my arm. I had to go to physical therapy and once even had to wear one of those neck collars.
As soon as I left work, those problems went away. No more stress, no more pinched nerve.
A lot of people turn to meditation and mindfulness. Honestly, I'm not too big on meditation. I don't do yoga. But I can still do things to calm my mind, to focus on the present and stop worrying about things I can't control. So I try to carve out 15 minutes a day to just relax and breathe and release the tension in my muscles. It works, at least sometimes.
I also know that exercise is a good antidote to stress. My usual forms of exercise -- golf and table tennis and occasionally swimming -- are closed off to me these days. About the only thing left to do is take a walk. I'm not an enthusiastic walker or hiker. I just don't find it that interesting. But when I do take a walk, every two or three days, it clears my mind and makes me feel better. I should do it more often.
Stretching is another stress reducer. I got in the habit of stretching when I had my neck problem. To this day I'm pretty good about keeping a regimen. I do a short set after my daily shower working on my back and legs, and another set before I go to bed to ease out the kinks in my neck and shoulders.
We all know that having a strong social support system helps us deal with stress. I'm lucky to have B. But I also look forward to my Zoom calls, when I feel engaged with other people's lives. The same goes for my senior classes. I'm taking a history class on the Civil War. It's interesting, informative, and certainly does put my own problems into perspective. Same with my discussion group and my book group -- we talk about issues larger than ourselves, and the sharing of ideas and experiences always makes our own worries seem a little more manageable.
I also try to eat a good diet -- go easy on the sugar and drink plenty of water. This is easier for me in the winter, since my weakness is ice cream, and even I don't want to eat ice cream when there's snow on the ground. I try to have a good breakfast -- orange juice, fruit, oatmeal or other high-fiber cereal -- and B keeps me on the straight and narrow at dinnertime. She goes easy on the meat; and no meal is served without at least one green vegetable, and sometimes two.
The effects of stress are cumulative, so it makes sense that we're more stressed now than we were back in he spring or summer. But reducing stress also has a cumulative effect. The more we consciously manage the stress, the better we get at it and the better we feel. So we'll get through this without going crazy or having a heart attack or turning to alcohol or drugs.
After we get the vaccine we still have to be careful -- wash hands, wear masks, keep our distance when we can -- but at least we'll know that we're doing something that makes a difference. That in itself mitigates the stress.
I read that as of Thursday more than 50 million doses of vaccine had been administered in the U. S. So it can't be that long before they get to me, can it?