May 4, 1999

"There are two times when I feel stress: daytime and nighttime." ~ Anonymous ~

So there we were, trapped in The Supermarket Line From Hell  ...  one of those sleepy, Sunday afternoon lines that winds all the way down the cereal aisle and past the V8 Splash display and out the door and halfway into the next Zip Code  ...  and I was killing time by reading magazines. 

Specifically: "women's magazines." (Not my first choice of reading material, but it was either that or the Halls Mentholyptus bag again.)

I stopped reading "women's magazines" a few years ago -- right about the same time I plugged into the cyber world, interestingly enough -- but it doesn't look like much has changed. From Ladies Home Journal to Cosmopolitan ... Redbook to Family Circle ... they're STILL talking about the same three topics:

1. Sex. ("101 Mind-Blowing Toe-Curling Artery-Imploding Orgasms!")

2. Food. ("101 Mind-Blowing Toe-Curling Artery-Imploding Teddy Bear Cakes!")


3. Weight Loss. ("You Ate All 101 Mind-Blowing Toe-Curling Artery-Imploding Teddy Bear Cakes, Didntchoo?").

But standing there in the checkout line on Sunday, I could see that this month, anyway, women's magazines have zeroed in on something besides sex and food and weight loss.

The topic du moment? Stress.

And not just a couple of paragraphs in the advice column, either, but detailed, anecdote-heavy articles about "identifying" stress. "Classifying" stress. "Recognizing" stress. "Managing" stress. "Controlling" stress. "Eliminating" stress. "Understanding" stress. "Handling" stress. (My personal favorite: "What's Bugging You? A 30-Day System To Exterminate Stress Before It Exterminates You.")

Too bad they didn't ask *me* to write an article on the subject.

Why? Because when it comes to Identifying/Classifying/Recognizing/Managing/Controlling/Eliminating/Understanding/ Handling/Exterminating my Personal Stress Levels ... *I* have become an EXPERT, the past six months or so.  And it shows. ("Have you noticed that I'm a lot calmer about things?," I asked David the other day. "I've noticed that you have all nine of your fingernails back," he replied.)

I'm not talking about the big stuff. The world class stress-inducers, like war, or approaching middle age, or Adam Sandler movies. I get just as freaked out about that stuff as anybody. I'm talking about dealing with minor daily irritants ... like Bad Hair Days. Ants in the bathtub. Crowded buses. Size 12 clothing in a Size 14 closet. Broken glasses. Our idiot upstairs neighbor, opening his squeaky closet door at 4:11 a.m. every &$^#! morning. Zits on my neck. 404 "File Not Found" Messages. Misplaced keys. Piles of unanswered e-mail. Interruptions. Salesmen. All eleven phone lines ringing at once.

This is the stuff that I have become much better at dealing with, these days.

What's my secret, you ask? (Besides tons of practice?) Easy. I have a system. It's not as spiffy as the "30 Day System To Exterminate Stress Before It Exterminates You" ... but it works for me.  I divide those daily sources of irritation into two categories: the "Stuff I Can Do Something About" category  ...  and the "Oh Well" category. Then I change the stuff I can change. When I encounter something I can't change,  I count to 10. Or to 20. Or to 43,897,621. I practice oxygenating the bottom-third of my lungs a lot. I make lists. I "sleep on it." I talk it over with The Other 50% of the Castle's Population. I chant our mantra: "I am a cork of calm, floating on a sea of chaos." At the risk of sounding like a 15 year old bumpersticker ... I don't sweat the small stuff.

Here is what else I don't do: I don't cry (much). I don't swear (much). I don't run away. I don't throw anything out the window. I don't make excuses. I don't automatically expect somebody else to fix it for me. I don't hide the overdue PG&E bill under a sofa cushion.

And I don't drink a box of wine.

That's it. That's my "system." It's sort of dorky ... but like I said, it works for me. (And if all else fails, I can always turn the Oh Well stuff into fodder for the website. Or an article for a women's magazine.)

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Mornings used to be an absolute minefield of "potential stressors" for me. Oversleep by fifteen minutes? Run out of Folgers? Discover a missing button on the only clean blouse on my closet floor? Any glitch in the routine was enough to send me spiralling off into a toxic funk for the rest of the day.

A lot of it was me wasting time. If my straight-as-an-uncooked-spaghetti-noodle hair hasn't *magically* decided to hold a curl after forty-one years, why the hell am I still bothering with hot rollers every morning?  A lot of it was me operating under a noxious cloud of hangover, five mornings out of seven.  And a lot of it -- OK, most of it -- was sheer dumbheaded failure to plan ahead. (How hard can it be to blow-dry the No Nonsense the night before? I ask you?)

I was always late, always unprepared and always stressed. And it showed. The frown line-to-laugh line ratio on my face tells the story: forty-one years of running after the bus. 

Literally and figuratively.

So when I got to California last year  --  newly sober, sickeningly healthy, wildly in love, ready to overhaul everything about my life  --  I looked at the daily nightmare that was my "Morning Routine" and de-stressed the hell out of it. No more hot rollers: I wear my hair fashionably straight and Aqua Net-free these days. I've downsized the Maybelline from eight coats to a timesaving four. And any clothing requiring safety pins, industrial-strength support garments and/or dry-cleaning is not allowed in *my* closet. Period.

I also started doing as much stuff the night before as possible. Grinding the Mocha Roast at 8 p.m. is gobs less stressful than grinding it at 5:41 a.m. (And quieter. Just ask The Other 50% of the Population, snoring peacefully on his side of the bed.)

And -- perhaps most importantly of all -- I've made a conscious effort to eliminate as many potential "morning irritants" as possible. Like the KTVU News Puppets. Or public transportation. (David drives me to work now, most mornings). Or drinking a box of wine the night before.

The result is a noticeably calmer SecraTerri walking into the office at 8 a.m. every morning. And I even manage to stay that way ... at least until the phones start to ring.

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A couple of quick personal notes:

* Thank you to everyone who has written me "welcome back" e-mail, the past couple of days. It's the most action my cyber mailbox has seen since the ill-fated Online Personal Ad Episode of 1998. I'm gonna have to go on *vacation* more often, I guess.

* I've removed the "notify" list from the website, as of this week. It was just adding to the workload  -- and to my frustration level. I figure that anyone who really wants to read me will check it out at their own pace and at their own convenience. I also figure that anything I can do to streamline the mechanics of the website will help the writing process. I also am extremely lazy. Forgive me.

* Yes I know my counter isn't working. I'll fix it as soon as I have a minute or eleven.

* And finally ... a special greeting to young Boo-Head of TicTac, on this extremely IMPORTANT occasion. Much parental fondess in your general direction. 

(See? I didn't actually tell them it was your birthday ... did I, Kyle?? And I didn't embarrass you with one of those big sloppy Momlike "I love yous," either! You're welcome. xox.)



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