SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
The Other day, as I desperately searched for a column idea that didn’t involve politics – um, I mean, as I surfed the internet – I stumbled across an article called “9 Surprising Symptoms of Stress”.
Two things struck me about this list: One is that I’ve experienced every one of those symptoms for most of my adult life. You know those people who are always so calm and collected, so accepting, living lives of balance and calm? I am not one of those people.
The second thing – something not so surprising, in light of the first thing – is that the 9 surprising symptoms of stress didn’t surprise me at all.
As a public service to my nine regular readers (Hey, one sign for each reader!), I present you with nine ways to tell you need to calm yourself down:
1. Tweaked muscles.
Stress causes tight muscles and sometimes muscle spasms. Various expert types say it relates to the caveman fight-or-flight syndrome, in which our muscles prepare us to either fight off that saber tooth tiger or run just a little bit faster than the next guy.
The problem is, we seldom have to fend of ugly, sharp toothed beasts outside of Washington. More likely we’re, say, being chewed out by our boss, which leaves us in a jam: we can’t fight or fly, because there are a couple of hundred people lined up outside the office with hands full of resumes.
Thus, whatever pain in the neck you’re dealing with can literally become a pain in the neck. And I don’t use the word literally lightly.
2. Eye Twitching.
This condition is known as blepharospasm, a word that all by itself can cause stress:
“Hey, your eye is twitching.”
“Yeah, I have blepharospasm.”
“OMG! Get away from me, it might be spreading!”
If the stress is caused by up close work -- for instance, slaving away over a hot computer screen -- ease your eyes by looking out the window at something distant and interesting, such as a mountain or a nude beach. Okay, maybe a nude beach would be a bad idea – you might never get back to work.
If the stress is more internal, close your eyes and visualize a happy place. Say, there’s that nude beach again. With chocolate. The chocolate’s melting, but no fantasy’s perfect.
3. Ragged cuticles.
No, it is not a dirty term. We’re talking nails, or those little weird areas by the nails called, well, cuticles. Experts say nail biting, and other cuticle destroying habits, are a stress induced condition called oral satisfaction. No, I’m not making this up.
Instead of picking at your cuticles or gnawing at your nails, keep a stress ball nearby that you can squeeze – oh, will you please get your minds out of the gutter, this is serious. If the stress ball doesn’t help, consider getting a pool ball that you can hurl at whoever is causing your stress. You might want to avoid that one with the boss.
I put my dentist’s kids through college. It turns out teeth grinding is a stress related habit that can damage your teeth and upset your spouse, especially if you also bite in your sleep. You can get a mouth guard if necessary, or have your teeth replaced by heavy metal clamps and become a James Bond villain. Or get saber teeth.
Experts also recommend writing down your problems, looking at them objectively in black and white, then writing down some solutions before going to sleep. Those same experts, however, also admit they giggled while coming up with that idea.
The skin, say experts, can be a barometer of your stress level. They say it may be related to the immune system releasing histamines. More likely they’re guessing wildly, which stresses out the experts, causing a rash. It’s a vicious cycle.
Stress can caused raised red spots or hives on the body, and speaking of vicious cycles, seeing a rash can make you even more stressed out. Experts advise deep breathing, even though that never did much good against the saber tooth tigers. Okay, I’ve got to read this suggestion straight from the article:
"Every time you inhale, you want your hand to rise; with each exhale, it lowers. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths periodically throughout the day."
Tell me the truth: You feel a little better after giggling at that, don’t you? Humor is healthy. In any case, when faced with a sudden skin breakout, it may be just stress: Don’t make any rash judgments.
Stress can cause stomach upset, simple as that, so if you’re going to worry about life’s problems do it just before a meal: Then you won’t be able to eat, and being overweight will cease to be a problem. That’s my suggestion, anyway: The experts say you should let tepid water run over your fingers.
How in the world did that help against tigers – did it make them fall over from laughter?
Ironically, stress can make your body crash, but also make you sleep badly. The answer? Sleep more. There’s a crazy idea. There was more to it, but I skipped that part and took a nap.
Chronic stress can shrink the size of the hippocampus, until it’s so small you can’t call it a hippo anymore. Once your stress level goes down, it grows and takes over the campus again. The answer? Exercise. At least, I think that’s what they said.
The, uh, thing … that …um … what were we talking about?
Oh, yes, confusion. Stress causes distraction and lack of focus, or in my case distraction while I’m driving my Focus, which can be even worse. The answer: Take a walk, preferably in the light where you get extra serotonin and vitamin D, and all that other stuff that those smart type people like.
Here’s an irony for you: During this deadline defying column rush, I experienced all nine of those symptoms. I could put the blame on my unorganized, messed up life, but, in honor of my remote ancestors:
I blame the cat.