Stress (aka: Stresssss)

Oops…I just caught myself massaging the back of my neck. Again. And chewing on my pinky fingers. Again. Which may not seem like a big deal to lots of you, but to me, it means one thing.

STRESS.

Stress Sources

Wait, what stress? I thought I was just coasting along, my usual relaxed self. (Okay, correction: Relaxed for a Type-A personality. Relaxed for an INTJ). But we all have our own little signals that tell us when our bodies are experiencing a lot of stress. Some people overeat when stressed. Others smoke, or drink too much, have bouts of insomnia, or a myriad of other physical or psychological symptoms that spring up when our plates are just too full.

So what should we do when we recognize these symptoms? According to the American Psychological Association , we should identify the sources of our stress. Hmm, let’s see…

My oldest teen has caught a nasty case of Senioritis — that annoying and highly contagious bug that high school seniors often catch this time of year, when they feel so invincible that they slack off in school, convinced that they won’t fail. So I get to take off the sweet, cookie-baking mommy hat and put on the steel-edged hat of The Enforcer.

Stress.

My ex-husband has decided to initiate court proceedings to have my child support officially decreased, thanks to my shiny new full-time job. Despite the new job, however, it has been a challenge to keep the budget balanced while raising three teen/tweens as a full-time single parent and saving for college expenses. So a potentially big income cut would be a serious blow. I’ve just begun hunting for a second part-time job – something to help make ends meet once our household income drops. Bye-bye free time.

Stress

The older teen just headed off on an expensive school trip with his band — the only trip I’ve been able to send him on for all of high school. Senior prom tickets are really expensive, too. So is his recent dental work. Also, my teen daughter, the former gymnast, has fallen in love with dance. “Hey mom, can I take a second dance class at the studio?” And the twelve-year-old keeps outgrowing his clothes. And did I mention how much it costs to feed three kids this age nutritious, homemade meals filled with fresh vegetables? Oh boy. Kids are expensive.

Stress.

I just finished a bout of medical testing  (an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, and even a special endoscopy where I got to swallow this cool miniature camera). The doctor found nothing, except for signs of gastritis. Gastritis which sprung up around a year ago, and was likely triggered by — you guessed it —

Stress.

Effect of Stress on the Body

It is astonishing what stress can do to our bodies, even when we think we’re handling it well. Kind of stresses me out to think about it. Luckily, there are things we can do to help us manage the way we deal wih stress. Here are some great suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Socializing with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

I’m pretty good with most of these, especially the sense of humor part. Very important stuff. But I still kinda suck at the socializing part. But know what? Today at work, I got to spend lots of time socializing with coworkers (in between moments of working hard, of course). And know what? It’s like a magic pill for this stress thing. Despite the enormous pressures I’m feeling, I’ve barely reached up to massage my neck or chew my fingers all afternoon.

Uh-oh — trying to come up with a nice, neat way to end this post is only adding to my stress. So I’ll just tip-toe out of here and hope none of you notice. Time to go and…

DE-STRESS

 

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It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

I Feel the Earth Move (aka: California Earthquakes)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love living in the state of California. There is so much to love about my state – from the breathtaking scenery to the world-class cities, our Hollywood legacy, Disneyland, amazing wines, and even our quirky politics (How many other states can claim that they’ve had both a U.S. president and the Terminator as governor at some point?). Now I know, there are some people out there who are perfectly happy living in cornfields in the middle of nowhere, who think of California and shudder. “But California is so expensive and snooty! And think of the earthquakes!” And okay, yes, you have to pretty much be rich to move here. But I swear that we Californians are not snooty! (Okay fine, maybe the SoCal people are on the pretentious side). But to avoid California for the earthquakes? Come on, where’s your sense of adventure?

“I lived through the Great Loma Prieta Quake of 1989.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I lived through Loma Prieta and the Northridge Quake!”

We Californians wear our earthquakes like scout badges. We love to swap stories about where we were and what we did during each quake. And of course, there are extra points if you managed to ride it out with the same level of cool indifference as the characters in the movie L.A. Story. “Oh please, that quake was barely a 5.0 on the Richter Scale. I slept right through it!”

I have lived through around a half dozen noticeable earthquakes in my life. Most of them were the usual small tremors that strike the Bay Area from time to time, like thunderstorms. Such small quakes did nothing more than cause the walls to shudder and the chandelier to swing back and forth for a few minutes. Big whoop. But then came the Great Loma Prieta Quake. Now that was memorable. Every Northern Californian you meet will have some great story to tell about what they were doing the day of that big earthquake. Epicenter of 1989 Loma Prieta Quake

Let’s see…it was late in the afternoon, and I was in my high school theater, rehearsing for an upcoming musical. Suddenly, the stage floor began to shift, and the lights above our heads quivered dangerously. “Everyone out of the theater! Now!” came our director’s voice. He didn’t have to tell us twice. Everyone in the cast raced outside.

“Wow, it’s like surfing!” someone said. Sure enough, our paved high school corridors were rolling like ocean waves. Forget all that earthquake safety training. We did not drop to the ground and cover our heads. We held out our arms for balance and rode the waves, cheering with enthusiasm. Earthquakes were so awesome! It was almost disappointing when the tremors subsided.  Earthquake Safety Rulesimage

My friends and I headed home on the public bus, chattering with excitement about what had just happened, and singing at the top of our lungs:

I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down…

I arrived home, still smiling, and ready to watch the next game in the World Series. At the time, I was a huge Oakland A’s fan, and I was hoping to see them crush the San Francisco Giants and win the series. However, when I turned on the television, there was no baseball game. It seemed that, while my friends and I were busy surfing and singing, the rest of the Bay Area had erupted into chaos. Candlestick Park had been evacuated. Buildings had crumbled. A section of the Bay Bridge had snapped. And the worst part: a mile-long section of the Cypress Freeway had collapsed, trapping hundreds of drivers in the rubble. Collapse of Cypress/Nimitz Freeway

Just like that, the Big Quake stopped being awesome. There’s nothing fun about seeing people get injured or killed. This was far worse than some quivering walls or swinging light fixtures. It was like Mother Nature had attacked our home with a natural bomb. Luckily for our family, my father, by some miracle, had decided to commute home by way of the Golden Gate Bridge that evening, or he, too, may have gotten caught in
the rubble of the Cypress Freeway. But many other people were not so lucky.

Okay, maybe I am not helping to paint a positive image of California here. Oh boy – killer earthquakes and broken freeways! Okay yes, sometimes…but hey, we still have Disneyland. And great beaches, and redwood trees – mustn’t forget those. And amazing wines – although the Napa Valley, where those wines are produced, was just hit pretty hard by a 6.0 earthquake two days ago. Where was I when that big quake hit? Oh, well, I slept right through it. Extra points for me.

Coming-of-Age Soundtrack

Sometime during the next few weeks, my oldest son will officially become a teenager. A teenager! It kind of boggles the mind. And already the signs of change are apparent – his size-eight-and-still-growing feet, his sweet little boy voice growing deeper, and his face covered in pimples – it is all so adorable! Okay yes, I am weird. But for me, I enjoy every tiny step of my children’s development, even the awkward adolescent stage.

My almost-teenager is beginning to really get into music, just as I did when I was his age. Only he downloads Deadmau and other house music onto his iPod, whereas when I was twelve-going-on-thirteen in 1988, my Walkman was usually filled with rock cassettes, like Poison, Guns n’ Roses, and Metallica. It’s true…I started high school that year, and in an attempt to figure out my own identity, I became a hard-core rocker. For a while, anyway.

Just for fun, tonight I led my kids through a musical tour from the late eighties, when I was their ages. It was especially fun for me, like playing through my coming-of-age life soundtrack. After the first few songs, my own almost-teenager shook his head. “Wow,” he said, “eighties music was kind of boring.” And he popped in his ear buds and walked away, his head bobbing to some 2012 tune that makes up his own personal coming-of-age soundtrack.

My 1988 Soundtrack

Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns n’ Roses

Welcome to the Jungle – Guns n’ Roses  (Guns n’ Roses was truly one of the best rock groups to emerge during the 80’s, and both of these songs are so good, they may bring you to your sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na kneeees kneeees)

Angel – Aerosmith (anything by Aerosmith is excellent)

Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard (Most Def Leppard is hard for me to listen to now, but this song brings back a zillion memories of the roller skating rink with friends back in the day)

Hands to Heaven – Breathe (My first slow dance song! I wore makeup and a skirt for the first time at the end of 8th grade and danced with JMF, who later became my crush, then my best friend, and then gay. Hopefully not because of me!)

Out of the Blue – Debbie Gibson (Yes, I wore skeggings and a black hat, just like Debbie. I even went to her concert. And I sang this to my crush, JMF, over the telephone. Oh geez, how embarrassing now!)

Could’ve Been – Tiffany (Because you can’t have Debbie Gibson on your list without adding the other teen pop queen. Why did we find her so cool, again?)

She’s Like the Wind – Patrick Swayze (And every other song from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Because come on…Dirty Dancing! It was THE movie that year).

The Promise – When in Rome (Possibly one of the first songs that turned me on to progressive rock, a.k.a. new wave, a.k.a. modern rock)

Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson (See, I actually listened to a few black musicians, too. Well then again, maybe MJ doesn’t count as a black musician. Does he?)

And now I leave you with the most overplayed song of 1988, but with good reason: