Relieve Stress–Read!

This entry was for January 5, 2011, but I’ll write about it anyway. The question was “Are you stressed out right now?” (If not, why not?) I don’t feel anxious at the moment, but there are times throughout each day when I do feel very upset about lack of work, job-hunting, my weight, etc., etc., etc. I’ve gotten better at hiding negative emotions, and I’m ever-so-slowly getting better at releasing them. Strategy #2 is the most important. It’s best to let go of things. My aunt always says that stress will kill you. She is right. Positive stress–like a challenge, or learning something–is good. Any other kind of chronic stress is extremely dangerous.

If I am feeling bad, one of the things I like to do is a daily exercise routine, coupled with wise eating. My routine has to be in adapted form, and now that Christmas is over, the full schedule will resume. This is also a daily music time for me, so I always look forward to this time of the morning. Music throughout the day also relieves anxiety. I listen to an eclectic collection on iTunes.

I also love reading–whether it is devotional material, newspapers, magazines, or favorite books. Certainly work-related reading isn’t all that enjoyable, but it is enlightening. When you have to read something for a book discussion, the joy in it is sometimes removed. Fortunately for me, that happens rarely. My aunt doesn’t like to see me take a book anywhere when we travel by van, because I spend so little time reading it. I’ve always got my eyes peeled for the vehicle, anxious about missing it. But it is wise to take a lightweight book, because you never know when things will go wrong. (Shakespeare is not recommended for a commute, especially at 7:00 a.m.) Of course, you’ll survive without looking at something for a little while. It just helps to pass the time. I always call a book my blood pressure medicine. Whatever barrier presents itself–a late ride, a broken Metro  elevator, backed-up schedules–I have something else to concentrate on rather than fuming that things aren’t going exactly as planned. Not everyone on the van is in a talkative mood. Even when I rode the bus, I didn’t always begin conversations with people–most are strangers. But as a former co-worker told me once: “Everybody is a stranger until you meet.” That phrase still gives me hope for the chance to get to know a lot more people. And many of the folks I used to see on the bus led me to favorite books and authors–Arthur Ashe’s Days of Grace, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, Rosamunde Pilcher’s novels, and her short story collections Flowers in the Rain and The Blue Bedroom. There were many more.

For occasions where you find yourself waiting anywhere, I highly recommend these two books. My favorite is Julie and Romeo, by Jeanne Ray, a modern retelling of the Shakespearean tragedy that has a double happy ending. I’ve read it twice so far. (I always thought Shakespeare had it wrong; Romeo and Juliet should have been able to run away together and start a new life. My teachers just said he was being realistic. R&J has never been my favorite play.)

The second favorite is My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell, a British naturalist, conservationist, zoo founder, and writer. “You’ll howl with laughter,” said the acquaintance who recommended it. I did. PBS adapted it several years ago. My aunt didn’t get the humor until she read parts of Durrell’s biography with me. Douglas Botting did a wonderful job on that one. Durrell wrote a total of 38 books, and I have only read three so far. There is still time.

Once, after a particularly stressful incident at the office, I hightailed it over to the nearby bookstore and ordered The Diddakoi and An Episode of Sparrows. Both are favorites of mine by British novelist Rumer Godden, who was my independent study project from the time I was 9 until her death in 1998. She wrote more than 60 works–fiction for children and adults, poetry, a play, and nonfiction, including two volumes of autobiography–throughout her career, and I have read most of them. I hate the short story that Sparrows is based on. It’s too painful. It’s in the story collection Gone.

You get a wonderful sense of place in all her stories. She was very subtle, revealing much about her characters in few words, and never talking down to her readers, regardless of their ages. In the 1980s, she wrote a book review for The Washington Post. The story took place at a house in England where she once lived. I saved the review just because she wrote it, and it’s still in my album of odds and ends. I read the book she reviewed eventually; it was OK but not great.

The Diddakoi is special because of the story. It’s about Kizzy, a Gypsy girl trying to find her place in the world. The book won several children’s lit awards here and in England. The school librarian, Mary Daum, thought I would like it, and she was right. The cover art of a gypsy wagon and chestnut horse was very pretty. Every once in a while, I have to read it  again. An Episode of Sparrows is equally touching. My favorite college professor loaned me a copy just before the end of my junior year. It was a great comfort that summer–my grandmother got sick in August and passed away a short time later. The story has nothing to do with grandmothers and granddaughters, but it helped keep my mind off things going back and forth from the hospital. I cried nearly all the time then; reading that book helped stop the sadness for a while. Even now, I consider these books to be a comfort and place of safety.





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