I have never been of the mind that all stress is bad. In fact, I think certain stress can be good for us. If I don’t feel the stress of a deadline at work or the stress that swells up when I look at how many miles I am overdue for an oil change, I would likely be a lot more lazy and accepting of my natural bent toward irresponsibility and straight-up not getting stuff done. Stuff like getting my oil changed and buying dental floss and dish soap instead of the latest issue of Vogue and toenail polish that I don’t need. My life would suck if that were the case. I think stress can work to our good—that is, if we allow it. Because such feelings are not comfortable or sustainable for a healthy, well-rounded, and mostly happy life which seems to be the chief end of the majority of our individual pursuits.
Stress can be a great motivator and an even greater agent of change.
But there is the bad kind of stress—the unnecessary, useless stress that does not motivate, but rather, plagues a good day and turns a merry mood into a rotten one. Bad stress can’t always be avoided. But some of it can be thwarted and called out for the phony joy-stealer that it is and like a dirty, used-up paper towel, should be crumpled up into a ball and thrown into the trash. Slam-dunk style.
With a New Year approaching, I have been pondering the idea of literally throwing away some stupid things that stress me out in favor of a fresh mental slate for 2014. Because like a used coffee filter or trash bag, some things are not only worthless to keep around, but become rotten with age and toxic to the prospect of ever having peace of mind. And such things should be discarded appropriately. So, what stupid stuff made my list of things I am resolving to not stress about in 2014? Here are six of them. I invite you to join me in this celebration as I ball them up like old cheeseburger wrappers and slam dunk them into the garbage can where they belong.
1. Being a perfect housewife.
I ate soup from a can, chips and salsa, and blackberries for dinner last night. The night before, I ate a microwaved frozen burrito, canned peas, and a small bowl of peanut butter Cheerios. I am not one of those wives who prides herself on her bangin’ baked tofu and made-from-scratch dumplings. I don’t cook much. My husband and I rarely share our meals together because of our work schedules and sometimes I feel guilty and stress about it. But it is not in my control. So why the guilt? I am actually okay with it and so is he, so that’s that. And as for the cleaning and organizing and devoting hours to making homemade soap and assembling trendy decorations for every single little holiday? I don’t have the desire to invest more time than is necessary to these chores. It’s for the sake of my sanity. Yes, I love a clean kitchen and a freshly dusted and reorganized book shelf and trendy lighting fixtures, but that’s not how I spend my weekends or what I research on the internet. I think about these things maybe .063% of the time. And for where I am in life right now, that’s okay.
I’m guilty of it. I’m guilty of allowing my blood pressure to rise every time I log onto Facebook and am welcomed by a wrongly attributed “Abraham Lincoln” quote that someone “shared” from a Facebook page with a name like “Can this Goat get more fans like Barack Obama?” or “Dora the Explorer is sooo an Illegal Immigrant.” (Both of these “pages” really exist). I get annoyed with the pages and groups that promote and share memes and photos of factually incorrect, poorly informed, fear-mongering, racist, or just straight-up stupid “stats” and illustrations that seem purposed to make others people feel guilty or wrong about something. This garbage drives me crazy. But I won’t stress about that stuff because it’s out of my control and it shouldn’t matter to me what other people’s opinions are. If opinions on Facebook offend me, I am responsible for either choosing not to care anymore, or “unsubscribing” or “defriending” the source.
3. Friends that disappoint us.
I have expectations and standards for my friendships that I expect to be somewhat reciprocated consistently. I have hopes that the friends who know me best and love me most will not let me down or stop being real or put everyone else in their life before me and not bother to put in the effort because it’s inconvenient. When this happens, I sometimes feel stressed. And angry and confused. But what I have learned is that this is natural part of growing up and a natural thing to feel unsettled about. I am certain that I have disappointed almost all of my friends in some way, whether close friends or casual. I am not innocent so therefore, I need to have more grace about the little disappointments that inevitably happen when you invest in a friend, as well as communicate with my friends when they disappoint me.
Moves like Jagger? Not from this girl. Ask anyone who has ever danced with me and they will likely tell you a story about how much I resemble a drunken Tyrannosaurus Rex when I try to shimmy and shake like Shakira. And I would consider that high praise. I can’t shake it like Beyonce. However, I do love to dance. Some of my best memories from college happened at an eclectic, dark little dance lounge in Gainesville, Florida called The Atlantic. My best girlfriends and I would get dolled up and walk in around 10:00 p.m. on a Thursday night, reminisce about our short lives over a cocktail in a smoky booth, and then hit the dance floor where we’d groove and move to the pulse of the music for hours, swimming in the shimmer of the disco balls and neon lights and the rhythm of the songs that we would grow to love. Those nights were some of the best. I love the freedom and fun of dancing. It always makes me feel good and remember why I love being young and why I love music. For most of my 20s, I’ve wished I could be a better dancer, though. I don’t go out much or dance a whole lot, but when the occasion happens upon me, there is a momentary swell of insecurity and stress about how others will judge me. But you know what? I am choosing not to care about the fact that I will probably never be a good dancer. Just because it isn’t in my blood doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy myself.
I stress myself out about yoga because I have been telling myself for six years that I am going to do it. I have this fantasy that I’ll reach nirvana while doing sun salutations and become a graceful, balanced butterfly or one of those girls who just looks at peace and happy all the time and chalks it up to the Bikram yoga class she started taking three days a week to de-stress. But that fantasy has not come true, despite the collective hours I have spent over time contemplating Groupon deals for unlimited yoga classes at local studios (I never end up purchasing them), and the time spent stressing over the fact that I should do yoga and enjoy it like most active or semi-active women my age. But that’s just stupid thinking, really. And it makes me feel stressed when I hear my peers and my doctor and my therapist say “you should do yoga, it would be good for you.” The truth is, I have tried it many times. I have taken a couple of classes and do it at home on occasion. But I do not particularly enjoy it or know what the hell I’m doing when I’m doing it. And stressing about something that is supposed to de-stress you is just silly.
6. Knowing what I want.
This thing happened to me sometime in my early 20s where I tricked myself into thinking I knew what I wanted. I had a plan and a vision and thought I could rule the world because I could read Chaucer and hold my liquor like a champ. But I was very, very wrong about this. At 26, I have no clue what I want in certain areas of my life. I’ve kind of given up on it. All I need to know is where my foot will land with the next step I take. The steps that follow will follow. I don’t have to know where they will lead or how comfortable or painful they might be right now. Living for this moment and knowing what I want today is good enough. Tomorrow will worry about itself. It is okay if I don’t have every answer or can declare exactly what I want from life. I know what I want to give back to it. And for now, as we welcome in a New Year, that is enough.