Share this page to

Chicago Tribune – April 2012

Take a deep breath — it’s Stress Awareness Month

By Barabra Brotman


Happy Stress Awareness Month!

Maybe you’ve already been out celebrating, partying with yoga studio crawls and bingeing on nature walks. But for some of us stressed-out souls, April’s designation as Stress Awareness Month could cause a little — well, you know.

Personally, I think I’m already pretty aware of stress. At 3 a.m. many nights, it has my full, wide-awake attention. Do we really need a Stress Awareness Month? Wouldn’t Stress Unawareness Month be more pleasant?

Regardless, that’s not likely, this month or any other. The increasing speed of technology leaves people feeling more stressed than ever, said meditation teacher Elesa Commerse, who recently opened a mindfulness learning center in Highland Park.

“As a species, we have not caught up with the rate at which information is coming at us,” she said. “Our nervous system is totally overloaded.”

We try to manage the avalanche by multitasking, she said, but our brains don’t work that way. “The brain is serial. It can do one thing after another, so it just warp-speeds up the things we’re doing,” she said.

Our bodies respond by flooding us with fight-or-flight hormones better suited for bear attacks than rush-hour driving, she said.

And our minds end up too twitchy to let us pay full attention to the moment. “We’re not here, we’re not there, we’re not anywhere,” Commerse said. “We’re fractured.”

When I asked my Facebook friends how they dealt with stress, they had plenty of suggestions.

Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, massage: The classics of calming do apparently work.

Other people cited physical activity — walking, running, dancing, swimming — as balm for the tense soul.

The outdoors won multiple plaudits, too, as befitting the Xanax of nature. Visiting someplace new, helping others, reading a good book, drinking a nice glass of wine; the suggestions kept coming.

“Petting a cat,” posted Kay Collins, moments later adding a clarification: “Petting a (willing) cat.”

“Making progress on any aspect,” wrote TQ White II. “I find it tremendously calming just to get something done. A little tiny bit of control.”

“Unplugging from cellphone, iPad, laptop, etc.,” contributed Mary Kelly Burke, though she added, “Easier said than done. Also, (a) brisk walk in the woods with a silly dog.”

“Human interaction … sharing, listening, talking,” recommended my nephew Terry Berman. “Several significant touches, and if that doesn’t work, ‘Three’s Company’ reruns.”

Geri Fox suggested “realizing that you can’t do everything, but you can do something.”

“What I really recommend,” wrote Dolly Baruch, “is financial security.”

And Jessica Mackinnon has a solution for those wee-hour worry fests: “At 3:00 in the morning when I’m lying awake worrying about whatever, I try to mentally visualize the floor plans of all the houses I’ve ever lived in.”

I can only add a nod to my own strategies: lap swimming, a hot bath with a thick fashion magazine and singing in an a capella chorus.

©2012 Chicago Tribune