Like Massaging a Tree Trunk: Dealing with Stress

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“You are like trying to give a massage to a tree trunk. I cannot tell where your spine is and where your muscles end.”

Those were the words the massage therapist said to me last week just before telling me to relax.

When I responded, “This is relaxed,” she clicked her tongue at me like an unhappy mother hen.

Her recommendation? Exercise (that’s a bad word in my vocabulary) and a course of massage therapy for two weeks, five days a week for her to be able to get the muscles loose and restore my body back to something of normalcy. At the end she handed me her card and told me to think about it and call when she returns from vacation.

Stressed much?

All of us deal daily with stress. We live in the tensions created by maintaining relationships, demanding jobs, and a myriad of responsibilities that are always lingering on the edges of our minds and reminding us of what we need to do that we haven’t done yet.  There are children to take care of and homes to keep clean (I swear that dust bunnies multiply even faster than real bunnies!) and smart phones that beep reminders and updates to us all day and night.

So what do we do about it?

Most of the answers are practical and common sense. We all know them. We just don’t follow through with them for whatever reason or excuse we give. Here are a few I’ve been reflecting on recently and is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list.

1. Spending time daily with God

My Dad gets up before the dawn, much like Grandpa used to, and first thing each morning reads his Bible while having a cup of coffee. It’s something I have always admired about him. As for me that time of day means that I don’t understand a word that I’ve read. I keep praying to be a morning person but I just don’t function so usually I read my Bible on the hour long metro commute or in the evenings when I’m actually awake.

It’s hard to stay focused on and trusting in the LORD if we aren’t cultivating a relationship with Him. Anxiety comes from stressing out over not knowing the future, which none of us do, but it helps a lot if you are abiding in the One who does.

2. Exercise

It hurts. It’s sweaty. If you’re uncoordinated like me then it can just be plain embarassing too. But if we don’t keep ourselves healthy then we aren’t able to do the things that daily life demands and it just adds more stress. Plus if you keep all that stress you end up being like a tree trunk and since those aren’t flexible then if something comes along that cannot be handled then it snaps. That’s not really good.

Maybe you’re a runner – I kind of envy you. Maybe you’re a Richard Simmons workout videos person – I don’t envy you at all. I think the key is to find something you enjoy, since it makes it a lot more likely that you will actually KEEP doing it! Personally I love kickboxing workout videos. I’m terrible at it but at least I find it fun and have decided it is time to get back to doing a bit of it.

3. Don’t procrastinate

Why do today what can be put off for tomorrow? Because it adds more stress to continually procrastinate. Tackle the big project. Have the hard conversation. Start.

When I was in college, I was always one of those students that was writing term papers the night before they were due and downing pots of coffee to stay awake. I would run to the computer lab as soon as the doors opened to get in and print the paper to slip it in to my teacher’s hands just before the deadline. My claim was that I write better under pressure, I’m not so sure that was true and unfortunately my bad habit has followed me, which is why I’ve been trying to be disciplined and work on plans for fall semester English clubs. Trust me when I say that I haven’t been as successful as hoped but I am further along than last summer.

4. Have fun!

I’m either all work and no fun or all fun and no work. I don’t really do balance that great and it is something I continually have to be mindful of. But I find that it is absolutely necessary to have some fun every day.

Take a break and do something you enjoy. I’ve read that we are actually more productive if we take small breaks – the key is to not make it a permanent break that turns into perpetual procrastination. Find a way to add some fun to that normal, daily routine. Below is an example from the TV show The Nanny and I may have been guilty of something like this on occasion.

If someone tried to give you a massage would you be like a tree trunk? What are your ways of dealing with stress?

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