Friday, February 27, 2009

Stress and the City

If you are the type of Recessionista who struggles in the art of conversation, a great point of bonding with others these days is to discuss how stressed out you are. People all over the world, whether in urban or rural environment, seem more anxious than ever, and anyone who feels immune to this stress need only read a paper or watch the news to feel part of the United States of Anxiety.

Personally, Stress (I like to imagine it is an entity or being) has been, as the ladies of Sex and the City coined the term, a “frienemy” (friend/enemy) to me– a being that may seem to bring out good in aspects of your life, but can elicit equal or greater negativity. My stress, which my friends know I refer to as “Joseph Stalin,” provides my drive and fuels my productivity. Alternately, I also wake up to Joseph Stalin yelling and reprimanding me at 3 a.m. for not completing task A or in anticipation of Event B. (When, by the way, did he learn how to speak English so well?!) I have worked diligently to try to train Joseph in the art of conversation, trying to silence that voice of stress when I am unable to take action or when the anxiety is counterproductive. (Will my worry over David Patterson’s iPod Download Tax really influence whether the initiative is passed? Despite what the dead Russian dictator says, I think not.)

To add to everyone’s anxiety, economic downturn seems to limit the coping mechanisms we have to deal with this stress (not to mention, the concerns we have over finances can exponentially compound our stress!) People may avoid taking a stress-relieving vacation, cut back on therapy due insurance costs/copay, and reduce the number of relaxing and cathartic activities that can be a drain on the wallet (golf, movies, theater, etc.) Basta, basta, basta! Enough! I have great news for all of you. Every day of your life, you perform small acts and enjoy simple pleasures that physically and emotionally relieve stress in your life, at little to no cost. I have begun keeping a list of my little to no-cost stress-zappers, so I can much more easily access them when I am feeling overwhelmed…

1. Music: Specifically, Tony Bennett. Despite my mother having 70’s and 80’s hard rock constantly on the radio while I was growing up (sorry, Mom, you’ve been outed!), I somehow discovered the voice of Tony Bennett. I can’t explain why his music lowers my stress, but I know that it has consistently worked better than the two dirty martini alternative, hang-over not included.

2. Conversation: Think of the last conversation of your day today. Regardless of whether this chat occurred over the phone or in person, I would wager that one or all parties involved were exercising some sort of “multi-tasking” – texting, checking Facebook, etc. – during the conversation. That, my friends, is a tragedy. I hope you all have had the luxury of falling deeply into an engaging conversation with someone that removes you from your immediate (and often trite, ephemeral) worries and engrosses you in an issue/concern/argument/story/relationship greater than yourself. Turn off your phone. Look your dinner mate in the eyes when he/she speaks. Choose bars/pubs/lounges to meet friends that are quiet enough for a genuine chat. Then, listen. You might just learn something.

3. Stopping: This is going to be strange for many of you (as if I did not lose you at “Joseph Stalin!) Right now, look up. Observe the scene around you. If I asked you to write what you see, many of you would provide one or two sentences at the maximum to me. Look again. Maybe you are viewing this at work, in a cube next to a quiet, but sweet coworker, that you never thanked for covering for your tardiness a couple of months ago. Perhaps you are reading this on your Blackberry en route on a bus or train that takes you almost directly to see your mate. It is also possible that you are reading this in solitude in your home, a familiar circumstance you take so much for granted, despite all the research time you spent on the IKEA website making this space your own. Take a moment to observe everything around you critically. Find three things in your immediate reach to feel utterly grateful for (mine are: a framed photo of Salman Rushdie and I that my mother sneakily took, the color magenta, and the scent of the dozen roses a friend sent me this week.) Taking a moment to breathe, to observe and appreciate can realign your thoughts and priorities, but most importantly, it will invariably reduce your stress.

4. Helping Others: This recommendation is a sort of addendum to #3; once we recognize what exists around us, it is our job to improve and assist. This can get tricky, as helping others can feel overwhelming at times and add to our stress! Instead, I offer an anecdote. A tiny, Courtney Cox doppelganger I knew had gone on a mission trip to Romania, spending two weeks working in orphanages of abandoned and unwanted babies, who cried continuously because of the lack of human touch, as well as hunger. When my friend returned and relayed these stories, I felt a wave of anxiety and hopelessness wash over me. I asked her, “How did you not break down and cry every day? How did you not feel inadequate every time you went to the orphanage?” She responded, “The only way to get through life in general is to commit to doing everything in your power to help others every day. No one expects you to save the world, or even another person. But, if, even for a moment, you can make life feel better for someone, you have done your job.”

These just a few of my low/no-cost stress reducers…now what are yours? I welcome your relaxation, awareness, and economista tips and tricks. Email

Recessionista Tip of the Day: This will undoubtedly become the hottest site of 2009 (in spite of the creepy Alec Baldwin-meets-Alien commercials) :
This site lets you, are you ready for this, watch FREE movies, FREE music videos, and FREE episodes of your favorite television episodes. In fact, Fast Company just declared Hulu to be the #1 fastest growing company of 2009. (Oh, and for those of you are are into the sound/picture quality thing, Hulu blows Youtube away!)

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