by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I’m getting ready to go on our annual family vacation. “Getting ready” is code here for “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” It involves taking summer clothing inventory, purchasing enough canisters of SPF Albino Mushroom sunscreen to pale the entire west coast, farming out pets, and loading a giant suitcase with far too many pairs of shoes.
I know the drill, we do it every year, and still I manage to get a bit kooky as the departure date approaches. Did I pack enough swimsuits for the kids? Do five novels and three non-fiction books provide an adequate variety and supply of reading material for seven days? Should I bring my lap top? What kinds of toys should the boys take for in-flight entertainment? Who will water the garden? What about snacks during the flight?
I rush around in such a state of busyness it usually doesn’t even occur to me that I am marching along Anxiety Avenue, convinced I have no choice. “It has to be done” is the theme song on Anxiety Avenue.
Even as I write this I can feel constriction in my chest and my breath growing shallow. Using my body as an alarm clock, I become aware of my physical response and make a new choice. I remember what I really want is serenity, not stuff and not the grim satisfaction of martyrdom. I take a deep breath and come back to center.
The problem of course is me. I do not like to travel. That adventurous, exploratory gene that many people have, that sense of openness, of anticipation and wonder that accompanies going to new places…I find all of that admirable–but baffling–like the ability to hang sheetrock or understand Einstein’s theory of relativity. I just don’t get it.
Similar to Jalapeño fans that have the enzymatic capacity to feel the burn and then a euphoric release that follows, travel-lovers experience the inconvenience of preparation as minor prelude to a joyful experience. Not me.
As I do not like to travel I have created several compensatory practices, such as taking a post-travel day off at home in which I do laundry and restore personal harmony. This allows me to transition back into my real (and thankfully, quite relaxing) life at a slow pace and honors the stressful event that travel represents for me. While travelling I make sure to spend some time alone every day. Again, this allows me to detach, slow down and just be in my own company.
Many folks careen from one anxiety-provoking event to the next, never realizing that when life demands more from us (like a big work deadline or visiting a crazy extended family member or taking college finals or planning a wedding) in order to avoid putting ourselves through the emotional ringer, our self care must also increase on an equal level.
So even though we may feel like we just don’t have time to go to the gym or make a veggie stir fry from scratch or to sketch the dog when he is sleeping, taking time to do those things will decrease our stress level. Keep in mind that regardless of how vitally important and time-devouring the stressful event appears in advance, rarely is an external event worth giving up our internal well being.
Exactly what that stressful event is varies from person to person. Some find public speaking to be a fate worse than death (death is the top rated fear in America, followed by public speaking in the #2 spot) whereas others could speak until the proverbial cows return but would break out in the willies if made to dine in a popular restaurant all alone. And for still others, going on an island vacation…
Knowing yourself and what makes you freak out is helpful because then you can stop, breathe, and do some self-loving activities. Right now I am sitting in my peaceful office, writing and listening to Ben Webster. Earlier today I got a good work out in, and tonight I plan to finish a delicious book I’ve been reading. With all this self care I am back on Relaxation Road and looking forward to swimming in the ocean next week, which I always love, but sometimes forget when I am in the throes of “getting ready.”