Recently a friend told me that she thought I handled stress better than she did. I was surprised, and not at all sure that was true, but it got me thinking about the ins and outs of how I handle challenges; about which things are working and which habits have room for improvement.
In the past couple of years, a stretch of infertility was followed with career changes, extreme reduction of budget, the sale of a house, the purchase of a new house, and a move, all while ultimately (and gratefully) juggling a new baby, causing a prolonged and intense feeling of stress that I can only recall feeling at one other stage of my life. At times during these long months, I have been angry and frustrated, feeling that at the time I needed them most, the tools which I had normally relied upon to handle challenges were not available to me. Namely, exercise, retail therapy, edible indulgences, alone time to recharge, and time with my partner or friends to laugh and reflect. Our circumstances this winter left no room for any of these things. No money for shopping, babysitters, or extra day care. No soothing walks in the familiar old neighborhood that I loved. Not much room for edible indulgences, at least not until I could exercise more. And forget about alone time, creative time, or time with friends. Even cocktails and coffee had to be carefully monitored until I finished nursing. It felt that there was literally no outlet for blowing off steam or getting re-energized.
A younger me used to handle stress by indulging in retail therapy and food indulgences, most of which I justified by reasoning that the costs of those methods were probably less than therapy, and that they also left me with tangible comfort items. I engaged in these methods whether or not I could afford them, which in some years meant that I was left with a credit card bill which produced a new round of stress. Duh.
This year has been different. This year, as we have been working through our main challenges, I have also set my sights on healthier methods of stress relief, both in order to avoid creating a second layer of stress, and because it is better for us in the long run anyway. Exercise is an obvious example of one of those tools, one which has helped me throughout my life, and I have been grateful to be adding it back in to my day as the baby's routine has grown predictable.
Cooking is normally another stress-reliever for me, although it has taken some time to learn how to cook the food we love while cutting our grocery budget nearly in half, especially since I am stickler for organics. But I've made a lot of progress doing just that in recent months, and finally the pleasure of that process is returning. Feeding a family of four real food every day is a challenge that occasionally wears me out, but it is also satisfying, and I'm grateful to be finding the time to do it.
The hardest stress-relieving habit for me to shake is the urge to make a purchase of a coveted item when I'm feeling low. People advise against it, but it has generally worked for me in the past. Who doesn't love a way to make things feel new and fresh when you feel down and frustrated? I will probably always love the thrill of a beautiful new item of clothing or an exciting pile of fresh and lovely yarn for a new project. But in the meantime, I am having some success fighting this expensive habit just by diving deep into my own closet instead.
After a series of minor but frustrating situations last week, and when I couldn't stop noticing the pretty new fall clothes in the catalogues filling my mailbox, I stopped everything else I was doing and instead hunkered down in my bedroom. It was time to fool around in my closet, tidy up, rotate things around. Time to melt down the piles. Time to look for something I haven't worn in a while. Time to clear some shelves and check for items to be shared or altered.
And so I did. I found some jeans that didn't fit me last month, but do now. I found a skirt that I haven't worn in over a year that will be perfect for this coming late summer/early fall weather. I found a top that I had knit before I got pregnant, and then hadn't really worn yet. I found a little furry cave in a basket of otherwise clean clothes, where apparently my cat has been hiding. And then I found a better way to put it all back into the closet so that the piles don't come back for a little while. The piles are inevitable; that's my reality in this stage...getting dressed with small children at my feet while taking clothes in and out of a 1960-era closet. I'm not a capsule-closet kind of girl...I still like everything in there, so there's no need to downsize more yet. As a result, it's a little bit crowded, for now. But rotating things around and trying on stuff I haven't seen in a while (especially while fighting to melt off the last few pregnancy pounds) can definitely give me the fresh and new feeling, without costing a dollar.
I confess that I still felt a little antsy and shop-ish, after all that, so I grabbed the baby and we headed to Arc's Value Village next, in an effort to handle the insistent shopping urge in a way that might give old items new life, and in a way that didn't ruin the budget. Arc's is a thrift store that I have not visited in a long time, and I was curious what I would think of it these days. I had a couple of household wishlist items in mind, because I also find that keeping goals front-center in my mind while shopping helps reduce impulse purchases. It felt like visiting a giant garage sale, with the added bonus of the proceeds being used to help people. It was very satisfying when we found one of my wish list items for the play room for $1.50. That is retail therapy I feel just fine with.