How do you handle stress?

Stress management. How many articles and books have been written on this subject? How many medications are taken daily in the hope of controlling the stress we experience? What coping mechanisms can we practice?

As a health coach, I regularly see people suffering from various health problems as a result of being under too much stress. One of the questions I get asked most often is: How did you handle all the trauma you went through? After 41 years of marriage and surviving often insurmountable circumstances, my answer is almost always the same: “I learned to laugh!”

You’ve heard it said that “laughter is the best medicine.” That statement carries an enormous amount of weight because if we find something to laugh about in a given situation, we get over it much easier and faster. Let me paint you a word picture to illustrate my point.

My son sold a motorcycle engine mount on eBay and asked me to mail it to him. No problem. The postage was going to be astronomical if it was being shipped from Canada, so I offered to take it to the United States.

My first question to you is this: “Who, in the right frame of mind, crosses the border on a long weekend Friday in the summer?” I left home at 5:30 in the morning to make sure I got there early enough to avoid a line. Mistaken! It was a 45 minute wait.

The UPS store opened before the post office, so that was my first stop. I had to purchase the necessary supplies to pack this irregular package and I assumed they would help me do it without incident. He had collected $35 from the eBay client which, again assuming, would be more than adequate funds. Three wrongs don’t make one right!

They told me it would be ready in half an hour. I went to the post office to send other items and there was a 30 minute line. The post office is a great place to watch people deal with stress. For whatever reason, apparently the person behind the counter is entirely to blame for a package being lost in transit. It is also the post office clerk’s fault that the cost of postage is so high.

I realize how stressful your job can be, which is why employees usually laugh. The number one wicket is Joe. He is bald, retiring soon, and has a handlebar mustache that he constantly plays with, probably to relieve stress. Ken, at the number two wicket, is a very short man who thinks he’s an Elvis impersonator and usually starts to serenade me when he sees me coming through the door. I try to ignore him and he just sings louder until I acknowledge him with at least a nod. Is this a way to deal with his stressful day? Then there’s Jim. He is a very handsome man with long curly gray hair. He is the most serious of the group.

My lucky day: I have Jim. We chat for a minute and one of the workers in the back recognizes my voice and comes out to say hello. This certainly makes up for all the time we spend waiting in line and I joke with both of them for a minute and make them laugh.

Return to the UPS store to mail the package. The girl who helped me heaves a big sigh and says, “I’m sorry, but I had to put together three boxes to fit the frame and the cost is $20 to prepare it for shipping.” No problem since she had collected $35. I asked for the cheapest rate and she checks UPS, FED EX and USPS. “$120 is the cheapest.” I thought that she had not heard correctly and asked her to repeat it. No, I heard you right! At this point, I decided to try the post office because I ‘guessed’ that I couldn’t be right.

This is where it starts to get stressful. Now that the engine mount was in a box, it wouldn’t fit in the back of my Jeep. The thermometer was going up fast and I was trying to tamper with this monstrosity in my SUV and finally got a third of it sticking out the back window. It was over 8 feet long.

After waiting in line for 40 minutes, with a box that’s taller than me, Ken serves me. He starts singing about how long it’s been since he last saw me, laughing because it was just before that day! I’m tired and hot and I just want to finish this. He points out that a piece of metal has punctured the box and is sticking out: “Sorry, but you can’t mail it in this state. You’ll have to fix it and send it back.” Thanking him I said I would do it right away, but first, “How much will it cost to mail it?”

He measures it and says “$120.” So the girl from UPS was right. “However, if she can scrape two inches off the packaging, it will only cost $35.”

A kind gentleman helped me return the box to my vehicle and I headed to the UPS store. I explain the situation to UPS and we decided we could make it work. The first thing was to unscrew the crank that protruded from the side. We both tried to loosen it with no luck. So, we made a small cardboard box to fit around to cover it. Then I explained the problem with the length. We tried to “crush” it shorter. I sat on the box while she held it down with heavy tape. “There, that should do it!” She measured it and now it had grown five inches. At this point, tears could have flowed easily, but logic had to take over. I could do this. Once again I didn’t believe him and measured it myself and it was only an inch over the limit. She suggested that she go back to the post office and cry and play the sympathy card.

Load it back into the Jeep, get in line, 30 minutes this time. When the guys saw me in line, they laughed out loud. Of course it was funny, even though I wasn’t having fun.

Ken waits on me again. He measures it and I say “I have to send it for $35”. He measures it up and says, “Sorry, that’s going to be $200. I must have looked like he was going to burst into tears and started laughing out loud. “Actually, you did a great job and it’s going to cost you $29.”

When I finished my errands and returned to the border, I was extremely tired, and the border guard asked me a strange question: “Do you have a mace?” Being a baker, I immediately thought of pumpkin pie spice and said, “I don’t make pumpkin pie until Thanksgiving.” He looked at me like I was from outer space and then said, “Do you have any pepper spray?”

I started laughing so hard that I had tears in my eyes and wanted to tell him how my day had been, but I kept my composition and assured him that I had no weapons. I realize that this is not considered a stressful day for people who have serious problems and are facing situations that can be debilitating. But my point is that I have had a very traumatic life and have overcome cancer, spousal abuse, the loss of a child, a suicide attempt and suffered huge financial losses as a result of partners who were cunning and greedy. No matter how stressful the situation you find yourself in, you can find something to be grateful for and realize that it could have been worse. Attitude is extremely important when it comes to stress and having a positive attitude is the key to being a winner.

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