Monday, November 24, 2003

Stress busters

Readers tell us what jangles their nerves - and what they do about it

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Whether it's figuring out how to keep the kids healthy, juggling bills, worrying about a war on terror or maneuvering the minivan through the I-275 construction zone, our nerves are a little thin nowadays.

Trish Glass of Blue Ash spends many hours of her day behind the wheel driving Ryan (left), Shannon, Meghan, and Erin to their various activities.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
An informal reader poll showed family issues, finances and local traffic are among the top stressors in the Queen City. Worries about crime and racial tension are also high on our list.

How do we cope? Exercise, bubble baths, television, chocolate, beer, good books, prayers and antidepressants. But given our druthers, we'd prefer vacations, beach houses, cash and servants - not to mention an extra eight hours in the day - to ease tensions.

When asked to elaborate on what, exactly, the problem is, some readers were surprisingly happy to help.

A clone for Christmas

Trish Glass wants a clone for Christmas: "I could stay home and make dinner, and she could run around like a maniac."

Glass, 37, of Blue Ash is a full-time mom and chauffeur, driving her four kids (ages 10, 9, 8 and 3) from soccer to basketball to Scouts to dance to gymnastics to swimming.

"From 4 o'clock on, we're pretty much in the car until 8, just driving back and forth," Glass says.

It's important to Glass and her husband, Gary, that they eat dinner as a family, so the kids have a big snack after school, and dinner after they get home from the activities.

Since she spends so much time driving, traffic is an issue, but she tries to avoid the interstate when she can.

"I do a lot of Reed Hartman and Kenwood and Pfeiffer and Cooper Road," Glass says. "I try to stay on the back roads because 71 is such a nightmare."

She and her husband go out for on a "date" once a week, so they have a chance to reconnect.

And Glass' favorite method for decompressing is a long, hot bath before bed "when I have the time. That's a big de-stresser for me."

Time is on her mind

Single mom Sue Hendley has a daughter in college, a son who plays bass in a punk-rock band and a full-time job.

She drives Sean and his band, the Dregs, back and forth to club dates.

Maire is a full-time student at Cincinnati State, where she's studying to become a paralegal.

Money got a little tight after she divorced, and Hendley worried about how her daughter would pay for college. Maire got a job, grants and a student loan "and that was a big, big load off my shoulders."

"I'm up front with them, if the budget's a little tight. I've told my daughter, I didn't plan to be a single mother, so this is something we're going to have to account for," Hendley says.

Most days, between her job, taking care of the kids and the house and walking the dog, it's 9 or 10 p.m. before Hendley can collapse on the couch.

"More hours in the day and more money would certainly help," she says.

When it's all too much, Hendley takes a nap. "It might be a form of escape; I don't know," she says.

But it works.

'Anything chocolate'

News of the war in Iraq and memories of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks keep Judy Myers awake nights. A good love story or mystery helps her get back to sleep.

"Terrorism is a big concern," says Myers, 56, of Clermont County's Union Township. "You're kind of aware of it, and it's on the news all the time. Even when I go out to places that are really crowded, I think about it a lot, because you just don't know. Who expected what happened on 9-11? I just wonder what's going to happen next ..."

Myers left her job a few weeks ago, so she's been saved exposure to gridlock on Tristate highways.

To de-stress, Myers indulges (only once in a while) in "anything chocolate" and daydreaming about a beach house.

"We're probably going to retire to Florida ... and I would love to be near the beach. My husband and I both would love that."

Too worried to eat

On Jan. 1, Beverly Graves' writing and editing job at a magazine will be downsized to part-time. Her husband works full-time, so they won't be destitute, but Graves, 41, of Colerain Township, worries she won't be able to find another full-time job.

"I'm afraid they'll look at my resume and think my abilities are too narrow," she says.

Some people deal with such stress by eating more than usual.

Right now, Graves is so stressed that she forgets to eat.

"I don't even think about it," she says. "It'll be 3 in the afternoon and I'll start to feel hungry, because I haven't had breakfast, and then I think, dinner's in a few hours, so I'll wait. Eating just doesn't cross my mind."

A Queen City quirk that gets on her nerves: The high cost of flying out of the city.

"I've flown out of Louisville and Lexington and Dayton," she says. "Sometimes you can save a thousand bucks."

Send in a Marine

Roseanne Swangler, a single mom and the safety officer for a company that makes aerosol cans, is always on call - whether she's tracking an insurance claim or trying to figure out how to get her younger daughter from Point A to Point B.

Her older daughter, who's 17, just got her driver's license and her own car; her younger daughter is 13 "and startling me in ways her sister never did." Swangler also teaches Catechism classes every week and is organizing a wedding that's going to take place in May.

If she weren't an ex-Marine, it might all be too much for her.

Her planner and finding a nice quiet spot go along way toward preserving her sanity, she says.

"I sit alone and breathe deep, trying to make my mind blank," Swangler says.

Define stress

Stress is like art: It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

For some, it's balancing work and family. For others, it's spending an hour stuck in traffic on a trip that should take 20 minutes.

Whatever the cause, stress is bad news for body and mind, experts say.

Stress-related ailments include headaches, heartburn, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, back pain, eczema and other skin conditions, fibromyalgia and lower resistance to infection.

Dr. Stephen Brewer, director of integrative medicine for TriHealth, estimates that 80 percent of the patients he sees are because stress is doing a number on their health.

"If I really had time to quiz my patients, I'd say, 'You have a sore throat. What happened the week before your sore throat?' And they'd say, 'I was taking my finals' or whatever it happened to be," Brewer says.

Dr. James Herman, a stress neurobiologist at the University of Cincinnati identifies with our stress survey: Family, traffic and finances are at the top of his list, too. And one of his kids is learning to drive.

"The interesting thing is that these are all psychological, brain-built stressors," he says. "They're more worried about lifestyle issues, not, am I going to eat today, or is something going to eat me?"

Out from under pressure

Here are tips from local experts on easing stress (mental, physical and financial) in your life:

Dr. Stephen Brewer, TriHealth director of integrative medicine

•  Make time for yourself.

•  Practice relaxing with meditation, yoga, visualization or deep breathing techniques.

•  Remember the basics: Eat well, sleep well and take care of yourself.

Diane Utaski, owner, Cincinnati Yoga School and Bookstore, Blue Ash

•  Practice your belly breath: Put your hand on your belly. Inhale slowly (through the nose), and feel your belly expand as you breathe deeply. Keep breathing even until you feel the need to exhale. Pause for a second or two, then exhale slowly through the mouth. Feel the tension leave your body as you exhale.

•  Try the forward bend, arching your spine forward like a Halloween cat.

•  Stretch the spine by gently bending back over a chair. Keep your chin tucked, and support your neck by keeping your hands clasped behind your head.

•  Turn at the waist to your right and left.

Mary Beth Martin, senior vice president and market manager, Gradison McDonald Financial Group, KeyBank, and adviser for Speaking of Women's Health

•  Talk to your bank or financial institution about setting up a financial plan that lists assets, debts and savings, including retirement. Most banks offer them at no charge.

•  Take advantage of online banking for paying bills and managing accounts. You'll save time and stamps.

•  Take advantage of your 401K plan for retirement savings. "It's like a gift from your company."

•  Talk to your human resources department about setting up a college savings fund for your kids.




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