I am stressed. Stressed in every way a person can be stressed. My shoulders have migrated to my earlobes of late, the muscles so stubbornly tight that as soon as I relax them back down they snap up like a rubber band. To get them to stay down, I have to practice yogi-like shoulder control.
I have always been an anxious person, though I didn’t self-identify as anxious until after college, when I realized that literally running from place to place, chain-smoking all the way, wasn’t normal. My parents are neurotic and anxious in their own ways, but I feel that my condition must be inborn: as a child, I was full of fear and anxiety, and though I grew more confident as I emerged from adolescence, panic always seemed to be thrumming under the surface. A by-the-book perfectionist, I worry even when there is nothing to actively worry about: am I working hard enough? Going to the gym enough? Spending enough time with my boyfriend/mom/dad/sister/friends? Am I too tense? Am I getting enough vitamins? Am I successful enough? Eating enough vegetables? You get the idea.*
I have come a long way from the person I once was, a person who agreed to every social invitation or work project thrown her way and who considered time for herself as a sporadic perk rather than a necessity. Now I think about what I want and need a lot more, but I still don’t know how to relax. I often find that muscles I didn’t even know I had are unconsciously tense, and when I take a moment to breathe my eyebrows drop about two inches.
Right now the big three stressors in my life are money, work, and wedding, in that order. Wedding’s not so bad, I guess – just some anxiety about the ballooning guest list. Work is a minefield of mixed messages and strange, unreasonable managerial decisions, but as I’m relatively low on the totem pole it’s mostly out of my control. Money, on the other hand, is in my control – or out of it, if you consider how much I owe on my American Express card (it’s not enough to keep me in debt the rest of my life, but if a grand was a year, I have a teenage debt child. Like most teenagers, it is the bane of my existence).
I have a million excuses why I can’t relax: my bathtub is disgusting (true); I have no time to myself (not true, but I choose to spend that time with my TV shows); I am bad at relaxing (uncontrovertibly true). I think in order to truly relax I would need a few Quaaludes, acupuncture, and hypnotherapy all at the same time. My birthday’s coming up though – HINT!
*I always laugh when I pass those free Stress Test booths in Times Square. How could anyone not know if they're stressed? Also, why would anyone not immediately do a 180 when they see giant copies of Dianetics, the Scientology bible, on display?