Everybody has heard of the “Stress Eater.” Lots of people fall into this category. When they get stressed, they go buy a chocolate bar or, better yet, they eat a whole pan of brownies. Pretty typical. Pretty normal.
Or the stress drinker. When you’ve hit that stress point where you feel like you’re going to break, do you grab a Bud Light from the fridge? Or maybe you’re more a merlot kind of gal. Again. Normal.
Normal was never an adjective used to describe me. When I get stressed, I tend to lose my appetite. Well, except for the sweet tooth. I mean, let’s be honest, when does cheesecake NOT sound good, right? And though an occasional glass of wine at the end of a bad day is not something that I’m opposed to, it’s just not something that I’m ever going to make a habit out of–it’s just not me. No, when my world becomes too big for me to handle, when the daily grind feels like it is going to grind me into flour dust, I don’t reach for a Kit Kat or a Sam Adams–I reach for a book.
A book you ask? Okay, well that’s weird. Like I said, I never claimed to be normal.
I fall into a very small group known as “Stress Readers.” What, you’ve never heard of that before? Well, fine. I confess, I just made the term up. Still, it totally fits–so looky there, I made a new word (or term, whatever)!
Ever since I was a girl, when stress hit, I would escape. I would run from my reality and live someone else’s for a while. I would live their problems and get through them all from the comfort of my bed, leather recliner, sunroom, etc. (Depending on the year, my reading spot of choice differed). I would feel what they felt, and thus, separate myself from what I personally was feeling. I would read until, finally, one day, the stress would feel manageable and I would re-enter my own reality. Of course I couldn’t just take a hiatus from my life until that moment happened, but somehow the hours reading gave me an emotional buffer from its impact in the meantime.
Through the years, this has morphed and changed. As a kid, Terry Brooks and his “Sword of Shannara” series gave me my first taste of escapism. I then quickly moved on to Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin (yes, I have been a fan from the beginning folks! Not a bandwagon groupie like most of you! 😉 ). I re-read those books more times than I can count. When my problems loomed large and I felt like I would be swallowed whole, I would become Daenerys for a while and conquer the world,
The books were so much more than books–they were worlds where I was able to be a different version of myself–they became alternate realities where I was tougher, spunkier, wittier, and prettier than I was in my normal life. And somehow, when it was time to re-enter my own skin and get back to being myself, I did so with confidence and a knowledge from all of those whom I had walked with and so my life seemed more doable, more achievable, and I felt more like its heroine–not just a girl struggling through.
When I was a stressed out mom with three little ones all at home, I have to admit, my crutch, coping mechanism, whatever you want to call it, failed me. How do you escape when you are the go-to person for needy little ones? You don’t. And so for the first time in my life, I rarely read or had any opportunity to escape. I can honestly say that those were the most stress filled years of my life. I wept often. The weight of my stress felt like it would crush me into a formless mass of goo. I think in a lot of ways I survived those years, I didn’t really live them–and I certainly wasn’t able to escape them.
But now, I am in a different phase of my life. My kids are a little older and so they are a little more independent. Guess who’s back? My handy little crutch. And with age and wisdom, I have mastered the art of stress reading. It is not a “one size fits all” kind of crutch anymore. Oh, no! There are different types of escapism for the different levels and types of stress. For your average, run of the mill stress, I still run to fantasy or dystopian worlds. Though my authors of choice have changed because, as we all know, George Martin seems more interested in doing anything BUT writing and if I waited for his next book, I might die (or he might) before it arrived! So, I have branched out.
I have found a lot of fodder among YA authors: Alison Goodman, Libba Bray, Sherry Thomas, Cassandra Clare and Veronica Roth among others. Oddly, in the adult section, there seems to be fewer choices. Charlaine Harris was my favorite until she tanked the Sookie Stackhouse series with very possibly the WORST finale in the history of writing. I stumbled on Gillian Philip who is quite good, as well as Jim Butcher and a few others.
But when the stress gets really rough, I find even fantasy takes more brainpower than I am capable of and so I retreat to light, fluffy chick lit or romance. Kristan Higgins and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are my preferred choices, but unfortunately, I’ve read all of their books and so I’ve been forced to wander further afield. I’ve found that Susan Wiggs’ and some of Nora Roberts’ (sometimes–some are way TOO fluffy) books can do in a pinch.
When the stress reaches epic proportions, and remember, I am a teacher, and there are most certainly times during the school year that I simply cannot bear to speak or even listen to one more syllable or when I cannot read another word (imagine grading 200 Freshmen essays in the course of a few days)–days when my brain is complete and utter mush, on those days I succumb to a TV series marathon for my escapism stress relief. I feed my family dinner, help kids with baths and homework, and then I retreat into my bedroom with my computer and my friend Netflix and begin to burn through every single episode of a series.
For instance, “Walking Dead.” Life had hit the high intensity level when I turned to the zombie apocalypse for my alternate reality. I mean, what eases stress more than the end of the world as we know it and unthinking, gory, once humans trying to make a tasty snack out of you? Not to mention that, should the zombie apocalypse ever become a reality, I now know everything to do (find a remote farm in the middle of no where) and what not to do (ever trust anyone ever again). Escapism and educational!
So, what’s your “vice” of choice? We all have one–something that helps us get by when life has us in a death grip. Any tips? Have you found the fail safe stress relief strategy that will make the mountain into an ant hill? Any good escapism must reads or sees? Share my friends! I’m running out of stuff to read! 😉