Photo: Spring green “barsotto” with asparagus and peas (recipe below) ©2011 Sally Vargas
Taking care of myself and nurturing others dials down the stress meter
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST SALLY VARGAS
I’ve been thinking about stress because I’ve been having a lot of it lately.
Just those words ‘having stress’ make me wonder. Is stress something you can have or get? If so, why would you ever want to have or get it? And where would you go to obtain it? I doubt if there would be much of a waiting line in a place like that. Stress is not that pleasant.
Or is stress a disease? Maybe it’s hereditary? Or is it contagious? Like something you can pick up on an airplane?
If you want to torture yourself, you can find out a lot about stress. Magazine articles. With photos of flowers or people on beaches or under trees. They tell you what to do about stress. How to get rid of it. Even Martha Stewart is in on the act. You’d expect it from Oprah, but Martha? Anyway, one of her magazines gives you a long to-do list. A guided tour: How to get started working on it and how to set goals.
That stresses me out.
Trying not to try to be perfect
I’m not sure how keeping a stress journal or trying not to try to be perfect would help me. Wow, there are even tips on how to be imperfect. Um, I don’t need any help there, but thanks. There’s more! A quiz to determine your personal stress profile!
Here’s my stress profile: WTF?
I won’t bore you with the questions, but here are some of the stress-causing answers I plugged into the stress quiz. So I can start worrying about how I did on the test before it’s too late:
- I’m questioning what my real purpose in life is.
- I’m worried about the direction my life is going and whether I should be doing something more meaningful.
- I anticipate the worst and I should be more optimistic.
- I contemplate life, spirituality and ethics.
- When I’m stressed about something, I try to mentally prepare myself for every possible scenario.
- My favorite book is How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It.
As I lie awake at night ruminating on these answers, a little voice whispers to me:
Little Voice: “To have problems is the nature of life, Grasshopper.”
Me: “So, Little Voice, are you saying this stress thing is all in my head?”
Little Voice: “No, Grasshopper, I’m saying it is always something. If it ain’t one thing it’s another. And it’s kind of all in your head. Not the problems, but the stress part. At this very moment are you in a nice warm, comfy bed?”
Little Voice: “So what’s your problem?”
Me: “I’m worried about a difficult situation and I can’t fall asleep.”
Little Voice: “Are you in a difficult situation in your nice warm, comfy bed?”
Me: “No. But there is something in my life that is bothering me.”
Little Voice: “So stop resisting it. Why don’t you take a deep breath and accept that ‘the situation’ just is.”
Me: “How would that help?”
Little Voice: “How does worrying help?”
Me: “Okay, okay. I get your point. I’ll try it.”
Little Voice: “Good. Because if you say yes to what is, then you give space to the present. That space in the present is like a little crack, a tiny bit of room for something other than your stress. You may suddenly understand what action to take. Maybe a new solution will pop into your head if it’s not so crowded up there. I’m not making any promises. Just try it. As an experiment.”
Me: “Okay, thanks, I will. ‘Right now I’m in a warm, comfy bed. Right now I’m in a warm, comfy bed. Right now I’m in a warm, comfy bed.’ I’m sleepy now, Little Voice. G’night.”
Little Voice: “G’night, Grasshopper. Sweet dreams.”
Seven ways I deal with stress
Well, if everyone else can tell you how to manage stress, I guess I can throw in my two cents. Here are my little tips, from a totally non-expert point of view.
1. Sleep I’m really good at sleep, so it’s easy for me to get in at least seven hours a night. I don’t even have to be disciplined about going to bed at a reasonable time. And I am the master of the power nap. Twenty minutes on the couch in the afternoon and my mind has no choice but to turn off. Ahhhh….
2. Exercise This is harder for me, but I feel cranky without it. If I can’t do my exercise routine, I’ll settle for a ten-minute walk outside to defuse the angst.
3. Breathe Of course I breathe all the time, but do I notice it? Following a deep breath to a place inside, paying attention to it, and staying with it for a moment is an effective way to come into contact with the present. Doing this often really helps me. Right now is the only moment that there is.
4. Practice Whether it’s yoga or meditation, sticking with practice is essential, BUT I don’t make this into a problem. If I only have ten minutes to do it, that’s okay.
5. Laugh Nobody needs an excuse to do that.
6. Notice beauty All my senses are at my beckon call. I’m grateful for that. I’m going outside to pick some violets now.
7. Cook When I’m particularly stressed, I like to get into the flow of cooking something that demands a little more time and attention than usual. Taking care of myself and nurturing others dials down the stress meter. A glass of wine never hurt, either.
Spring green “barsotto” with asparagus and peas
I love slowing down to make this barley “risotto,” even though the result is not as creamy as it would be if is made with arborio rice. The barley gradually absorbs all of the wonderful flavors in the broth, so be sure to use a good quality vegetable stock, homemade if possible. You don’t need to stand over the pot and stir constantly, just keep your eye on it and give it a stir now and then while you putter or arrange a vase of spring flowers. Most of the alcohol in the wine evaporates during cooking, but if you don’t want to use it, simply skip that step. Also, I have given you two choices of finishing this dish: Parmesan gives you rich and round flavors, but if you don’t want to use cheese, brighten up the dish with a splash of lemon at the end of cooking.
5 cups vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut in 1-inch lengths
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, tough green part trimmed, halved lengthwise. and cut in thin slices
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups (9 ounces, 256g) pearled barley
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Bring the stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Season the stock with salt and pepper to taste. Add the asparagus and cook for 2 minutes. Add the peas and continue to cook for 1 more minute, or until the vegetables are tender. Transfer them to a dinner plate with a slotted spoon and spread them out. Reserve the stock.
2. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized wide pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring often, until they are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the barley and stir for a minute to coat it with the oil. Add the wine and cook until the barley absorbs most of it.
3. Add 1 cup of the vegetable stock, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is almost fully absorbed. Continue to add the stock to the barley, 1 cup at a time in the same manner, until the barley is tender but still a little firm to the bite. This will take about 25 minutes and you may have a little stock left over.
4. Stir the asparagus, peas, parsley and Parmesan or lemon juice into the barley. Season to taste with more salt and pepper and if you like, adjust the consistency so that is a teeny bit soupy by adding more stock.
Boston Globe writer Sally Vargas runs a Zen kitchen. “Cooking, it turns out, is a fantastic way of cultivating awareness and presence and somehow the two seemed to stick with me.” Cook with Sally here in her monthly column for The Magazine of Yoga, and make yourself at home on her blog Cooking Lessons.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.