Here’s a new four-letter word for you: stress.
OK, I know. There are six letters in that word. But stress is surely a four-letter word for a lot of us.
Maybe the now-completed holidays caused you stress. There were gifts to buy, presents to wrap, cookies to bake, family to go visit – or worse yet, family to host. Maybe now you’re stressing over how to pay the bills from the sweet little Christmas holiday.
Or maybe, now that the fun of the holidays is over, you have to go back to work for a full week and the stress of that obnoxious co-worker is weighing on you. Or the onerous project you put off until after the holidays can no longer be avoided. Sure, work pays the bills and so it is a necessary evil and the stress it causes has to be managed instead of avoided.
Whatever weighs on your mind, stress is part of our lives all the time. When I first started working in the newspaper business 25 years ago, those weekly deadlines seemed to wash over me like waves in the ocean. It seemed as though I could barely meet one Wednesday deadline before it was the beginning of a new week and the next Wednesday deadline was weighing on my mind.
The last time I ever had trouble sleeping was in the early months of that first job when I wondered if I could meet the next deadline. After a while, I learned to accept the idea that I could meet those deadlines, even if it meant working into the early hours of the morning for a couple days before the deadlines came.
These days, newspaper deadlines don’t cause me any stress, but that hardly means life is stress-free.
Our family is nearing the end of the college application period and the scholarship application process and, frankly, it’s been about as stressful as anything I’ve ever experienced. And I’m not even the one applying for college. Our daughter, Pitt, has written a small mountain of essays, typed in her address a gazillion times and become a regular fixture in her guidance counselor’s office over the first half of the school year.
At times, the stress has about done her in. And, if you’re a parent, you know your child’s stress is transferable to you. In fact, it’s sort of like a contagious disease. If your kid gets it, you’re gonna get it.
I don’t recall this level of stress when our oldest daughter applied to college, although she apparently applied only to one school and managed to get accepted fairly quickly. So any stress that might have built up dissapated quickly.
We’ve tried to distance ourselves from the stress at every opportunity. If we could find something fun to do, we’ve done it. It’s been a fun five months, in a lot of ways. But underlying everything we’ve done has been that lurking sense of dread that we needed to eventually turn our attention to one more essay, one more online form, one more transcript request.
I suppose it’s helpful to know this is only a temporary stress we’re dealing with. At some point, she’ll get into a college and off she’ll go, happy and excited again.
But what I’m learning is that stress doesn’t necessarily go away. It’s just mutates and takes another form. I’ll stop stressing about my daughter’s academic future once it’s been decided just as I stopped stressing about newspaper deadlines once I learned the trick to managing them.
Instead, stress will take some other form. There’ll be bills to pay; two children – instead of one – leaving the nest; and whatever other unanticipated forms stress might take. Yeah, stress. It’s a four-letter word.