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Feeling stressed? You're not alone
Woman suffering from stress grimaces in pain. Amy Choate-Nielsen tells of a stressful experience in her life. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
There was a moment today when I felt like I was just going to break all of the rules I have ever read on the Internet.

I was going to break the rules I have read about not drinking Coke, not eating carbs and not eating fruit after 4 p.m. I was going to yell at my kids and skip right over the edict to accept myself with no guilt, and I was ready to just go full shame.

Then, in that moment, my shoulder tightened its way up to my ear like a rubber band that was about to snap.

I was sitting in my room, working on deadline, ignoring my childrens requests for crackers and candy, when my older son pointed his Nerf gun at my younger sons head. He squinted his eyes and leaned forward as he pulled the trigger and his younger brother screamed.

I took the Nerf gun away.

We dont point guns at peoples faces, I said. Go to your room.

I considered hurling the Nerf gun across the room to express my frustration, but I refrained. He turned and went, and as he did, he punched his little brother in the stomach. Twang! My shoulder rigged itself even tighter, with a little jolt of electricity buzzing down my arm.

This would be so much easier if I didnt have this deadline Im working on, I thought to myself. Why am I doing this? I have a sink full of dishes. I havent started dinner. My children are going crazy. I need to cool it. Take a shower or something and relax oh, but I cant! I have all of this work to do.

Twenty minutes later, I put the work away and walked into the kitchen, where another child of mine complained about a toy or something. Im not even sure, because as he spoke, I got a zap in my elbow.

Oh great, I thought. Now its spreading. Now I have all of the dishes and dinner and my arm is going to fall off. And I cant even go stuff my face with all of that chocolate in the pantry because its against the rules. This is the worst! What am I doing here!?

I opened a window, and a breeze the kind that smells like dirt, pine trees and impending rain blew in. I love that smell. And as I inhaled, I felt some tension leave my elbow.

I turned on the oven and started washing the dishes. That helped, too. I felt less guilty, less failure beaming from the invisible place in the universe that doesn't look kindly on working mothers. And I started to think, my mother had it worse than this. So did my grandmother Fleeta, who died before I was born.

My mother has worked as long as Ive lived. And working full time was the easy stuff. She added graduate school, part-time jobs and a graveyard shift on top of it for several years. My father worked away from home for a while, too, so then she was handling our household on her own.

Ive always appreciated that my mother has a work ethic that could power a steel mill. At times, in her more stressful careers, Ive urged her to not give so much to her employer, to step back and forget the man for a minute while she takes a vacation or stops working so many hours of overtime without asking for overtime pay. But thats my mother. Shes a hard worker, and I think shes taught me to be the same way, at great sacrifice. I am filled with appreciation.

I called her that night to ask her about those years of hard labor for all of us; those years of little sleep and lots of work. What was that like for her?

I felt like I was on the outside of the family, looking in, she said to me. She talked about sleep deprivation during that time of working an overnight shift and then substituting during the day. Her immune system has never been the same, she said. I thought about my own sleep schedule and recent cold that lasted three weeks. It got better, and we got older. But still, it was tough. And she did it for us.

Fleeta worked full time too. But her financial situation was not as dire as my mothers in those early years. Fleeta had the same will and power but a different freedom to choose her path. I look up to her, too.

I think some of her grit flows in my veins, and I think it combines with my mothers. Together, they power me through deadlines, projects and a day like today.

And, wouldnt you know, just as I hung up the phone, the rubber band feeling was gone.
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