5 Tips to Get the Stress Out
Ready, Set, Simplify
The night I put my forehead on the table at dinner, my husband -- in that dim-but-starting-to-get-it way of married males -- deduced that maybe life had become too much of a joyless slog for me. "You need to have more fun, honey," Haywood said. "Why don't we have some people over?"
"A dinner party?" I snapped. "What I need is a break, not more work."
Haywood was right about one thing, though: I do need to have more fun. The problem is that he's disinclined to plan this fun -- and not because he's lazy or incompetent. It's a quirk of his blithe and optimistic soul to believe that good things simply happen, dispatched from the heavens by a beneficent universe.
My husband's idea of "planning" a get-together is to phone me from the golf course to spring his great idea of bringing the guys home for pizza and ask if I could maybe call their wives to join us? My reaction to such a proposal? Me, with the house where breakfast plates sit in the sink, dog hair wafts down the hall in tumbleweeds whenever the air-conditioner kicks in, and my harried self is still unbathed at 5 p.m.? I'm thinking this does not sound like a viable source of stress relief.
Now I've read all the standard advice about how to reduce stress, increase joy, and just generally feel more delighted with life. Spend time with friends! Go on a date with your spouse! Pamper yourself with a massage! Take up a new hobby! Take a family hike! And it all makes sense, it really does. What could be nicer than a home filled with love and friends, or a family life spent in shared adventure?
But one of the great ironies of all these stress-reduction strategies is that every one of them involves a bucketload of stress to pull off. Just to dine out with my husband, I have to coordinate with our 16-year-old to make sure he'll be home to babysit his younger brothers, 10 and 11; call around to be sure at least one neighbor will be home in case of an emergency; shower, dress, and feed the kids; make sure the cell phones are charged; issue elaborate instructions about what the younger ones are and are not allowed to play on the computer in our absence -- and whom the teen may or may not let in the door -- and then, finally, go to the car, where my head immediately falls back against the headrest, prompting Haywood to say, "Uh, maybe you'd better not have any wine with dinner."
As for having people over, don't even get me started: the housecleaning, the shopping, the cooking, the flower arranging, the music mixing, the renting of a new video to keep the kids quiet, the fretting about what to wear. My husband thinks these "requirements" are imaginary, the figments of my personal paranoia. He's convinced that our friends would be perfectly happy to eat takeout on paper plates. Yet I know I'm not alone in this anxiety and exhaustion: My friend Sally once got so worn-out cleaning and cooking for a dinner party that she was still in the shower when the first guests arrived. Unaware that her husband had opened the front windows, she heard a car door slam and yelled, at a volume sufficient for the whole neighborhood to hear, "What kind of losers come to a dinner party on time?"