Stress is natural. A sensible response to serious events like fire, earthquakes, or attacks by wild pigs. You get a shot of adrenaline, your body pings into high alert and, if the wild pigs are getting close, you now have superhuman strength to deal with them. You might sprint up a tree, or charge at them so ferociously that they are terrified and run away. Trouble is, stress doesn’t always work in straight lines.
When I Needed it to Work
Years ago, I was queuing in the village post office, irritated because postmasters do things carefully, and bored with reading ‘happy birthday mother/son/dad’ on the greeting cards. Men ran in wearing balaclavas, I thought ‘stupid walking in with balaclavas, because that makes them look like robbers’ and then they waved guns and demanded money.
At that point, the stress hormones only worked for the postmaster and the woman in front of me. He said ‘no, get out!’ and she defended her pension cash with fists. I sat down quietly, hoping I was invisible and wondering what to do with a body that would not stop shaking. Luckily the guns were fake and the robbers ran off, to the sound of angry shouting from the other two, and tiny squeaks from me.
This left me with an irrational fear of post offices and the realisation that some people get ‘fight or flight’ and others get ‘shake or cry’ when things go wrong.
When it is Unnecessary
Pointless stress comes with situations that are not life-threatening. It marches into your head and takes over, flooding you with filthy chemicals that are more effective than anything for sale on the dark web.
Two phones ringing at once, losing a chicken after dark, realising that the whole house is covered in lard, and cat hair, just minutes before a smart type of guest comes to stay, can all do it.
So can too many emails.
If your heart has decided to work at triple pace you won’t get through them any faster.
Curing Pointless Stress
Yoga, mindfulness, swimming in painfully cold water, or a bottle of wine, followed by a cleansing nightcap are good cures. You can try them, but you might find that moving a rockery, and uncovering a buried bath, work better. No chickens were harmed in the process.
This is a beautiful old wall.
It protects a corner where compost bins wait, rats lurk, and cats hang around pretending to sort the rats out.
If your inbox is overflowing, and everybody needs answers at once, step away before the stress chemicals kick in and your brain does short circuits. It is too easy to email a colleague saying why somebody important is an idiot, and then send it to the idiot by mistake, or to confuse December and September and tell crazy lies about when things might happen. Just walk away.
Take the addled brain to a place that needs a physical sort out. I took mine to Compost Corner, chased the cat out, dragged the bins away and installed a beautiful planter.
Now it looked worse. But dragging bins and planters around gives your heart something to actually beat about. You can’t feel stressed when you are covered in sweat and compost. After that, the emails behaved, and it was easy to tap out replies and file them away. Empty inbox, happy brain.
Back to Compost Corner for stage two. A pair of old gates live on the left because they ‘might be valuable one day,’ and a rockery on the right. It is an ugly rockery, home for a few sickly alpine plants. It would look better if it was covered in baby goats.
I imagined baby goats scampering around. So lovely, but no. They would turn into adult goats and that is another world of stress. You have to make goat curry or milk them every day and who needs all that?
Then I noticed another thing. Silence. The wall blocks off the noise of the M5, which ricochets around the garden on windy days. A quiet little oasis.
I had a vision, move the rocks, lay a terrace and create an entirely new area. I set aside a morning to do this and got to work.
After a week, five rocks are out. One for every 100 emails.
After three weeks it got tough. The impacted earth and roots were clinging to the rocks and holding them down. The chickens came to help. They don’t mind swinging hooks and crowbars. Nobody got hurt. Yet.
It is addictive. At night you dream about rocks, as you dream about jigsaws or Tetris when you have done them too much. Will this be done by spring? Look at all the mess. It was getting stressful. Time to step away from the rocks.
The bath lives underground. In the olden days, it was a pond, but then I filled it in to teach the mosquitos a lesson. That was a waste of time as the insect population went down anyway. Suddenly, a pond again was a good idea.
If you are running away from emails or stressed out by rocks, find a buried bath and dig out the contents. It works wonders.
You can’t worry about rocks if you are heaving a ton of soggy mud out of a buried bath.
After half a glorious day a new, stagnant, pond was ready. It was screaming out for trickling water so, after a short battle with the internet, a solar-powered water pump arrived. We connected it to an ancient jug, left behind by a kind ancestor, and the water started to flow. Compost Corner had reached new heights.
Now there is mud everywhere and it is going to take months, but the water trickles down and life is good.
And it does not stop there because this is happening.
Four, every day. I can’t get rid of them fast enough. Give somebody £1.30 and they won’t be impressed. Present them with fresh eggs from real chickens and they will be overwhelmed by your generosity. Yet another way to feel good about things. It’s mad out there. When in doubt, dig the earth and hand out food.