So, someone posted a quote on Facebook – a photo with a quote that accompanies it.
This one said: “STRESSED is DESSERTS spelled backward.”
That statement brought up several different thoughts and feelings for me. The first thought I had revolved around stress and the upcoming holiday season. The second had to do with stress leading to eating too much dessert. And the third had to do with the different levels of what can be considered “stress” and what can be considered “dessert.” And the last thing I thought about was the wonderful way that words work. We can take a word, spell it backwards and get something new out of the reorganization of letters.
That brought me back to thinking about an old friend of ours, named Ed Miller, who died years ago when he was 96 years old. Ed looked like Mark Twain: complete with a disheveled stalk of snow-white hair and measured speech in between lighting matches to take a puff on his pipe.
Ed was an English professor. He was also a writer of terse poetry, measuring every word for maximum impact and richness of meaning. He also collected palindromes, which (for those who aren’t aware) are words or sentences that are spelled the same both frontwards (is that an actual word?) and backwards. He had a long list that he kept – and would add to – every time he’d hear or think of another one.
The longest on his list: “Sit on a potato pan, Otis.” Take a look. Spelled the same both ways.
When I saw the quip about desserts and stressed, I thought of Ed. Ed was the master of simplicity. He was quirky. He adored words. He had an interesting yet low-key life. He traveled around the world, mostly during the 1920s, when travel was – well, TRAVEL. Ships, cars and trains. And always on a shoestring budget. He settled down and married, had one child and taught English at a all-women’s college in the mid-West.
His wife died when they were in their 70s, something Ed had never anticipated. He knew he would die first. Imagine his surprise and grief when it didn’t happen that way. Ed lived another 25 years without her, and never remarried. Instead he attended performances of plays, wrote poetry and read books, played golf and poker, drove his 1967 Volkswagon VW Beetle around town, had dinner with friends and sipped bourbon-and-water before bed.
Another thing Ed shared with me was his fascination with his dreams. He would talk about his dreams from the night before with piqued curiosity. For several years before his death, when I would visit with him, he would almost always mention the fact that every day he would wake up singing a song. Or at least hearing a song as he woke. Then he’d sing me the song, which was fabulous because he wasn’t a singer. There’s nothing greater than listing to a 90-year old sing something without self-consciousness or reservation. They were always songs he knew from when he was a child, in the 1910’s. Yet he would wake with a song in his head every morning and he would think about it all day.
So as I looked at the statement on Facebook: “STRESSED is DESSERTS, spelled backward,” I wondered how I could really apply that idea to my life, particularly during the holiday season when people across the board experience a lot of stress (and eat too much dessert!).
While there are many joyous things about the season, there are a lot of expectations surrounding it as well. And managing those stresses while also getting the best and the most out of the season for yourself is a perpetual experiment.
While I can’t say I achieve this 100% (or even 80%!), when I translate STRESSED into DESSERTS for myself, this is what it reminds me to keep in mind.
MAKING MY GRATITUDE LIST. Even if it’s just in my head, formulating a list of things that I am truly grateful for and focusing on them – even if only for a moment – can provide a respite from feelings of stress. Good health. The amazing mountains. Anything I am grateful for, I think about that for a while!
TAKING CARE OF MYSELF. There are decisions to be made all the time, yet especially during the holidays, about when to say “yes” and when to say “no thanks.” Getting to know my personal boundaries and honoring those boundaries for myself really makes a big difference in my stress level.
FIGURING OUT WHAT I ENJOY AND WHAT I DON’T ENJOY. What do I really value about this season and what drives me crazy? Then I focus on eliminating as much of the “don’t enjoy” and escalating the “do enjoy” as much as possible. At least I attempt to tip the scales more favorably toward the “enjoy.”
UNDERSTAND MY LIMITS. This is across the board. For example, I know many people who experience a lot of financial stress this time of year. This is a good time to evaluate – once again – what you truly value and make those changes or those requests. Maybe you do a gift lottery rather than buy gifts for everyone. Perhaps you decide not to send Christmas cards, but rather to send a heart-felt and newsy email and photo of your kids as a holiday greeting. The simpler we make it for ourselves, the better. And by us doing the simple gesture allows others to follow suit if they’d like.
Ultimately, when I can make stresses into desserts, what that means to be is that I am able to find the sweetness in my experiences and interactions whenever possible.