Tag Archives: stress

When Life is Stressful… Or, A Chair Is Not Just a Chair


We’re experiencing some moderate upheaval in the Dana house.

My husband’s company was recently acquired by a firm in California. This has meant some exciting opportunities in the works, but also a lot of a travel.

Like, Monday-Friday travel.

Like, every week travel.

Like, ten days in Bangalore this spring travel.

We know that things will settle down once the initial process of merging two corporate cultures is complete. There will still be business trips, just not every single week. In the meantime, it’s something we have to make it through as best we can.

I do a fair amount of travel myself, often to lead conferences and retreats and things, and while I absolutely love it, it can be hard to practice self-care while on the road. It’s hard to eat well, find time to exercise, and get good sleep (especially in a different time zone). Then you come home to various chores and responsibilities that have piled up. Over the last few weeks, the home projects (and there are many that need to happen around here) have ground to an utter halt. Not to mention the needs of children who missed you and held it together in your absence but who now want to spend every moment with you. And/or who let loose with all kinds of unpleasant behaviors now that there are two parents to absorb the very big feelings.

It’s a stressful time in general… and then I worry about Robert’s stress level on top of my own. Yes, I feel sympathy stress.

But there’s this funny thing that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that calms my worries and tells me that everything’s going to be OK. You see, Robert recently got a fish tank, after many years of wanting one. He was smart about it—he knows that our life isn’t set up for a fiddly hobby, so he stocked it with fish that are easy to care for, bought a couple of automatic feeders, and so forth. I’ve always been pretty ‘meh’ about fish, but we’ve all enjoyed having these little creatures in our family room/kitchen. Frederica is a pearl gourami and is the queen of the fish tank. We think she’s brilliant. The rasboras have distinct personalities; the scrappy guy is named Joe Pesci and enjoys bugging the other fish. The cory cats are determined to breed, but someone keeps eating the eggs.

Anyway, the image that cheers and comforts me is not the fish tank, exactly. It’s one of the kitchen chairs, pulled out from under the table and sitting facing the fish tank. I will come down in the morning, after Robert’s gone to work or left for an early-morning flight, and I will see that chair facing the fish tank. It makes me smile. The chair means that, before heading out in the morning (or sometimes before coming upstairs to bed), he sat down for a few minutes and watched the fish.

A fish tank is like an organic lava lamp. It’s hard to feel stress when watching fish.

The thing is, I have no idea whether he sat there for ten seconds or ten minutes. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the intention. What matters is taking the time to pull the chair around to the aquarium, to sit, and to watch.

Your life may be stressful right now. Time for rest and recreation may be hard to come by. But I hope you’ve got something like a chair and a fish tank. It can make a big difference.


Oh hey… a Blue Room email is going out soon! Are you signed up?

Image: Fish and family room.


Would You Say I Have a Plethora of Friday Links?

Well friends,

It was two years ago this month that I started Couch to 5K, and tomorrow I run my first half marathon. Yeehaw! This week has been about catching up from all my out of town travel, tapering, and eating carbs. (Any excuse.) I’m sure I’ll check in afterwards and get all bloggy about it, but in the meantime… wish me luck!

As for link love, we have TONS of stuff this week. So I’ll just dump ’em here without too much comment. Enjoy:


Objects Make of Paper — Colossal

Made of paper. Paper:



Making Room for the Sabbath and Keeping it Holy — LGBT Weekly

A good primer, if for some reason you haven’t already gotten that from me…

How can we do this? There are a number of spiritual practices you might want to incorporate: daily devotions, weekly worship, eating right, exercise, acts of kindness, focused prayer.

There are also a number of Sabbath-day practices you might consider: going for a contemplative walk; having some friends over to play games; “unplugging” from your cell phone for a few hours; going for a drive on Sunday afternoon and showing up at somebody’s house at suppertime! OK, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea.


Does Stress Hide Deeper Social Problems? — Time


There’s no amount of counseling, kale, or yoga — even if these were available or affordable to everyone in the U.S. — that will alter the economic, political, and social forces that sustain poverty or war in the age of terrorism, or what we glibly call “work-family conflict.” We’re going to have to throw out the bath oil with the bath water if we’re going to tackle the social problems that actually create the stress we bemoan today.


Creative Pro-Tip: Take Things Away Until You Cry — 99U

These made me think:

  • If you meet a person who cares about the same obscure things you do, hold on to them for dear life.

  • Start brave and brash: you can always make things more conservative, but it’s hard to make things more radical.


Daring New Ideas from TED 2013 — Brene Brown

Brene’s picks for the best stuff this year. Links to three talks, including the one by Amanda Palmer that’s just stellar.


The Economy of Punishment — Harvard Business Review

Quite simply, our fear prevents us from recognizing and finding appropriate channels for the talents of our criminal population. As a result, we have institutionalized a simple formula for dealing with such individuals: capture, punish and isolate.

This formula has become a curse, resulting in an epidemic of incarceration across the United States.

So how, as a society, do we develop new instincts towards criminals and what strategies can be effectively employed to reduce the rate of incarceration and the rate of recidivism?

Many gangsters are natural born innovators with restricted economic opportunities. Nobody understands this better than Catherine (Cat) Rohr, who quit her job in private equity to become a champion for the incarcerated. As she told us, “Initially I had this attitude that people in prison were the scum of the earth, that they were a waste of tax dollars.” But in getting to know the prison population better, Cat’s position began to change. “I suddenly realized I was meeting entrepreneurs in prison. That these guys who had run drug businesses had all these entrepreneurial characteristics like scrappiness, charisma, and real skills in leadership and management.” With this realization, Cat began a life committed to honoring the talents and skills of those in prison.

As part of this journey, Cat launched a program called Defy Ventures, in New York, that provides a business incubator for ex-offenders who then have an opportunity to compete for $150,000 in seed capital for their businesses. At the core of Cat’s program is a powerful acknowledgement of the skills and talents that former drug dealers and gang leaders possess. From there it’s just a matter of pivoting these street skills into the world of formal entrepreneurship. For many ex-cons, who face discrimination from employers after getting out of prison, Cat’s program offers an MBA-like training matched with exposure to leading entrepreneurs, investors, and potential employers.


Top Secret Drum Corps — Colossal



Clare Booth Luce’s Advice to Her 18 Year Old Daughter — Brain Pickings

Includes links to other words of wisdom from authors and artists to their children.

“The main thing is to get what little happiness there is out of life in this wartorn world because ‘these are the good old days’ now.”


Living with Less. A Lot Less — New York Times

Living with less as it’s described in this article means deciding what kind of person/family you’re going to be, in some sense. If you have no camping equipment, especially if you had camping equipment and you give it away, you’ve made a decision: we are not going to be a family that camps.

Nothing particularly wise there, just something that came to me as I read the article. I guess you could borrow stuff. But I do think that these discussions about simplifying are harder when you have children. Giving kids opportunities to try things necessitates acquiring the equipment required for them to try it. And when they lose interest, how do you know whether it’s temporary or permanent?


Freelancing in the Digital Age — Andrew Sullivan

I’m now having to do a lot more negotiating and advocating for myself when it comes to money, so I found this discussion interesting:

A little while back, I was contributing a piece to a publication that I was thrilled to be writing for: high prestige, high visibility, great roster of fellow contributors. I was honored to be asked. And when the editor mentioned my fee, I was initially eager to say yes. But something told me to hold back (for once—I am usually a very poor negotiator). I thought about who else was contributing, what demands they or their agents might have made, the fact that there’s probably always wiggle room … and I typed this into an e-mail: “I’ll do it for whatever you pay Sam Lipsyte.”


Letting Go — A Deeper Story

Written by my friend Troy Bronsink, who has a great new book out about creativity and the life of faith:

“We think that its best for Neighbors Abbey that you no longer be Presbyterian” were the words she said. But what I heard was: “Just 3 years in we’re backing out of our 7 year grant commitment, and now you have 6 months to double your annual fund raising from $25k to $50K.” It reminded me of the arrows I shot in scouting camp as a kid. Hers landing dead center.  Mine… well I’d pulled the string but there was no chance it was gonna go where I’d aimed. Not any more.  I didn’t even have to watch to find out.


Have a great weekend, everyone. Peace be with you.