I recently had one of those weeks so stressful that I would have rather juggled flaming power saws. Not a death-in-the-family kind of week, but a week with a string of everyday life problems that proves the world cares about me about as much as a windshield cares about flying insects.
It started with Hurricane Isaac barreling down on Florida. I braced for the worst by buying 24 cans of tuna, two cases of water and a pack of AA batteries.
“Is that enough?” my teenage daughter wondered.
“No,” I said, and chewed my nails to my knuckles.
Next my 90-year-old father, who was recently sprung from the hospital where he’d spent three weeks fighting pneumonia, had to go back in the hospital. His pneumonia had returned like an aboriginal boomerang.
Then a dentist, while replacing an old filling that was the size of a radish seed, cracked my molar. Now I need a crown.
Then, perhaps worst of all, while researching a health story I was writing I discovered undeniable evidence that artificial sweeteners are almost as bad for you as real sugar. (Say it’s not so!) Unless I wanted to hasten my own demise — which frankly by this point didn’t seem like such bad idea —my daily Diet Pepsi habit would have to go.
Some weeks are real sinkers.
But each day, after the world had its bullying way with me, what got me through was my home. I love coming home. After a day that feels as if I’d spent it inside a churning garbage disposal, my home is — as every home should be — a haven of calm.
Friends, pets, an understanding mate, a large pour of wine and a long run have pulled me out of past slumps, but this week my house restored me. I looked around and asked why.
Because I move so much, I’ve pared down my furnishings to only those I love. I also keep the place clean and clutter free, but the most calming part is the lake view. Sitting on my back porch, which overlooks a lake, is like a tranquilizer.
To add to my notions of what makes a de-stressful home, I asked two therapists to share their tips. Diane Lang, a psychotherapist and life coach from New Jersey, and design psychologist Toby Israel, also from New Jersey, both specialize in stress management, and agree: If you don’t feel a sense of calm and peace when you come home, you need to figure out why not and fix it. Here’s how:
Clutter. “Your home reflects what you’re feeling,” said Lang. Clutter is a big flag that you’re stressed, but it’s also a big source of stress. It makes you feel out of control. “If you de-clutter your home, you will de-clutter your life.”
Technology. Every home should have a technology-free zone, with no phones, computers or televisions. “We need quiet, unplugged time every day to disconnect and relax,” said Lang.
Water. Views of water feel relaxing because water is a universal soother. It’s good for your soul. If you can’t glimpse the ocean, a river, a lake, or a pool from your home, try adding a water feature, a fountain or a bird bath.
Nature. Bringing the outside indoors is de-stressing because nature is a great balancer, said Israel. Create an indoor oasis by pulling in orchid plants, and other flowers and greenery. Put branches in vases. Capitalize on any view of a garden or nature. Outdoors, create a sanctuary-like spot in your yard where you can go to unwind.
Good memories. Think of a time and place where you were happy, said Israel, author of “Some Place Like Home” (Wiley). “Maybe it was a vacation to an ancestral city or your grandma’s kitchen.” Then pull elements intrinsic to that space — colors, textures, art — into your present space. Israel finds comfort in her grandma’s rocking chair and walls she painted paprika, which remind her of her Hungarian roots.
Light. Sunlight is a natural mood lifter, said Lang. Open the drapes. Add a skylight. Conversely, be sure your bedroom gets completely dark. That’s important for proper sleep, which is important for managing stress, said Israel.
A homecoming ritual. When you come home, create a habit that signals that your work day is over. Turn on some music. Walk the dog. Make some tea. Light a candle. Change your clothes. Such transitions help put the day behind you.
Exercise. Create a space in your home where you can work out, whether you add a treadmill or a yoga mat. Physical activity is a natural stress reducer.
By the end of my week, Isaac had blown by, though it wreaked its havoc elsewhere (so sorry New Orleans!), and Dad was on the mend.
One night, as I sat on my porch looking at the lake and listening to the frogs, I called Dad to check on his progress. He answered from his hospital bed.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “my goal is to swing my legs over the bed and stand up.”
“You know what, Dad,” I said. “That’s my goal, too.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.