A few lifetimes ago, I found myself at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel with my driver’s door smashed in so badly that it could barely stay closed. Two of NYPD’s finest (and finest) extricated me out of the passenger’s side. One went over to handle the other driver, the other had me lean against the trunk and asked me if I smoked.
OK, good. Have a cigarette.
The officer knew what it would take me years to realize – that sometimes having something that‘s bad for you might be more helpful than being in the present moment. That there are benefits to distraction and short-term stress-relief. Like taking an Advil when you have a headache, or having a drink when you’ve had a long day, or eating more than what you’re hungry for when you’re feeling emotional.
Which I am. This summer’s arrival brings with it my daughter’s graduation and, with that, her imminent departure. I am blessed to be stressed, but stressed nonetheless.
This has me eating more carbs than I care for and filling my curves out more than I’d like – especially with bathing suit season just moments away. (Which is, in and of itself, another stressor, of course. How quickly I fall into the values of old, the seduction of a quick fix – so I can fix myself up in time for summer.)
The extra eating I do becomes comforting, not just because of the release of serotonin, but because it takes the focus off my stress and gives me something else to put it on. Oh no, I am overeating! Need to reign it in, get it under control, find a better way to manage my stress!
Dealing with my emotional eating is easier than dealing with what’s really eating me – but also, it oversteps what might be my best way to deal with anxiety. It makes it wrong rather than trusting the wisdom of my body. It sees it as a problem, rather than acknowledging that there’s a bigger problem, and that this might just be the optimal way for me to calm down enough to deal with it.
Is it possible that there are times when avoiding what is stressing you out is better for you than whatever you use to avoid it?
That doesn’t mean you have to hang out with a smoker or date the curvy girl or marry the man who has one drink too many or stay with the person who lashes out for no reason. But you can’t leave yourself, and finding that place of forgiveness and empathy when it comes to your humanity can go a long way in curbing the very behavior you’re freaking out about (this works for your self as well as for the other).
Of course, empathy doesn’t rule out cause and effect. There are consequences to over-anything, and there’s a cost you will pay for having that smoke. But there’s a cost to being in constant vigilance as well. In which case, experts reluctantly agree, that a puff or two may be better for you after all.