You awake to another gloomy day, and it’s Groundhog Day. Stuff like that messes with you on a subconscious level. Moving forward, putting forth the energy that is required to be presentation-ready for the world, you glance in the mirror, and try to think a happy thought. Or not. After the morning routine time-waster, you head to the kitchen, only to realize that decaf is brewing in the coffee pot. Who would do this? Pressing on, you decide to skip a morning meal and workout, in the interest of time.
You hop in your car- headed for the grocery store, when your daughter’s school calls. (Really, she forgot her backpack again?!) You head back home, retrieve and shuttle the backpack to school, then try the grocery store thing again. You flip on the radio to hear the news that you may have been dreading all day…Punxsutawney Phil and Woodstock Willie both saw their shadows – six more dreadful weeks of winter. Arghh! You are completely undone, momentarily at least.
The store’s parking lot is filling up fast. What’s going on? Are insane people celebrating Groundhog Day? When you swerve to miss a shopping cart, an elderly man, and a pothole, you realize you may be driving just a bit too fast. While slowing and searching for a spot closest to the door, frustration is mounting. Several passes later, you see someone’s tail lights, and decide to wait it out to get that spot. Made it! Let’s get this shopping done!
After grabbing a cart, you make a sharp turn inside the store, and narrowly miss striking a toddler, who in your mind, should be secured in their parent’s cart. You head for the middle aisles to scope out sales on processed cereals and snack crackers. This day has just taken another bad turn. Your son’s favorite brand of cookie is not on the shelf, so you feel the need to accost a bewildered stock boy. Still no cookies. Then off to the refrigerated section for butter and eggs. Oh, and maybe some non-dairy creamer, toaster waffles, and chocolate milk. Next, you head to produce for a few onions and carrots, wishing you had more time to make real meals. As you head for the checkout, your heart is racing, and you feel the thrill of filing this thankless task into your mental trash folder.
Long lines…blood starts to boil…scowl at nice checker…try to turn scowl into an insincere smile that says “I’m a busy person. Let’s get a move on!” The bagger is polite, but S-L-O-W. You feel that the blood pressure medication your doctor said you might need is something you need now.
Done! With breakneck speed, you head to the parking lot, load your groceries into your car, and leave your cart in the adjacent empty space. You gun it out of your space, and notice a man jumping and, shaking his fist. Whaaat??? Muscle tension now has a hold on you. You feel a headache coming on. Darn you, Phil and Willie!
My, some interesting habits we develop over the course of our lifetimes. We learn how to respond to situations and handle stress during our formative years – parents, siblings, neighbors, friends, and teachers all have a hand in the process. From morning routines to food choices to the speed at which we drive to the parking space we prefer, we are creatures of the H-word.
Now, let’s consider an alternate ending – “GROUNDHOG DAY” (the movie) style:
You awaken and welcome a gloomy day, stretching and feeling grateful that you are around to make it a better one than the day before. Your first thought is to drink a tall glass of water and rev up your metabolism. You spend 20 minutes on the treadmill (you are pressed for time, so that’s all for today), then you jump in the shower. There is brief attention to sore muscles, but you become mindful that the warm water is therapeutic and brings you to relaxed state. Glancing in the mirror, while drying your hair, you realize that you look a little different than the day before, but you still wear an inner smile of peace about it. Heading to the kitchen, you get the tea kettle going, and brew some tea or have some lemon water. A few scrambled egg whites, a half of a grapefruit, and you are fueled for the morning, grateful for the food, and your freedom to choose it.
You hop into your car, headed for the store. Your phone rings, but you don’t answer it while driving… guess your daughter must wait, or even embrace the consequences of the forgotten backpack. The radio announces the results of groundhog activity, and you have a good laugh. Just then, your eyes lift to the sky to notice a small break in the clouds and a patch of blue sky.
The parking lot seems busy today. Everyone must be out enjoying this beautiful day! Rather than create more confusion, traffic jams, and stress, you head for a parking spot just a bit farther away, then enjoy a brisk walk. The cool, fresh air really clears the clutter from your mind, and you feel alive.
When entering the store, you are aware of others. You smile at them, and even share a warm “hello”. A toddler jumps out of seemingly nowhere, and you marvel at how care-free children can be. You take a knee, and tell the child you care about his safety, and staying close to Mom is a good idea. The mother thanks you, and you feel like you contributed to the well-being of your community.
You start your shopping in the produce section, since the research shows that it’s the smartest course to take in the grocery store, if good health is your priority. After loading up on your favorite fruits and veggies, you head to the bread aisle for your favorite whole-grain loaf, then to the meat department for some fresh turkey for tonight’s soup. While there, you take notice of an elderly woman of short stature, who is struggling to get what she wants off a shelf. You offer to help, joking that God gave you long arms – you may as well put them to good use. The lady bestows a blessing, and you feel fortunate and happy to have helped.
You head for the checkout, wondering which line is moving faster. It’s hard to tell, but you spot an old friend, and choose that line. You share a laugh with her, and catch up on family activities. As you say goodbye, a sense of happiness and positive energy fuel your day. The checker and bagger in your lane enjoyed your joyful reunion as well, and wished you both a great day.
You did not come close to hitting a man in the parking lot on this day, and did not place undue stress on someone else’s day by deferring a trip to the cart corral. Your day is most definitely not ruined. And, it is undeniably not ruined by the perceived threat of a groundhog.
Scenario Number Two, while a bit far-fetched to some, is not for those who are determined to enjoy the benefits of good health. Small changes in habits can improve every aspect of health – blood pressure, blood sugar, lung capacity, sleep, gut health, and brain health. And, speaking of the brain and its response to stress, let’s not forget the power of a smile, and warm connections with other human beings. The chain reaction in the brain, including the release of endorphins, seratonin, dopamine, and oxytocin into our bloodstream, makes you happier. It’s science!
We all face challenges in our lives, and while each of us reacts differently to meet those challenges, we also seek to control the stress that may accompany them. Activities as simple as jotting a few notes to off-load a busy mind, deep-breathing while stuck in traffic, parking a little farther away in a lot, reaching for an apple instead of an Appletini, or using core muscles while waiting in a line, allow us to incorporate stress-reduction techniques and exercise into our busy lives. You do not need a degree in time management or meditation to allow yourself to enjoy more mindful and productive days. Consider creating alternative endings, channeling your energies toward improved health, and start enjoying a long and happy life!