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Stress Assessment

Last year I did what many others did during the pandemic. I sold my home and bought another. I had been thinking about selling my home that I have had for 29 years for about 5 years. There were many reasons for my desire to sell: the neighborhood vibe had been replaced by many Airbnb rentals; the town has grown and there are many more public events that effect the quiet of the neighborhood; the cost of flood insurance was skyrocketing with no end in sight; and I had the experience of my front porches being used as sleeping areas on nights when the sprinklers ran in the park across the street where local homeless people hid at night.  All good reasons. All well thought through. Well, mostly well thought through.

What kept me from making the jump earlier was that I had not found a place that I wanted to live. My home had a prime location on the city’s main bayou. It was fun to sit on my porch and watch the happenings. It was walking distance to everything, from town hall to entertainment venues, restaurants, and shopping, to the bank and to the post office. It was a great location for 25 years. But then things changed.

So, I started looking for my next residence. This process took years, and it wasn’t until COVID when the market of available homes expanded, that I was able to find my new home. Once I purchased it, I put my house on the market. I didn’t want to have to worry about selling my home and not having a place to live.

The selling process and moving process for two homes had its set of glitches, which took a few months to resolve. When I received the title to my new home, I immediately started renovating it. I bought it for the view. I had confidence that I could fix the house. You can’t fix a view.

Things were going swimmingly. I set up an office, renovated both baths and laundry, painted and had new flooring installed, and tore down a pantry that blocked a view from the kitchen. I say “I did this” but I had a lot of help from family and friends. A Lot Of Help.

Last May, when I began the search for replacement cabinets, IKEA had no stock. I took my plan in and they had exactly two parts of the hundreds needed. I was told to come back in November. Now, I love IKEA kitchens. I’ve had two others in the past. I love how I can configure them. I love that I can build them. I love how quickly they can be installed. Working with a friend of mine who is a carpenter, we installed my last two kitchens in a week as measured from water disconnect to reconnect. That week included demo plus installation of the cabinet boxes, trim and counters, and reinstallation of appliances. It’s after this the detail work begins for shelving, drawers, doors, and handles. That takes time. That takes planning. That’s my job.

With IKEA off the table, I started looking at other Ready-to Assemble (RTA), ready-to-install, and custom cabinet options. With each option I considered, I altered my plan to take advantage of the special features offered, like three-inch spice racks, hidden drawers, cutlery drawers, appliance garages and the like. The prices were all over the map, and all higher than IKEA but with much less flexibility.

I decided to go with an RTA model, but it was hard to get time on the designer’s schedule to do a final measure and plan, and one appointment after another would be cancelled. The months dragged on. Then one day I was down near IKEA and decided to just go check. It was mid-October, and I was hopeful.

And I was lucky. They had every component of my planned design available then.  So, I made the purchase and hundreds of boxes were delivered to my home three days later. Since I live on the second floor, due to flood plain issues, I paid up to have the boxes brought upstairs. And from that point on, the kitchen replacement took over my life.

As I inventoried the parts, I moved them into my two guest rooms. One became a warehouse for hinges, doors, shelves, and drawers. The other was converted into a cabinet assembly area. I began assembling cabinets with a good friend.

My plans to recreate the week transformation from old cabinets to new ones was not realized due to a series of miscommunications with my carpenter friend. I was on my own to do it on my own. And I had never done the installation part of it. I had seen it done, but it was my first time doing it on my own.

I started installation in November. My last cabinet was installed in February. Now, five months from the start, my cabinets are all in, my new appliances are in, most of the counters have been installed, my handles have been ordered, the doors, drawers and shelves are in, the many boxes I had downstairs with my kitchen items from the old house have been unpacked and placed in the new cabinets with care. And now, with the help of my carpenter friend, we are working on the trim.

One thing I didn’t count on in all of this was the amount of stress that my move and the renovations would cost me. I also didn’t consider the severe disruption on my life related to the kitchen replacement. That stress sapped my energies. Every day that it remained a construction zone was a challenge to me. As an engineer, I need order in my life. If there is a project unfinished, I am very unsettled until it is done. For this phase of the house renovation, my hallway, living room, dining room, kitchen and two guest rooms were chaos. The only rooms that were relatively free from the craziness were my bedroom, my office, the two baths, and my porch. That porch saved me. It was the one place I could go to relax and not look at the mess.

The impact of the stress is just now coming clear to me. As you are in it, your body does the best it can to acclimate. But now that my home has been reclaimed from the construction mess, and things are returning to normal, I am conscious of the stress I’ve been carrying as it slowly dissipates. I’ve been able to be more productive at work. I’ve again started having creative ideas. And I’m aware of the situation I put myself in when I took on this project of turning this house with 25-years of deferred maintenance into my home.   

It has been a challenge. One of the first things I tackled was removing the wire racks from the closets which had become sticky due to their age and building the closets out with melamine shelving and metal clothes rods. I got an ocular migraine from all the unscrewing of those racks. I lost my vision for a while. Luckily it was only temporary and a couple of good massages from a friend who does that for a living got me back to functioning. I shook off that red flag. I didn’t relate any of that experience to stress. Instead, I chalked it up to holding a drill up for hours on end.

I have the self-image of a 22-year old or a super hero—someone who can do anything they put their mind to. Somehow, as I age, I’m having to come to terms with the limitations of my physical side. I simply can’t do it all. I can do a lot, and generally more than others, but a lesson learned is that I need to be much more judicious about the stress I take on.

During COVID, I’ve been very aware of my COVID risk budget. I manage it carefully. And as of this writing, I still have not contracted it.

Just like I have a COVID risk budget, I need to start managing a stress budget. This is not something I’ve ever considered before. Superheroes don’t worry about stress. But I’m not a superhero. I am a person who is aging and needs to pay attention to the decisions I make that induce stress on my life.

So, let’s look at this. With my COVID risk budget, I weighed things like to mask or not to mask, who I was seeing, outdoors or indoors, transmissions in the area as reported by the CDC. The risk was immediate, but not long lasting.

Stress is different. Stress is a long-term factor. To create a stress budget, I considered what my stressors are and what the long-term impact is. From there, I could assess the cumulative impact. Here is my assessment:

  • I run a small startup and we are working to become solvent this year. Stressful? You bet. Mitigators: A great team. Stress duration: current and long term. Stress level: Moderate to high.
  • My workload for the company grew as my stress over the kitchen took away my creative energies. Stressful? Yes. Mitigators: A great team, and now that the worst of the kitchen stress is past, I seem to be making progress and catching up. Stress duration: current until caught up, probably July. Stress level: High but transitioning to moderate.
  • I have two daughters who are getting married, one this year and one next year.  Stressful? I’m told so, but at this point I’m oblivious to that. Mitigators: Independent daughters who are handling all the planning and a great support network of friends and family. Stress duration: Now through end of May and again next year. Stress level: High the week of the wedding. Moderate in the meantime.
  • I am still under renovations at my home. Kitchen trim, handles, and counter tops need to be installed, and chairs need to be purchased. Stressful? Yes, but not as much as before. Mitigator: My carpenter friend is helping me. Stress duration: current until done, probably June. Stress level: Moderate and transitioning to low as we complete work.
  • I have a cabin that received damage during a January storm. The tree that fell has been cleared, but the damage needs to be addressed. Stressful? It’s a concern. Mitigators: This can be addressed in the summer after the wedding, and I don’t have to do it myself. Stress duration: there until it is addressed. Stress level: Low.

Along with assessing the stressors, I need to consider what I am doing to provide for stress relief. My current actions are three-fold – time on my porch, relaxing with my significant other, and getting a good night’s sleep.

Overall, this is a sad picture of a person who is under a lot of stress without sufficient personal stress release opportunities. The good news is that every stressor has a solid mitigation. But my takeaway from this analysis is that I need to focus more on stress relief and not just mitigation.

Here are my stress relief options:

Daily walks, which came off my schedule three years ago when dealing with a foot injury

Scheduled daily time on my porch

Scheduled daily time to read and meditate

Regularly scheduled massages

Re-engagement with my girlfriends on a weekly basis

A vacation that is time away when I’m unplugged and not just doing work somewhere else

Awareness is an important component of behavior modification. I found this activity extremely enlightening. I will report back on my successes and failures in managing my stress in a future article.

In the meantime, please assess your own stress risks. Do this for your well-being. A high level of stress is not a positive factor in good long-term health.

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