I’m not quite sure when the word “stress” became so prominent in the modern vocabulary. When I was growing up the word was seldom used. My mother, a father’s wife, and busy homemaker, and mother of five never mentioned the word “stress” in our hearing, and I know she was often times pushed to the limits of her endurance. She certainly never mentioned the possibility of enrolling in a “stress seminar.” That’s because there was no such thing as a stress seminar in the 1950s and 1960s. World War II was still fresh in everyone’s memory. Consequently, hardship, difficulty, and sacrifice were considered a part of the human experience.

Our eldest son began to use the word “stress” rather handily when he was attending college. He would call home from time to time and lament, “Mom, Dad, I am so stressed!” I had difficulty understanding his dilemma as I did not remember stress being a part of my college experience. Not that I didn’t have some tense moments and a few close calls and at least one broken heart, but “stress?” I don’t remember feeling “stressed.”

The greatest teacher in human history warned of “perilous times.” The word “perilous” can mean “dangerous”, “risky,” “uncertain” which leads to another phrase, as in, “stressful times.” And these are certainly stressful times — made more stressful by words and phrases like “unsustainable” and “pandemic” and “systemic racism” and “social distancing” and (who would have imagined it), “masking.” Speaking of social distancing and masking, this writer believes they are both needful and necessary in our continuing fight against the COVID-19 … to a point. But it is getting to the point that social distancing and masking are beginning to add more stress to an already stress-filled world.

Quite frankly we have come to a time when people just don’t smile enough. I miss seeing the smiles of the few who do. It’s hard to see a smile when it is covered with a mask. There are a few precious souls who have the gift of smiling with their eyes, but sadly, they are few and far between.

So, here are a few suggestions to help better handle the stress of our times.

Take a walk. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of the multi-million selling book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” was a great believer in taking a daily walk. Dr. Peale pastored Marble Collegiate Church in New York City and remained busy on the professional speaking circuit well into his 80s. He was known to take a one-mile walk each day. He was oft to say, “miss a meal if you must, but don’t miss taking a walk.” My late mother offered many maxims, especially in her later years. One of my favorites was, “Work as long as you can, and keep moving.” The human body was built to move. Take walk. It is a great stress reliever.

Keep in touch. Masks and social distancing are driving us farther apart, literally. Call up a friend and inquire as to how they are doing. Concentrate on being a good listener. Everyone needs a chance to share their feelings and their point of view.

Hug somebody. I know. I know. We are being conditioned to avoid shaking hands, so hugs are definitely off limits. I saw a sign in a hotel lobby this past weekend which suggested “keeping physical contact to a minimum” by “nodding,” “waving,” “saluting,” “elbow bumping,” “hat tipping,” and “foot shaking?” I’m not for foot shaking. Some one might think you were trying to trip them.

Back to hugging. Under current medical guidelines one should avoid the indiscriminate hugging of the general public. However, may I make a suggestion? Within the safe confines of home and family, for heaven’s sake, hug the people you love. Hug your wife. Hug your husband. Hug your children. Hug your grandchildren. Hug your dog. We human beings — at least most of us — need to experience physical contact. It’s a great stress beater.

Stay connected to your spiritual roots. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. As my brother use to say about issues which we found stressful, “It won’t matter a hundred years from now.”

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a humorist and motivational speaker.

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a humorist and motivational speaker.

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