Ditching Stress — An experiment

by Andrea Gross

This is the year I diet. Not by going low-cal: been there, done that. This year I'm going low stress. I'm cutting down on stress as surely as last year I cut down on carbs.

It won't be easy. Stress gives me the same high as chocolate and, try as I might, I can't see the glory in taking a vacation in order to relax. But magazines say it's healthy to turn off your mind and revel in doing nothing. I spent 10 years writing for these magazines, so I have a hard time believing them, but what the heck....If Obama can spend an hour a day playing basketball, I can spend a week a year de-stressing. (This works out to Obama being approximately 168 times more important than I am, which seems to me, if anything, an understatement.)

But it's a concept that comforts me during my first hour on the beach. I'd prepared well — brought along a beach chair, towel, sunscreen, hat, snacks, and Wally Lamb's 752-page book, The Hour I First Believed, which proves to be too heavy to hold without straining my wrists. I put down the book and wish I had my computer, the nifty laptop that miraculously connects to the web even in the middle of nowhere. But I left it home, in deference to a hubby who said that after forty years of marriage he deserved four days of Nothing to Do.

I even left my cell phone home. Well, I'd cheated a little on this point. I traded mine, which rings or vibrates with comforting regularity — see, I am important — for my dad's. His never rings because he won't turn it on. "It's only for 911," he says. So I brought along his phone and gave the number to my four kids, so I could maintain the fiction that, in case of real emergency, one of my nearly-forty year old kids call for Mommy. Everyone else, I figured, could wait. I'm not that important, after all. I can check out for a week, and the world will still turn.

I look around. Kid crying. Not interesting. Man with pot belly tip-toeing towards the water. Good for him. Gorgeous gal rolling over, unhooking the top of her swim suit. Good for her. I turn towards hubby. Eyes closed. Sleeping? Communing with nature? Who knows.

My thumbs are tired from twiddling. I reach into my carefully packed beach bag, get out a piece of paper and pencil. "Gone exploring. Back by 10," I write, and tuck it under Hubby's water bottle.

Back in the car, I step on the gas, drive over the bridge that leads from Hilton Head over to the highway and down to Savannah. If nothing else, I can find ghosts down there; the guidebook tells me so.

That night, I return gloriously tired. I'd chased ghosts, snuck into a hotel and checked my email on the lobby computer, and struck up a conversation with an Israeli family who was wandering through Market Square. "Savannah has the oldest temple in the south," the woman told me. But that's a story for another time.

Today it was enough to learn that one person's stress is another person's salvation.


Photojournalist team Andrea (Andy) Gross and her husband, Irv Green, bring the flavor of other cultures to readers of a variety of print and online publications. They are regular travel columnists for three publications and their articles have appeared in places such as TIME magazine, Ladies Home Journal (where Andy was contributing editor for ten years), Newsweek.com, MSNBC.com, St. Petersburg Times and the Washington Post.

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