It occurred to me the other day, as I was crisscrossing the supermarket parking lot for an empty spot, that I had an unmistakable smile on my face while I was hunting for a space. Like it was so visible that I actually caught sight of it in my rearview mirror and it kinda freaked me out. And the funny thing was, I didn’t even realize I was smiling.
So it made me ask myself, “What the hell are you so excited about at 7:20 on a Tuesday morning on your way to the deli department?” Which compelled me to look deep inside my soul to find the answer. And the answer was right there waiting for me. I was going food shopping. I was going to my happy place and it was my time to unwind.
Now I’m not stupid, I get that going food shopping isn’t exactly what the average person considers cathartic. But I’m not the average person. And that’s because I tend to get really excited about mundane things like prepping my food for the week and ironing and pulling weeds. (Don’t think too much about it, it’s just what I do.)
Having the freedom to walk around the market, at my leisure, with a hot coffee in the carriage cup holder, and a long and detailed list to check off is like a little slice of heaven to me. It’s the way that I relax. And while some people may think of food shopping as a chore, how we all perceive the things we have to do every day is very relative to who we are and what we enjoy. And I enjoy shopping for food. So, ha.
I read labels; I squeeze fruit; I compare spices. (I’m actually feeling my pulse slow just sitting here writing about it.) I google the Food Network to find the next greatest meal my family has ever eaten. To me, it’s like a vertical, moving spa day. And because I know the whereabouts of just about every brand of tea or condiment in the store — like I’ve been working there seven days a week for eight years — there’s very little thought involved. Honestly, it’s almost Zen-like, with the exception of the screaming toddlers who always seem to follow my exact route through the store. But since they’re not my responsibility, I’ve learned to block them out.
What I’m trying to say is, going to the grocery store has always been one of the ways I relax, believe it or not. Albeit slightly unconventional as a relaxation technique, it really does enhance my mood and tee me up for my day. And if I must explain myself (which I feel like I must since it’s such a weird thing to do to relax), it makes me feel in control and organized and on task. It comforts me to know that I’ve got everything I need (everything my family needs) to make it through the day or the week, ensuring that, at a bare minimum, no one’s going to die of starvation on my watch.
Which brings me to my point … we all need to unwind. How we do it, though, is entirely up to us. Like how some of my friends go for a walk or a run or work on their yoga practice. Or how others meditate or write in their journal or take a bathroom break (I feel like a disproportionate number of people do that, not that I’m judging). And there’s really nothing that doesn’t qualify as a way to unwind as long as it represents some kind of a break for our mind or our body or, in some cases, both.
And if you’re a parent, and you’ve always got someone grabbing at you or yelling to you from another room or somehow wanting a piece of you, finding your own way to relieve the stress of always being in such high demand is critical for our survival.
That’s because, without a way of decompressing from our day-to-day grind, we’d snap. And snapping is bad. Very, very bad. So we find ways to chill out in order to distract ourselves from the stuff that overwhelms our mind. Or at least we should. And that allows us to reset. Which, in turn, allows us to forge on.
So at the risk of sounding preachy (which I try very hard never to do), if you don’t have your own unique way of unwinding, get one. They’re the key to achieving balance and contentment. You know, yin, yang. Because without a good, bonafide way to wind down, we just become ugly, unhappy stress balls. And no one likes those. (Because they’re ugly and unhappy, obviously.)
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at www.lisasugarman.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available on Amazon.com and at select bookstores.