According to a new Gallup poll, Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. Americans reported feeling stress, anger and worry at the highest levels in a decade, according to the survey. This news did not come as a surprise to me; it only takes a quick glance at the headlines to get your blood pressure up.
I decided I would research how to deal with stress. I found a list of coping ideas on a fitness website. Below are their suggestions accompanied by my thoughts:
1) Exercise. Too labor intensive.
2) Light a candle. Too New Age.
3) Do yoga. See “Light a candle.”
4) Reduce caffeine intake. Not an option.
5) Spend time with a pet. This idea has legs. Literally.
As an adult, I always had a dog, but when Yogi, my beloved border collie, died a few years ago, I never replaced him.
Perhaps I needed to get a new pet — one that entails a little less responsibility than a dog. My mind began to wander to some of the pets other than dogs that have come into my life.
When the kids were young, we had Woody, a stray cat we took into our home for about a year. We thought he was happy, but you just never know with cats. They smile at you, purr like crazy, eat your food, and then one day pack their little bags and take off. I suspect he didn’t like the hours, as we insisted that he come in every night by 10.
I had to admit to myself that, after he left, I occasionally missed the guttural hacking of Woody trying to free tumbleweed-sized hairballs from his esophagus. Or the sensation of the vein popping out of my neck when the claw-equipped mammal would climb up my leg to get onto the sofa.
And then there was Flopsy, the kindergarten class rabbit who spent every weekend at a different student’s house. My memory of Flopsy’s stay in our home is limited to hourly cage cleanings and watching him stare at air molecules. Flopsy wasn’t a pet. Flopsy was a pellet-producing machine with the personality of an angora throw pillow. But I took one for the team and tended to the animal when the kids lost interest in him and went outside to play. I even assumed the role of the heart-broken caretaker when we had to return the long-eared blob to the school the following Monday.
I also had pets when I was a child. My goldfish — obtained at a school fair, transported home in a sandwich bag and placed on my dresser in a large mayonnaise jar. Owning a fish turned out to be only slightly more exciting than having an actual jar of mayonnaise on the dresser. In fact, the only difference between the two was that I didn’t have to keep the fish refrigerated. And I had to clean out the jar frequently or else it would start to smell like a car full of wet dogs.
But for a while it was thrilling to have a living creature that I could call my own. I remember the morning I woke up to find Fred floating on his back with cartoon “X”s for eyes, the apparent victim of overeating. And the tinge of sadness mixed with relief as I watched him spinning round and round the toilet bowl before joining other dead goldfish in the sewer system of central New Jersey.
And there was Flash, the green turtle. When I was growing up, before bicycle helmets and salmonella, you could buy green turtles in the local department store. Flash came with a little plastic bowl complete with a plastic ramp and a plastic palm tree — everything needed to make the turtle feel right at home if his natural habitat was a box of disposable picnic utensils.
Flash lived up to his name by one night vanishing into thin air. I suspect he climbed out of his bowl and cleverly hid in a heating duct, meeting his demise when the furnace kicked on.
Although Flash’s departure once again had me experiencing the pain of loss, I learned from my turtle that a pet could be a lot of fun. Unlike brothers or sisters, pets never disagree with you or borrow your stuff without asking. Pets also give you a feeling of importance, knowing they rely on you to feed them (the proper amount, apparently) and ensure their surroundings are pleasant.
So, for the next six or seven years, I ushered a parade of frogs, salamanders, box turtles and even a wounded bird through our kitchen and up to my bedroom to fill the role of my pet.
There are so many choices for stress-relieving pets. For the time being, while exploring my options, I think I’ll light a candle.
Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.