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Polyamory and Coping with Stress

If you're poly, you need to be better than average at coping with stress.

There. I've said it.

Yes, in some ways, poly is less stressful. (Parenting is often easier, for instance, and you tend to have more money).

However, in other ways, poly marriage is more stressful. There are more people, more needs, more wants, more chances that these needs and wants are not going to match up exactly. There is more emotional baggage from each individual past, extended families to deal with -- on and on it goes.

So, what to do? Go to monogamy? Celibacy?

Well, sure, if that's your heart's desire.

However, if your family is truly your heart's desire, as it is mine, you need to learn some stress management.

Here's some really basic stuff.

  1. Take care of your body

    Get as close to enough sleep as you can. Eat right. Take a multivitamin for insurance if you must. Get enough exercise. A strong body copes better with stress. Try to stop smoking. As my own sobriquet (Goddess of Java) indicates, I drink a lot of coffee. This does not help me cope better with stress.

  2. Take care of your mind.

    Whether it is yoga, karate, meditation or saying your rosary, do not, do not neglect this. Routinely clearing the mind of all thought prevents mental spiraling.

    If you think I am a strong proponent of various sorts of meditation, you're right. Zazen may not be your thing. Walking a labyrinth may work out better for you.

    There are members of our family who like to climb a mountain near our home and do kata. Whatever works, active or passive, to empty the mind. Ideally, it should be done every day. I find that my own daily solitary walk does me wonders. The solitude clears my head, and the walk refreshes my body. However, this may or may not be for you. What is important is that you do find what is the thing that calms and relaxes you.

  3. Know your limits

    Your real ones. Not the ones where you cop out because you're feeling lazy, or taking on too much because you feel macho or are deluding yourself about your personal strength. This is a good place to abandon "should" and look clearly at what "is". (By the way, I suck at this. Pride will cause me to push myself way the hell too far, then when I crash, I don't try at all for awhile. Learn from my stupid mistakes. I'm trying to, certainly!).

    So find your real limits. Know them. Grok them. Work with them. Even try to expand them if you like, but do it gently.

  4. Bubble baths, books, and beaches

    All the standard things you read about stress management (Take a bath, close your eyes and imagine a calming beach, read a calming book) really do work. Use them.

While all the standard de stressing techniques do work, do remember that they are temporary methods specifically designed to bring the heart rate down and to calm the fight or flight reflex. Once you have that in mind, it is a good idea to make sure that you're not applying fight or flight to things that don't, in fact mean your life is in danger. While bad things going wrong in your life really, really do feel bad, when the heart starts to pound, the brow furrows, the stomach knots up and the muscles tense, you're preparing to keep from being eaten by a lion or something, not deal with an irritating boss or relative who Just Won't Get It. Your body notices the power of the emotion and prepares to defend your life. It's trying to help, but it responds to the emotions, not the intellect.

Try this little exercise:

When you catch yourself getting into a fight or flight response, ask yourself, "Am I really in danger of dying here?"

(By the way, if your answer involves anything along the lines of, "Yes, because I'll wish I were dead", you really need to interrupt that train of thought. Thoughts of suicide stress you out because you really are in danger of dying. Forcing yourself to stop those trains of thoughts are a Good Thing.)

Chances are good that if you're in an argument with your boss, or your bank account is overdrawn, or you have a really bad argument with your spice, your life is not actually in danger. Yes, losing your job, bouncing checks or having someone you love walk out is very painful. Not trying to say it isn't. However, if you can interrupt the fight or flight thing (just the heart pounding intensity, NOT all emotion!), you're more likely to cope with the painful situation in a way that will reduce future pain.

A portrait of the Goddess of Java rendered by the Goddess of Giggle

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