Stress can bring out the best, worst, or most creative in us. At age 42, I thought I had myself figured out. I thought I already knew how I responded to stress. When it came to big school projects or tests, or now when I have important work deadlines, I tend to procrastinate to the point where I’m forced to zone in hard on the task at-hand, and zone out all else. It may interrupt sleep for a few days, but I complete the task and move on, catch up on sleep and balance out again until the next big deadline.
Now, when it comes to emotional stress like a family feud, breakup (married now so done with those!), or some personal jab to my self-esteem, I tend to hibernate and shut down or rather shut out all else. No chats with friends. Just some long walks, or long runs, bike rides or swims to help work through the anxiety or hurt feelings. I’ve done six Ironmans so I guess I’ve worked through a hell of a lot of stress. Either that or I’m bored. Though my mechanisms to manage stress may not be ideal, I’ve always been able to ride the stress cycle without crashing.
And then came that little pesky inconvenience of a global pandemic. The whole world shutting down within a matter of days. Suddenly, the kid and I home, ALL THE TIME. What kind of stress was this? It didn’t really fit into the deadline-oriented or emotional stress that I had experienced to date.There was no work project to obsess over and complete. There was not a difficult conversation to be had or some relationship that I needed to repair. It was just the same mundane rigmarole coupled with disturbing statistics and disappointing cancellation after cancellation.
There was a whole lot of intense worry like none experienced before. The biggest anxiety I felt, like many of you I’m sure, was the sadness of not seeing family…mainly my adorable nieces and nephews. And then having a fear of my parents depressed and stuck at home deprived of their grandchildren, or worse getting sick and suffering alone. As the early COVID weeks ensued, I struggled with the stress which brought on sleepless nights.
But then like many families and circles of friends, we took to Zoom. Saturday noon Zooms. Five Kelly households spread out amongst NoVa and Richmond, some bringing their lunch to the screen. It was pure chaos the first couple of Saturdays. My Mom frustrated at the start of the meetings, needed repeated instruction on how to find and click on the video box at the bottom left of the screen. “Kate, I’m not seeing any video box. I see you. Well, my Zoom must not have that!” My nieces and nephews fighting for the screen to share their latest nonsense or just make funny faces. Virtual family chaos, not as good as in-person, but still so comforting during those early pandemic days.
Seeing my family laugh over Zoom restored a much-needed sense of normalcy and I found myself replaying the conversations from our family meetings in my head at night to help calm my anxieties. These conversations should be archived I thought. And then somewhere in the sleepless nights, I started putting together silly jingles. Kelly family Zoom meeting minutes in the form of a song! Funny how the nonsensical can appear so glaringly appropriate in a sleepless state.
We talked about food a lot at one Saturday’s meeting, so I put together a song about everyone’s favorite meals called “Oreos are Everywhere” (Oreos being my nephew Graham’s favorite food or meal if he had his way!).
On another Saturday Zoom, my niece Tobyn shared how a toad had hopped into their back door. Well, let’s make a song about that! I called it “Tobyn’s Toad” (to the tune of “Oh Tannenbaum”).
Our dog Meadow running away from home was the theme of another Saturday meeting, so she got a song, too – “She’s a Wild One” (to the tune of Faith Hill’s “Wild One”). Oh, and Meadow returned home, btw.
Pouring my energy into these silly songs converted my stress into creativity and entertainment. My limited musical abilities were to be overlooked. These were pandemic times after all. As my 8th grade teacher turned to me and told me one day while singing off-key in mass, “God gave me this voice, so let him hear it!”.
So likewise, thank you, God, for this interesting stress-relieving tactic. I suppose I should have faith in it and use it. And then please let me sleep when the song is done.
— Katie Kelly
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog