A dark screen. That’s all that Madeleine sees asshe tries to connect tothe virtual platform that was supposed to allow her to makea presentation this morning. The meeting is important, and Madeleine knows that her colleagues are all waiting for her on the other side of their screens. Madeleinehates being late, punctuality being her brand, and now she is seeing red.
While she tries to solveher connection problem, hercell phone screen lightsup. It’s her 89-year-old mothercalling. Unlike her computer, her phone doesn’thavea problem staying connected, 24hours a day. It doesn’tstop, to Madeleine’s great displeasure; shewould give anything for a few moments of peace. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have time, and already starts wonderingwhy her mother is calling her this early. Has she injuredherself? Does she need something urgently? Or is she calling to wish her a happy birthday, which she has done three times this month, even though her birthday isn’t until May?
Madeleine feels thetension gripher torso and a lump grow in her throat. Her clock says it’s 8:42; she is 12 minuteslate. She tries to change her password, but the background noise made by her spouse,as he noisily does the dishes in the kitchen, prevents her from thinking straight. Bursts of laughter from her son, who is participating in an online activity with his class, add to the ambient commotion. Madeleine sighs and thinks nostalgically abouther office cubicle. It was dark and tiny, and she never would have thought she would miss it. As she turns abruptly to grab a pencil, she accidentally knocks a coffee cup with the back of her hand, sending itcrashingto the floor, splattering and staining the carpet. Madeleine jumps up from her chair in surprise, but stays planted on the spot, staring at the brown puddle on the floor, completely overwhelmed. Different emotions race to the surface and vie for the upper hand; anger, discouragement, weariness, and anxiety.
Her spouse, alerted by the noise, sticks his head through the door to ask what’s going on. Like a whistling kettle, Madeleine is boiling on the inside, as drops of sweat beadson her forehead. But rather than exploding, she lifts the lid to release a bit of pressure: she dissolves into tears in her spouse’s arms, who holds her and comfortsher. She lets her emotions show rather than repressing them. She sits down for a moment. She takes slow breaths. She gradually calms down. The coffee is still on the floor, and she still hasn’t managed to connect her computer, but that can wait. Madeleineneeds to reduce her stress to be able to find solutions, because right now, stress is so overwhelming that she can’t see straight,and it is preventing her from functioning rationally. After a few minutes of deep breathing, she writes to her colleagues tosuggest postponing the meeting and apologizes for the glitch. They are understanding and offer to help her so that technical problems don’t trip her up next time.
We all experience stress, and there are many ways to manage it. Even though we would rather not feel it, it can’t be avoided. Keep in mind that we have what we need to manage unpleasant situations, but it requires effort: the effort of allowing yourself to experience emotions as they arise and to express them honestly. Try it. You may be surprised.