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The Key to Stress Reduction: Aging

The impatience of youth gives way to a mellower outlook

By Peter Gerstenzang

When I was younger, I wasn’t the sort of guy you would ever describe as mellow. In fact, the character I most resembled was Road Runner, minus his good looks and lovely singing voice.

I was always zooming around, always in a hurry and just couldn’t wait for anything. Whether I was stuck in line at the supermarket, waiting for a phone call or caught in a traffic jam, I was impossible to be around. I’d slap my thighs, moan and yell, "Come on!" Looking back, I wasn’t much fun to be around, unless your idea of fun was standing under a full moon with The Wolfman.

I’m a changed fella now.

Not because of any specific acts I engaged in, physical or spiritual. In fact, I think I’m the only person ever thrown out during Communion for saying, "Give me the wafer already!’ No, my transformation to mellow dude happened as a result of something we often fear: aging.

It took a while.

Recognizing the Problem

Over the years, knowing that my impatience was an issue, I tried various solutions to help me cope. The first was therapy. I thought, perhaps, exploring the roots of my impatience would be a good idea.

Unfortunately, my shrink, Ron, seemed to take forever asking and answering questions. He was psychiatry’s version of Columbo. Instead of cooling me out, he made me scarier and more intense.

One day, Dr. Ron simply went silent on me. It got so quiet in his office, it was like being in a Quaker meeting. Finally, I asked him what was wrong. After an eternity, he told me because of my frighteningly impatient air, he was having a panic attack. You know you have a problem when your therapist stops a session to take a Valium.

A while after that, I took my girlfriend, Susan, out to dinner. I maintain to this day that our waiter was purposely avoiding us. But I agree that firing croutons at him wasn’t the best way to handle things. He eventually came over. Susan chided me about my impatience. And worse? Twenty minutes later, I had nothing left to put in my soup.

At one desperate point, I went to a lecture on Zen Buddhism. I listened as the teacher gave examples of Koans — riddles without answers. When he asked, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” everyone put their hand up but me. Because I didn’t understand the question, I stayed silent. The instructor looked at me, smiled and said, “You sir, are the true master.” But I was still the same Type A guy who nearly answered by saying: "Whatever the sound is, I’m sure it’s better than anything by Kid Rock."

Clearly, I wasn’t cured. But time passed, and with it, came an epiphany.


The Miracle At CVS

I was waiting in line at CVS one day, behind several people to get my prescription filled, when I felt that familiar angry feeling start to overtake me. Especially when the woman at the head of the line waited for her items to get totaled up before she began to think about unzipping her wallet and start the process of paying. I knew that once she finally found her debit card, it was going to rival the amount of time it took to build the pyramids. So, I sat down at the store’s blood pressure machine to wait.

To distract myself, I took the test. The numbers were so high, I wasn’t sure if this was my blood pressure number or my Zip code.

Then I was struck by the idea that only comes with age. I couldn’t speed up the lady with the crowded purse, the waiter who I pelted with croutons or anyone else. I could, however, start to chill out and cool down. And I did.

It’s been a while now. I’m still not thrilled about being stuck in traffic. But I’ve learned to distract myself with more pleasant thoughts, about, say, a great meal, a puppy, a date with Lauren Graham.

Speaking of dates, I finally figured out I was really only driving my girlfriends — and waiters, fellow shoppers, nervous shrinks and myself — crazy. It may have taken a blood pressure machine to do it, but that’s fine.

Since that day, I’ve been as cool as Dean Martin. I breathe slowly. I smile more. I haven’t gotten Dean’s smooth singing and finger-snapping thing down yet. But, that’s OK. I’ve changed. I’m a patient man.

And in time, maybe those other skills Dean had will come.

Peter Gerstenzang is a humorist, video director and journalist. Read More
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