It came in the mail the other day. Believing the envelope contained another bill, I opened it hastily, not suspecting that the contents would rock my world. The letter inside was a simple referral from my military health insurance carrier, but the type-written words on that paper may as well have said, “You’re officially nuts. Get therapy now.”

My new doctor at the Naval Health clinic had recently discovered that I had high blood pressure for the first time in my life. Following his guidance, I’d lost 10 pounds, exercised more, drastically improved my diet and began taking a low dose of blood pressure medication.

I felt terrific. However, when I sat on the window seat beside my bed to take my blood pressure each day, the little machine told another story. My doc doubled my meds, but my numbers were still high.

“Are you under any stress?” he finally asked. I spilled the beans.

The year 2020 was supposed to be a good one for me. My book was to be published in May, and the military charity that I co-founded and managed was beginning its first year of operations. After all those years of handling our family life as a military spouse, I was finally accomplishing my own goals!

However, a pesky little bug came along and thrust the world into a global pandemic. My book events were canceled, and libraries and bookstores closed. Our nonprofit had to raise funds during an economic crisis. As a hard-working graduate of the Gen X school of hard knocks, I thought I could handle anything. I powered through, using hobbies as an escape when I felt overwhelmed.

During and after the pandemic, I amassed a seemingly endless repertoire of distracting hobbies to whisk me away from my troubles, including stock investing, weaving pot holders, shell collecting, true crime bingeing, sudoku puzzles, crochet, cooking, vegetable gardening, refinishing furniture, golf, listening to audio books, collecting vintage glassware, propagating succulents, sailing, candle making, painting, beading and more.

I now have so many hobbies to distract me from stress, I’m stressed because I don’t have enough time for all my hobbies.

The Navy clinic doctor told me that stress, or anxiety, is a common cause of high blood pressure. I assured him that I’d be fine, because I had plenty of hobbies to take my mind off all that stress. Turns out, my hobbies may be causing my health problem.

People can form habits to cope with stress that actually intensify anxiety, I learned. Even if a person has not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, he or she can develop behavior patterns intended to avoid stress, that paradoxically increase his or her anxiety levels. Chronic procrastination, drug and alcohol abuse, binge eating and hoarding are obvious dysfunctional coping mechanisms, but other, more subtle behaviors can also create a cycle of avoidance, guilt and stress.

“Avoidance coping” is a maladaptive (unhealthy) way of avoiding stress rather than directly managing it. Stressors, such as household clutter, personal conflict, work demands, etc., can snowball when ignored. So avoiding tasks or situations that may seem stressful or overwhelming can only make matters worse.

There is a fine line between hobbies that we use to refresh, relax and recharge, and those that we turn to for avoidance. When assessing habits and hobbies, it’s important to ask, “Do I feel worse afterward? Am I seeking escape when I’m overwhelmed? Are my relationships, career, hygiene or household suffering as a result of my pursuits?”

When the Navy clinic doctor suggested “A therapist could help you find things in your past that pre-dispose you to anxiety, and could also help you develop healthier coping strategies,” all I heard was, “Hey lady, you’re wackadoodle.” The idea of me needing therapy to deal with silly old stress seemed ridiculous, and made me want to binge-watch a limited-series crime documentary or garden for three hours while listening to an audiobook. But I reluctantly agreed to follow his advice, realizing that I needed to make my health a priority, whatever it takes.

I haven’t scheduled the appointment with my new therapist yet. I’ll do it right after I finish my latest sudoku puzzle.

Read more at and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email:

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