One day when my oldest son was a toddler, his grandmother came to the door and asked where he was.
Without hesitation, I replied, “In the woodchuck hole.”
I looked up just in time to see the look of horror on her face. She imagined our son in one of the numerous holes these rodents had made near our vegetable garden. Before she had time to call the child abuse hotline, I took her to the kitchen. There, in the space between the refrigerator and the wall, slept my son. She sighed with relief.
My husband and I don’t remember how we started calling this spot by that unusual name. We do know it was a special place for our son. Sometimes he took refuge there after he had been scolded. At other times, we found him there for no apparent reason. As a little boy, he couldn’t tell us much about why he liked this spot so much. Now that he is older, he explains: ” It was quiet, warm and a place where I could be alone. With the humming sound from the refrigerator, I felt safe. Time in this space helped me cope with anything that was bothering me.” My son was onto something. We all need a place like that, especially nurses who work with sick people and their families. Here are some of my “woodchuck holes.”
My 35 minute commute to and from work is my time to be alone. I can say anything I want to in my car. I can yell and scream. I can laugh or cry. I can sing along with the radio. My car is never too busy to listen. It does not talk back. It doesn’t give me advice. On the way to work, I prepare for the day ahead and pray for the important people in my life. Returning home from work, I can unwind and let go of the day’s problems. I didn’t always realize the importance of this time by myself. A few years ago my job was only six miles away. My commute was too short to give me the time by myself I needed. As a result, I felt much more stressed. Another time, I thought I would save money on gas and decrease the wear and tear on my car by taking the bus. The commute was longer and stressful. Even if I did not engage in conversation with the person beside me, I could overhear other conversations. There was too much noise and too much stimulation. I soon decided that any money I saved was not worth giving up my alone time.
Another way I decrease my stress is by daily exercise. My favorite is swimming laps in a pool. For five years I swam 30 laps three times a week. With my contact lenses out and my goggles on, I was in my own world. Moving through the warm water using the same rhythm was soothing. Then I experienced an injury that prevented me from swimming. Now I walk as fast as I can for 45 minutes a day. Whether on a dirt road in the country or in the empty hallways at work, each step settles my mind and separates me from the day’s problems.
Time with my loved ones
As good as time alone in my car or exercising is, time with my family and close friends is even better. I read that bad things that happen have a negative effect on mood for two days, but good things that are experienced have a positive effect on mood for three days. My family and I like to tell stories and laugh during dinner. I am happy watching a TV show or movie with my family or having coffee with a close friend. The connection with those I love makes me feel secure and warm not unlike the humming of the refrigerator my son experienced in his special place. I can let go of any worries I have created.
So where do you go and what do you do when you need in my son’s words, “a quiet, warm place to be alone, to feel safe and to help you cope with anything that is bothering you?” I hope you have at least one woodchuck hole. If not, it is time to dig one.