How I'm Nixing My Biggest Stressor In 2016

Between a new apartment, a new job, and a new relationship, you could say 2015 was a pretty stressful year. But it wasn’t the rent-check-turned-monthly-mortgage that really irked me. Instead, it was something that the most normal humans find relaxing: cooking.

After having made the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three years — this is not a joke — in my NYC starter apartment, I promised myself that if I forked over a huge check and 30 years of mortgage servitude for my own nice piece of West Village real estate, I would learn to cook real, grownup meals. After all, I had a Viking stove and a custom white tile kitchen with white countertops. (Note to self: Never buy a home with a white kitchen again.) I would be unstoppable! More importantly, I would save money.

Needless to say, my commitment caused major stress.

I will never forget my first attempt at cooking — I wanted to make roasted butternut squash “chips” as a healthy snack. The struggle became real as soon as my knife hit the squash: I had no idea you needed an axe to chop those things! I plopped the unevenly sliced squash on the pan, stuck it in the oven, and 30 minutes later pulled out a burnt-yet-mushy tray of veggies. I called my mom crying, asking how people even learn to cook, and wondered why she never taught me. She told me that making mistakes was part of the process. I then called my best friend, chef extraordinaire, to complain that I’d just wasted $4.00 on burnt squash. Although she laughed and told me not to stress, I couldn’t sleep that night having flat-out failed at my goal. I quickly became convinced that I would never save the money needed for my mortgage payments.

After a few days of take-out dinners, I made an easy (and quasi-successful) stir-fry recipe. I segued into other meals — curries, smoothie bowls, macro plates — and with each one came more confidence. But cooking was still consuming my life.

Even as I became more adventurous in the kitchen, I would spend hours scouring the Internet for the “perfect” recipe. Was it healthy? Did I have most of the ingredients? Was it classified as easy, vegan, quick, and entrée on the recipe blog? Even my designated web time became, you guessed it, stressful! How was a girl to choose the right recipe to make from thousands of options?

I was surprised to find that successful cooking escapades only added to the anxiety. The #NoSadDeskLunch compliments from my coworkers poured in: “Send me your salad recipe!” “That looks so great, what’s in it?” “You make the best lunches!” Now the pressure was coming from others to keep creating stand-out meals on the reg. Can’t a girl catch a break? No, she cannot. Must. Keep. Cooking.

As I write this, I am eating a mediocre stew I made for the week and trying to convince myself it’s not a failed attempt but a success because I tried something new. I’m already thinking about what to make next week in an act of palate redemption. And through it all, I’m trying to enjoy the process and not stress about end results — easier said than done.

So in an effort to find ease in the kitchen, keep cranking out meals to impress my pro-chef coworkers at mindbodygreen, and maintain my sanity in the process, I’d like to become more mindful; stress has damaging effects on health, and reducing stress can boost well-being . Aetna asked me to look at the stressors in my life — big and small — this past year, and commit to trying a few different strategies to lower my stress level in 2016.

In the meantime, here is my favorite recipe I’ve made this year (I added tofu and doubled the veggies, but hey, I was willing to forego recipe perfection and modify it to my needs…another win).

This post was sponsored by Aetna, who believes health is about the body and the mind. Stress can affect emotional and physical health, and reducing stress can boost wellbeing. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blogger's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Aetna. To learn more about stress reduction, visit aetnamindfulness.com.

Photo by Chloe Bulpin, mbg Creative

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