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posted: 3/25/2013 6:00 AM

There are healthy ways to cope with life stress

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The past few weeks have been a little stressful.

It's been a stressful time for a whole variety of reasons, but none that are earth-shattering or tragic. Just the usual good and bad kinds of stress everybody has. In my case? Having company over at home, looming deadlines and some new responsibilities at work, making sure I'm fitting in my workouts and sticking to my diet -- stuff like that.

What's different in my case, though, is feeling a little lost about how to deal with that stress.

You see, the trusty coping mechanisms I've always used are gone.

A few years ago, if I'd had a bad day or was feeling a little anxious about something, there was an easy solution: I'd call one of my friends and we'd have a "virtual smoke break," then I'd head to the store and pick up one (or more) of my comfort foods of choice -- usually Oreos, potato chips, cheese, chocolate pudding, cookie dough or frozen pizza -- and plunk myself down in front of something on TV once I got home.

But, like I said, those coping mechanisms are a thing of the past.

There are no virtual smokes anymore -- or any smoking, for that matter -- because I quit in June 2011, and I can't say starting up again sounds even a little tempting. And television? Forget it. I've got time for maybe an hour or two of it a week, at the most.

As for the food, let me assure you that not a single one of those things is allowed on the Push Fitness eating plan. (And, seriously, I'm pretty sure if I told my trainer, Josh, I ate a tube of cookie dough -- even if I had a COMPLETELY LEGITIMATE reason -- his head might explode.)

While all the exercising I'm doing is a natural stress reliever, there are those times when that just isn't enough. Those are the times when visions of sugar plums (where sugar plums are something loaded with trans fats and also probably frosting) dance in my head.

Part of my Fittest Loser journey has been figuring out how to deal with that kind of stress without drowning my feelings in pudding or pizza (or, you know, both).

Sometimes that means simply taking preventive measures: There's no junk food in our house, other than a hunk of sort of ancient pizza dough in the freezer. I don't ever carry change with me so I'm not tempted to grab something from a vending machine "just this one time," because it won't be just that one time. I do my best to plan ahead by doing things like packing meals and snacks for work.

Other times, it means making little deals with myself. For example, if I get through a difficult day without going to a vending machine for Cheetos, I let myself buy a new book or some fun cosmetic item I've been wanting.

It's not a perfect system; I'm still working on it. But I can tell you this: I haven't broken down and bought a tube of cookie dough. And the new perfume I bought the other day -- it's grapefruit, and it's delightful -- is way more exciting to me than a bag of Cheetos.

• Melynda Findlay is a member of the night copy desk at the Daily Herald, where she's worked for 14 years. She lives in Arlington Heights and really loves grilled cheese sandwiches.

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