Features

Stress-busters

Written by James Combs

Five locals share how they cope with everyday stress


In today’s fast-paced, hectic world, we all have one companion.

Stress.

It may lie dormant for short periods but is easily triggered by life events such as money problems, demanding jobs, failing relationships, and loss of family members or friends.

No matter how healthy or positive you are, everybody will feel that tense, grating, gripping feeling at one time or another.

If only we could turn off stress like a light switch.

While it’s an unavoidable part of life, stress can be successfully managed and minimized. In honor of Stress Awareness Month, Healthy Living interviewed five locals and asked what they do to keep cool when life becomes challenging.


The super-duper busy mom

Give Melonie Henderson a Supermom cape.

Somehow, the Mom of Steel can race to dance lessons faster than a speeding bullet and leap to soccer practices in a single bound.

Of course, speed, strength, and stamina are necessary superpowers when raising four children active in a wide range of sports and activities.

Melonie, a resident of Leesburg, is mother to Eva, 16, Chole, 15, Lily, 13, and Liam, 10. To say she is stretched to her limit from parental responsibilities is an understatement. On weekdays, Melonie leaves her house at 8am and does not arrive back home until 9:30pm.

On a given day, she may drive Eva and Chloe to cheerleading practice and dance practice, watch Lily compete on her school’s volleyball team, and pick up Liam from his soccer practice. But before she does all that, she spends several hours working at Oakwood Smokehouse and Grill, which is owned by her husband, Will Henderson.

In-between, she takes the kids to their dental, doctor, and eye appointments.

Her odometer provides irrefutable proof. In three years, she has amassed 58,000 miles on her Chevrolet Suburban. The average driver accumulates 13,476 miles each year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.

“There are times when one of my child’s games begins as soon as another one ends one,” Melonie says. “It can be tiring because of all the things I have to do and so many people rely on me.”

Amazingly, she finds precious “me” time to decompress and cope with stress. That may include enjoying coffee at Starbucks, reading a book while waiting to pick up a child from school, or window shopping in downtown Leesburg.

“Having a few moments to myself helps me unwind, reflect, and re-energize,” she says. “The best thing busy moms like myself can do is take one day at a time. Don’t look too far ahead and stress about the future. Live in the moment and take each day as it comes.”

Remaining positive also is vitally important. Despite being stretched to her limit, Melonie relishes spending valuable time with her children.

“Honestly, some of the best conversations I have with my children occur when we’re in the car together,” she says. “I try to set a good example because if I encourage my children to be active they will be more likely to participate in the community when they become adults. I’m doing these things for them now, so they’ll get to enjoy a better future.”


The director

It’s Monday. You’re given a variety of new assignments, glide from one meeting to the next, and manage numerous projects at once. On top of it, your stacked to-do list resembles a life-size replica of Mount Everest.

Many employees would shudder in fear.

But for Kim Couch, it’s all in a day’s work.

Kim serves as director of community relations for South Lake Hospital and the National Training Center in Clermont. In that role, her job description easily can be summed up in three words: anything and everything.

Each day brings a challenging project, a different client, and a new assignment at moment’s notice. Mornings may begin with a delicate balancing act between answering phone calls and responding to emails. Then, she must stop mid-activity to proofread advertising copy, attend a manager’s meeting to update workplace policies, or gather with coworkers to plan a community outreach event.

At some point, she also finds time to implement social media strategies and pitch story ideas to local media outlets.

“I do have stressful days because there are many people who need different things from me,” says Kim, who earned a master’s degree in health-care administration from Ohio University. “I always have lots on my plate.”

However, it is rare to see Kim without a smile on her face. She has learned to manage and minimize stress, creating a more positive workplace culture for employees under her.

“Even when I’m experiencing stress, I always try to keep a positive mindset because I love my job,” she says. “I’m a very analytical person, so I’m always thinking how we can get things done without stressing. I try not to think about everything on my plate. I take it one item at a time, which helps me maintain the necessary energy to get everything else done.”

For her, another effective way to combat stress is, conveniently enough, swimming and running on a treadmill at the National Training Center. She also recently downloaded an app called Headspace, which teaches effective meditation techniques.

“Both exercise and meditation help me refocus and re-energize myself when I have lots going on,” she says. “They are both very instrumental in ridding my mind of stress and clearing my mind so I can concentrate on the tasks at hand.”


The teacher

Ask a group of teachers why they feel job-related stress and you’ll probably receive similar answers.

High-stakes exams.

Demanding administrators.

Challenging students.

None of those things seem to faze Kevin Rockwell, a second-grade teacher at Triangle Elementary School in Mount Dora.

For him, teaching is most stressful when his carefully planned lesson goes awry, leaving him staring at a classroom full of blank faces.

“There’s nothing worse than when you have an objective, teach it to kids, and then they look at you like, ‘Huh?’ When you miss the mark while trying to teach a lesson to children is the hardest thing about this job for me,” he says. “There are times when students pitch a small fit because they are frustrated. It’s really frustrating for me at that point because they cannot learn when they’re angry.”

When his class fails to understand what is being taught, Kevin must repackage his lesson plan for the following day. For instance, when his students had difficulty grasping monetary value, Kevin began using large magnetic bills to make it easier for students to understand basic money concepts. Handing out $5, $10, and $20 bills to his students proved instrumental in helping them make sense of dollars and cents.

“It’s all about taking an abstract concept and making it concrete. That is easier to do when you have a manipulative such as magnetic money,” he says. “Of course, there is really no one way to teach. Some kids are auditory learners; others are visual learners.”

Teaching toward those different learning styles can be challenging, but for Kevin, being on the run keeps him from becoming overly stressed. He completed two 5K runs in recent months—the Florida Hospital Waterman Pink Out 5K Run and the Eustis Running of the Georges 5K Run. In the second race, he cut down his finishing time by four minutes. He also works out three times a week with Jbo Harrison, a personal trainer featured in Healthy Living’s February issue.

In addition to exercise, Kevin stimulates his mind every Thursday night and Saturday morning at Breakpoint Books and Games in Mount Dora, where he and friends gather to play cards and board games.

“Having things to strive for and look forward to outside your work life is very important,” he says. “I love teaching, but I’d probably stress much more if being at school was the only thing I ever have on my mind.”


The emergency room nurse

All rooms in the emergency department are full, but extra space is needed because three ambulances arrived at the hospital simultaneously. A patient who overdosed needs to be intubated. Several minutes later, another patient with heart blockage must be immediately prepped to undergo cardiac catheterization.

Phones are going off, doctors are being paged, and voices can be heard everywhere. Meanwhile, hallways are crammed with patients lying on beds.

Welcome to the world of Megan Goepfert, a registered nurse who works in the emergency department at The Villages Regional Hospital. Her world can be quiet one minute and complete chaos the next. She may deal with a minor injury like a stubbed toe, then out of nowhere rushes in a man with a gunshot wound who needs prompt care.

She sees traumatic events. People die. Families suffer. And then those energy-draining, 12-hour shifts can be exhausting.

“This job definitely comes with stress and isn’t for everybody,” Megan says. “We’ve been incredibly busy this winter due to flu season. It can also be stressful when dealing with patients who have heart problems. We have to get them to the catheterization lab as soon as possible. That means I have to get the patient in a gown, give them aspirin and pain medications, and try to educate them about the catheterization lab so they are less fearful about what’s going on.”

Despite it all, Megan loves her job. She has found that effective stress coping mechanisms help her maintain a loving, cheerful attitude toward patients and co-workers alike. One of them is humor therapy.

“I have amazing co-workers, and we all know that we could either laugh or cry. We choose to laugh together,” she says. “Laughing with one another builds a sense of family within our team and actually improves communication between us. When you are in a high-stress job, having a good support system is vitally important.”

She also maintains a healthy work-life balance, refusing to bring work-related stress home with her. Exploring the waterways of the Harris Chain of Lakes and Crystal River with her husband and children is one of her favorite weekend activities.

“I love riding in our boat because it’s so peaceful and calming,” she says. “It takes my mind off everything and helps me relax and decompress.”


The business owner

Owning a small business is akin to riding a roller coaster. There are lots of highs and lows, and sometimes you may feel queasy.

Timothy Totten has taken that ride many times. He is owner of Final Embrace, a Eustis-based company that makes blankets, quilts, and casket covers for funeral homes on five continents.

For him, stress comes from the fear of knowing his success or failure will directly affect the lives of his 15 employees who work hard to help him meet his everyday business goals.

“I’m always thinking of new ways to diversify my business because I want to make sure my employees can continue to eat,” he says.

It’s how he deals with stress that counts.

For Tim, channeling his creative side has proven to be the ultimate stress-buster. In recent years, he formed the game company Fun Ventures LLC, which allows him to create innovative and fun-filled game experiences for adults. Those games have included Clue! Live Mystery Party at the Mote-Morris House in Leesburg, Pop Up Art Golf in downtown Mount Dora, and the Escape Game in a Box, a great team-building exercise for companies.

“Coming up with unique ideas for adult games feeds me personally,” he says. “Seeing other adults laughing, smiling, and having a good time is very fulfilling.”

Tim also is founder of the Amazing Race for Charity, which is modeled after the CBS hit reality show “Amazing Race.” During the race, teams of two compete in quirky challenges that test their agility and problem-solving skills. The event, which will be held April 7, has raised over $100,000 for local charities and nonprofit organizations since debuting in 2013.

“Doing good things for other people is a great way to improve your mood and reduce stress,” he says. “I want to live in a better place. I can rely on others to make it better or I can make it better myself. Also, I’m the type who gets easily bored, so I enjoy coming up with games and events to keep others from getting bored.”

When he’s not organizing games, Tim serves as a master storyteller who travels to different venues and takes audiences on a journey through the life of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

“His life story has love, adultery, murder, and the emperor of Japan, and that’s all in his first 45 years,” he says. “I have always been a big fan of Wright and am very passionate to talk about him. Doing things I’m passionate about helps minimize any stress I may be feeling.”

About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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