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Life with a Smile: The importance of ending off soul fever

By Kate Snyder

Contributing writer

My youngest child got sent home from school twice in one week because she threw up at inopportune moments (like all over the lunch table). Although there were assorted bugs making their way through the school, I’m not at all convinced she was actually sick.

Once I got her home, she was suspiciously chipper, with nary an indication of fever, lethargy or additional impulses to barf. In fact, on the second day that I retrieved her, she came bounding up to me and cheerily announced — “I’m sick! Let’s go color!”

My go-to parenting book is “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. In it, he describes a phenomenon he refers to as “soul fever.” It’s the idea that cumulative stresses and over-stimulation can impact kids’ emotional states as much as a traditional illness can impact their physical well-being. Basically, their soul gets sick.

My kids have all been struggling with soul fever this summer. There was so much transition and change piled on top of lots of scheduled activities. It wore on them all.

My tiny girl has been the most impacted by those life changes, in part because she is the least able to explain how she’s feeling. My theory is that her stress built up until it finally showed up as (possibly fake) illness.

I think that I’ve had a touch of soul fever myself. The changes were of my own making and the schedule is mostly within my control, but it wears on me, too. My instinct when I’m physically sick is to lie around on the couch and binge-watch Netflix. It turns out, that’s my response to emotional upheaval, too. I noticed that I’ve been plowing through episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and eating a lot of Ben and Jerry’s out of the carton after the kids are in bed.

But here’s the thing about just lying around when you’re sick — at first, it’s exactly what you need. But eventually, it starts to make you feel worse. Your brain gets fuzzy (and your teeth do too, if ice cream is a regular event) and it’s harder and harder to shake off the lingering feeling of yuck. At some point, you’ve got to make yourself get up and get moving if you want to feel better.

Last weekend, the kids were with their dad and I was seriously contemplating staying in my pajamas all day when I decided I’d done enough wallowing. I took a shower, got in the car, and drove to Berea by myself. I had never been there before and it was glorious. I visited the farmers market, wandered around the college campus and shopped in several galleries. I ate lunch at an outdoor café and read a book on a park bench. It was exactly what I needed.

When your soul feels sick, seek out the medicine that will make it better. For my 3-year-old, it was an afternoon (or two) of coloring with me. For me, it was a mini road trip to a new and beautiful place.