Susan walked in the door from work, looking forward to nothing more than putting her feet up and petting the dog. No sooner had she hung up her coat than her middle schooler entered the family room with a look of consternation and guilt on his face. What now? she thought, feeling her moment of tranquility evaporate. He was really sorry, but he’d forgotten about the science assignment that was due tomorrow and could she please help him get it ready?

Susan considered her alternatives. She could do like she’d done in the past and chastise him for his irresponsibility toward his schoolwork, his disregard for her, and his shortsightedness and lack of planning. With all of that ammunition, she could easily reduce his fragile sense of self to a smoldering heap of ash.

Should he have dealt with this sooner? Absolutely. But he was also a twelve-year-old trying to maneuver that awkward shift from grade school to middle school with multiple teachers and multiple homework assignments. Knowing the child that he was, she could also see a glimmer of the teen he was becoming. He was growing up so fast!

She was grateful he’d come to her with his problem, instead of hiding it. She was grateful he knew he could come to her for help. She was grateful she hadn’t taken off her shoes, because her evening now included a trip to the store—maybe two.

“Let’s see what you need,” she said, holding out her hand. Relieved, he handed her the paper and together they went over the list. “I’m sorry,” he told her in the car. “I know I should have done this sooner. I just forgot!” Susan was grateful for this teachable moment that could have turned out so differently.

Steve’s gratitude for his parents.

The phone rang and Steve glanced down to see who was calling. Though he didn’t really have the time to talk to his mother, Steve answered the call from her. The caregiver who was supposed to come and help with his father’s care had called in sick—again—so could Steve find a way to take them to the pharmacy to pick up their meds. What could he say? His parents were elderly, his father couldn’t be alone by himself, and they needed their meds. Asking his mother to let him call her back, Steve took a breath and a minute to figure out how to make this work.

He had a meeting he needed to be at by seven, so if he left work on time and traffic cooperated, he could swing by their house, which wasn’t far, and pick them both up. Then they’d head over to the pharmacy and he’d wait with his dad in the car while she went inside and picked up the meds. He could still drop them back at their house and make his meeting.

Calling her back, Steve let her know about the meeting but said he could be to the house by six fifteen. Delighted, his mother promised to have them both ready. She also said she’d make him a sandwich to eat in the car, so he wouldn’t have to wait until after the meeting for dinner. His mother was like that, always thinking ahead. Steve was grateful for the sandwich. He was grateful he lived close by, so these kinds of trips were easier. He was grateful his mother was still able to care for his father in their home. He was grateful both his parents were still alive.

As you leave behind stress and the negativity stress produces, you need to reach for positive thoughts, attitudes, and actions to fill in those empty spaces. If you don’t, stress and negativity may come roaring back. As you fill yourself up with positive things, stress will have a harder time reestablishing a hold in your life.