It would seem that we live in a stressful world. At least, that’s what many people would have you believe. Can you think of anyone who doesn’t complain about being “stressed out” on a reasonably regular basis? It’s true that we live in a fast-paced world of technology and impatience. It’s got to the point where I’ve heard people coming apart because when making a call, it takes more than three seconds for it to connect and the other phone begins to ring.
Many families are so busy running in 26 directions they hardly see each other. Kids are involved in several activities, parents are running their own businesses or serving on committees or boards, and perhaps one or both parents travel for work. The busier we become, the more reason there is to “feel stressed.” Or at least, that’s the way we think this works.
In reality, we only have stress if we believe in it. Yes, stress is right up there with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Before you throw rocks at my house, let me explain.
The truth is that stress is entirely about your perception. I’m sure that at some point in your life, you’ll have met people who come unhinged with very few tasks to manage, while others seem to be able to juggle loads of deadlines and commitments without batting an eye. When it comes to perceived stresses, no age group is immune. For children, it’s school pressures, exams, or the bully on the playground. Young adults stress about university or career choices, about grumpy bosses, or dating woes. As we move through life, the challenges change along with our circumstances.
But ask almost anyone who is old enough to understand the meaning of “stressed” and if that’s how they’re feeling, and the overwhelming majority are likely to reply in the affirmative.
We’re always hearing that “stress is the number one killer.” But what exactly does that mean? It’s just a vague concept at best, isn’t it?
Well, what it means is that ongoing stress can cause an assortment of physical ailments that are serious enough to kill us. Cardiovascular disease and cancer are right at the top of the list, but there are numerous other degenerative diseases that are killing us, just perhaps not in such a dramatic way as these two. ALS, Parkinson’s, MS, lupus, MD, Huntington’s, and so many others have also been linked to ongoing stress responses in the body.
We can only be in “growth and healing” mode or “fight or flight” mode. The body cannot do both at once; it would be like driving with the brakes on. If you’re “stressed,” your body’s growth and healing processes stop and are replaced by those meant to help you fight or run. With short term stress, the body recovers quickly. But on an ongoing basis, these processes cause damage that can lead to life-threatening illness.
Here are a few tips that can help avoid feeling stressed:
1) The best place to begin is in changing your attitude about it. Look at the deadlines and obligations you’ve got, for example. Accept that you can only do your best, and this means you can only do so much! Learn to delegate wherever possible.
2) Weed out the essentials and the non-essentials. And if you think everything is essential, perhaps it’s time to let go of some control and not be such a perfectionist…
3) Meditate. Heaven knows there are enough guided meditations, DVDs, YouTube videos and in-person sessions available but you can also just sit quietly, comfortably, with your eyes closed for 10-15 minutes a day and focus on your breathing. If other thoughts wander into your mind, just acknowledge them, let them go, and focus on your breath again. This is especially good to do in the middle of a situation that you perceive as stressful; it will bring you back to “calm and centered” very quickly.
4) Make sure you engage in favourite pastimes regularly to restore your energy. You can’t be outputting all the time; you will burn yourself out. Even if the outputting is fun stuff with family and tearing around doing enjoyable things, it is exhausting. We need down time to just be by ourselves, doing whatever it takes to input again.
5) The Dreaded ‘E’ Word—well, it is for me anyway. I detest exercise. I really do. But I know some sort of physical activity is essential to good health, including the mental and emotional levels. How about a walk? Or try Tai Chi, which—along with various other activities—can even be done sitting down if you have physical limitations. If you have any moving parts at all, there’s no excuse not to be doing something with them. It’s one of the best stress-reducers on the planet.
6) I’m back to the beginning: change your attitude. You will only have stress if you believe it. If you look at everything that’s on your plate and think, “Oh, no! I have to do this and this and that and those and all of this, too,” of course you will feel stressed. But notice the huge shift in energy if you think, “Yeah, it’s a lot but I can do this, one thing at a time.”
Doesn’t that feel better? See? If you simply change your perception of events and choose positive, progressive thoughts, it’s an instant stress-buster, I promise!
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