There’s no doubt most of us are feeling stressed these days.
Our days and nights are filled with responsibilities and tasks. Through technology,
we have become available 24 / 7. We have to spread our attention across an
incredible array of demands, tasks, challenges and worries. It’s easy to get
sidetracked and mesmerized by all of the information available to us.
If you have any kind of health problem, either chronic or acute, you’ve got one more
thing to add to the stress pile.
And there’s no question that stress, and your response to it, can have a
significant impact on your health.
We can get so used to living in a stressful environment that we become
desensitized to it. Many people live in a low grade state of chronic “fight or
In this state, our bodies secrete excess amounts of the fight or flight hormones,
such as cortisol and adrenaline. We tense up, our muscles tighten, and our
breathing becomes more shallow. We may eat poorly and gain weight,
causing us still more stress.
These reactions to stress steal away our vital energy and weaken our immune
system. They also cause us to feel less in control and less confident. This
change in mental outlook can be a vicious cycle, causing us to spiral down
into increasingly frequent and consuming periods of anxiety, worry,
impatience, and fear.
The key to getting the upper hand on stress is self-examination. Are you
living your life in such a way as to maximize harmony? Are your actions
congruent with your most closely held beliefs? Are your actions congruent
with what is good for you?
This is a huge question that requires some thinking and introspection
to answer truthfully. Most of us, if we are being honest with ourselves, will
see that we are creating most of the stress we feel by the poor choices and
decisions we make.
I’m not a psychologist, although psychology was one of my majors in
college. (I sound like one of those actors doing a commercial, in which
they say, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”….) So I’ll not dwell on
this right now (perhaps in a future post).
Introspection and understanding ourselves is very important. But getting to
the point where you can be brutally honest with yourself takes some time.
Personally, I have a bias for action. I’d rather talk about what I can do now in
a proactive way. I’ve found that you can achieve dramatic results in controlling
stress by taking some simple steps. So let’s discuss a couple to get you started.
The first step in controlling stress is to understand that life is difficult. Life’s
not perfect. There will always be stress of some sort.
Many years ago, Dale Carnegie (famous creator of “How to Win Friends and
Influence People”), made the point that, as we pass through the decades of
life, each of us will encounter sadness and misfortune.
It’s how we react to this sadness and misfortune that determines how
stressed we will feel and, by extension, how happy we will be in our lives.
Mark Twain commented when he was older that, as he looked back over his life, he realized most of the things he worried about never came to pass. He felt he had wasted literally years of his life being preoccupied about things that might happen, or things he couldn’t control.
The next step is to begin to understand your own response to stress.
Do you thrive on it, or does it beat you down?
Part of your response is physical in nature. In fact, you can observe yourself
and determine how well you are handling life’s stresses — with no introspection
required. Simply observe yourself at random times of the day.
For example, take a look at your posture. How are you standing or sitting? Are
your shoulders, neck and back tight or uncomfortable? Are you hunched over?
Do you frequently stand or sit with arms folded (a protective mechanism)?
Also attend to how you are breathing. Is your breathing rapid and shallow?
Do you feel tightness in your throat or chest? Discomfort in your stomach?
Do you sometimes hold your breath?
Your breathing is involved in every aspect of your life: physical, mental,
emotional, even spiritual. Poor breathing contributes to a huge number of
health problems. It also causes you to live at a lower level of vitality and
prevents you from achieving your full potential.
My belief is that you first have to face up to your present condition. By facing it,
acknowledging it, and breathing into it, you begin to assert power and control
over it. You then can move on to creating, first mentally, then physically, the
reality you want to have in your life.
In my next post, I’ll discuss some more steps for gaining the upper hand
You Can Do It!