We live complicated lives. Too many of us feel overwhelmed and unfulfilled. We have competing needs and demands for our time. This results in the creation of, and the experience of, stress. We may complain of feeling burnt out. We get into negative spaces of not being good enough, unable to cope, depressed and comparing our lives to others. Stress is a fact of life.
The American Institute of Stress reports that 75 to 90 per cent of visits to health care providers are about stress related disorders. The American Psychological Association (2007) reports that 50 per cent of us believe stress is increasing and 49 per cent believe that it affects our wellbeing. Forty-six per cent believe that it influences our physical state and roughly 50 per cent report symptoms of anger and fatigue. A simple way to redefine stress is to see it as nothing more than a challenge to our system and an invitation for us to provide a wise response to manage it.
Stress is a routine part of living and most of the time we handle it appropriately. For example, hunger is a stress, but a useful feeling; it tells us to eat. The truth is that we can either manage stress poorly or well. It is the choice we make and our ability to cope which allows us to feel either in control or overwhelmed. A common complaint is that ‘I don’t have enough time in my day.’ When we approach our lives this way, we are often too focused on what we are ‘doing’ to catch up that we neglect to pay attention to a critical aspect of ourselves. This is the aspect of ‘being’. Being creates a different type of focus. At the moment of ‘doing’, are we also aware of how we are feeling? Do we have the energy, focus, and desire? Are we in touch with those aspects of ourselves that allow us to navigate our internal states with wisdom? Ask the question: “How am I being while I am doing my doing?”
Let us look at whether we have a healing recipe for ourselves. We must be honest in answering these questions. For our physical well-being: Do we give ourselves enough breaks or rest time during the day? How fulfilling is our sleep and exercise? Do we eat healthily and in a disciplined way? All these significantly help us to manage stress. Without these basics steps, nothing else will work well enough. Studies, for example, have shown that reducing calorie intake one day a week to 600 calories with fluids, can reduce stress, boost the immune system and build more nerve cells.
How do we manage our thoughts and emotions? Do we have realistic and constructive ideas about what is reasonable to accomplish in a day? Is our self-worth so externally bound to our ‘doing’ that we sacrifice our ‘being’? Too many of us need to appear competent in another person’s eyes, so we sell our soul to do so. When we do this, our minds and hearts become overwhelmed, confused and we feel inauthentic to ourselves. Can we listen to our spirit and heart about what is really important for our life? We are all worthy just the way we are. All of us are on a journey and we all have imperfections. Here are some other simple ingredients, which are backed by science and easy to do. They have all been shown to decrease stress.
• Deep, slow breathing for at least five minutes a day, can improve concentration and memory. It increases brain neurons and helps the brain to access its delta and theta brain frequencies that causes the mind to settle. Important healing then takes place.
• Meditation and yoga of all kinds are powerful tools.
• Seek a confidante who will listen to you without judgement. Those who share, actually live longer than those who are isolated.
• Get out there and be kind to others. Show gratitude for something, however small it may be.
• Practice forgiveness and patience and be nonjudgmental. Criticizing and judging others are very self-centred behaviours and they actually produce harmful chemicals in our body.
A special word to teenagers and young adults, research is showing a marked increase in the use of technology. An average 18 to 19 year old uses technology anywhere between 11 to 18 hours a day. It is now shown that the more hours spent on using technology, the less empathetic and compassionate we are to each other. So by avoiding face-to-face human connection and creating more isolation, teenagers and young adults are managing their stress poorly. Depression, anxiety, drug abuse is a sad outcome of this trending behaviour. Whoever and wherever we are, we came into this world to make a positive difference. Fulfilling that desire is our goal and stress sabotages our ultimate dream. Small, consistent steps in addressing our stress gradually free us up more and more to be whom we really are.