Keys to Managing Stress
"Look out the window. Tell me what you see. You see the same things that you see everyday. Well, imagine you've never seen it. Imagine you spent your whole life in other parts of the world, being told everyday that you're defending freedom. Then you finally decide you've had enough. Time to see what you've given up your whole life for, everything. Get some of that "freedom" for yourself. Look at the people. You tell me which one are free. Free from debt. Anxiety. Stress. Fear. Failure. Indignity. Betrayal. How many wish that they were born knowing what they know now? Ask yourself how many would do things the same way over again, and how many would live their lives like me. (Jack Reacher from the movie Jack Reacher)
Looking Out the Window at Myself
I watched the movie "Jack Reacher" starring Tom Cruise for the first time with several of my family members. We were all enjoying the movie when the above scene happened. It immediately gripped me. I wanted to hear it again, but because I didn't want to disrupt everyone else's enjoyment, I sat still and continued to enjoy the movie as well. The very next day I went out and purchased the movie for the purpose of being able to watch that one scene several times...and I did.
After about the third time, I went to the window to look out. Since I live outside the city, and I don't have houses next door, or a cul-de-sac, office building near, etc. I didn't have the type of scenery that was presented in the movie. When I looked out the window I was looking at me, and into my soul.
What is Stress?
Stress can be very difficult to define. Not everyone identify nor handle stress in the same way. The American Heritage Dictionary provides several definitions that can be used to determine a particular level of understanding. Consider these:
- An applied forces or system of forces that tends to strain or deform a body.
- A state of extreme difficulty, pressure, or strain
- Another definition I found states that stress is defined as an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures.
And, as much as, we consider these difinitions please also consider this: Stress truly is poison, and if we don't learn how to reduce it, manage it, eliminate it, and not to invite into our lives, it can cause physical, and emotional damage to our bodies..
From Blessed to Stressed to Blessed
There was a point in my life when I would often say “I have no stress” or “I don’t allow stress”. A little mantra that often went through work places, churches, girl-friend groups was “I’m too blessed to be stressed”. I cannot remember ever using that one and I do not know why, but it was something about it that never “set well with or rang true for me”. Not that I did not feel blessed because I did and I was--blessed. I felt and feel extremely blessed. However, on close examination I was overwhelming stressed but I had learned to live with it so well that I was in complete denial. I had frequent headaches that were so bad they actually left me physical ill, but I blamed it on foods, allergies--which of course were part, but not, the total problem--and the doctors were no help in helping me identify causes.
I Wish! I Wonder!
I've spent much of my life doing many things. I was a daughter, young adult, young married woman, wife, mother, caregiver, grandmother, and all the roles one would expect to go with each. I also dibbled and dabbled (I know it doesn't make sense, just go with the flow here) in many things because of an insatiable curiosity i.e. car and motorcycle racing; writing and directing plays for children; singing with, and managing a regional singing group). There is more but that's for another article.
In my work life/career I taught school, worked as a social worker for the Head Start program, then finally settled into community service and non-profit leadership. I was also a trainer/consultant/writers. Community service through my work with various non-profit organizations is where I spent the most years, and found peace and contentment. I look back on those years....through the window....and I see that I was never in one place longer than a few years---and, I was constantly traveling. Those were the years that I felt little to no stress.
I loved my job, but I also loved staying in hotels. I loved living in different places. I loved meeting different people, and learning about others cultures, traditions, thoughts, and opinions. I loved the adventures of it all. Went it was time to move on, I did it will joy. I never really looked back. I would miss people, but not yearn for them. I would think about the fun, and would sometimes want to sit with someone and have tea or coffee, and conversation.
And then I retired. I decided to set down "roots" close to some of my family. Looking through the window, I now see that was a big mistake. Stress came to visit, and decided to stay. I became emotionally and physically unbalanced.....sick. I was no longer free. I write about this to some extent in my hub http://With A Special Kind of Grace
Stress is the body’s response to demands, both physical and mental, that are made on it. Those demands can be positive or they can be negative. Keeping a journal, writing a research paper, being a parent, or taking a walk are all enjoyable experiences and something can instantly happen to turn the joy of the activity into stress. Let me give an example here. I love to walk--not only is it good for physical exercise but it clears the head and allows me to think through problems or just simply enjoy the scenery. However, if I happen to turn down a street or road that has a factory my heart rate increase to the point that I think it may jump right out of my chest. I have a fear of factory structures that I cannot explain. The factory becomes a stressor and in an instant, an enjoyable walk turns threatening. Another stressor for me is seeing or encountering a dog. I have an almost unnatural fear of dogs. A dog bit me when I was a child and the fear has never really left. I am OK (almost) if the dog is with someone I know or is somehow contained or restrained. The more time I spend around a dog the fear lessens or diminish (almost), but my stress monitor is always on guard.
I realized that factory structures, dogs, and life with people and situations in general are stressful. I also realized that I could no longer boast that I have no stress in my life. After further examination, it was painfully apparent that my life was filled with stress and stressful situations. Two things happened that allowed me to take a close look at my personal state or condition. A dear friend and I were having a conversation about “stuff“, nothing in particular just girl talk. She mentioned that, among other things, she was addicted to potato chips. She could never pass up a potato chip and it was never just one chip it would be a bag or so a day. “I have a bag a day habit,” she joked. Sometimes the chips replaced a meal she admitted. I remarked that I could not think of anything to which I was addicted. I like to eat and love soft cookies and vanilla ice cream but could easily not have any, etc. I do not really drink, I continued, a glass of wine with dinner occasionally, a beer while eating pizza, etc. She looked at me and said “very matter of fact”, “you are addicted to books.” We both laughed because it was true---I love books and I buy them all the time. I cannot pass a bookstore without going in and coming out with at least one book. The people at Amazon love seeing me online and when my car drive into the Book-a-Million parking lot the store personnel get excited. I fully expect that one day someone will meet me at my car and escort me into the building. LOL
Later I thought about our conversation and replaying her words in my mind “you are addicted to book” I was struck and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Anytime anything happened in my life…at work…at home…with friends…that produced anxiety, fear, anger or joy I would head to the bookstore. Walking into a bookstore immediately put me in a good mood.
Later, during a time while living in Iowa I quite often visited a little used bookstore not far when my office. I would go there so often that the owner and I became friends. On one occasion, I went to the store because of something that happened at work. I was so upset that I was close to tears but I did not want my staff/team to see me cry so I quickly found a reason to leave “I have a meeting, I said”. I walked in and, as usual, the tension begins to leave my body. I spoke to the owner and began to browse. I found my way to an area where boxes of books were on the floor waiting to be placed on shelves. I sat down among the boxes and began to look through books as the tension continued to leave and I began to feel at peace. I do not really know how long I was there but the owner interrupted my solace as he said “oh, there you are I thought you’d left.”
Learning to Relax
The point is, we are surrounded by stress and almost anything can be a trigger. The times we are living in with the economy jumping all over the place, the housing market tanking and the number of foreclosures rising, the job market and the number of people who are unemployed, and knowing that most of us are only a paycheck away from being kicked to the curb is more than enough cause for stress. The good news is there are ways we can reduce, eliminate or manage the stress in our lives. Here are a few key points, you may think of others.
- Make a list of everything that is worrying you right now. Make sure you list it all. Take a good look at it the list. Read it aloud if you want. Now do one of three things--ball it up or twist it many times then throw it in the trash; shred it either by hand or in your paper shredder or use scissors; burn it--be careful with this one and make sure you have a safe place to perform this.
- Keep a daily journal and write your feelings. The practice of journaling allows you to release your worries to the pages.
- Daily Meditation and prayer can work wonders in helping to release the concerns that keep us trapped in fear or anger.
- Exercise. Not only would we all benefit health wise, but also, it is reported, that exercise release endorphins into the brain that allow us to feel happy and joyful for several hours.
- Find a hobby to engage in, something that you enjoy so much that you forget everything else.
- Get a coloring book and crayons and have fun for an hour.
- Go fishing.
- Go to the beach and walk in the sand.
- Buy a balloon.
- Playing jacks, bounce a ball, swing, dance, play hop-scotch, tic-tac-toe.
I have not found the magic bullet that will eliminate stress altogether, but I have found that engaging in one of more of the acts above will reduce or eliminate it for periods--hours, day or even weeks. With a little practice, we can learn to manage stress and by doing so it does not become debilitating.
Are there things you do when you are stressed? Share with us.
"When Mozart was composing at the end of the eighteenth century, the city of Vienna was so quiet that fire alarms could be given verbally, by a shouting watchman mounted on top of St. Stefan’s Cathedral. In twentieth-century society, the noise level is such that it keeps knocking our bodies out of tune and out of their natural rhythms. This ever-increasing assault of sound upon our ears, minds, and bodies adds to the stress load of civilized beings trying to live in a highly complex environment." <Steven Halpern>
So, why not rest, get quiet, close your eyes and shut out the sights and sounds. Get lost in a good book or a funny movie--one that will make you laugh so hard your sides hurt. A city like 18th century Vienna is out of the question, but we can temporarily create the solitude we all need and crave.
Wonderful advice we should all heed: "Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time." <J. Lubbock>
For just a moment during my window-to-the-soul moment, I felt a twinge of regret. It went away rather fast because I know that everything I have done, and will continue to do, has a purpose. When Jack Reacher said if we were born knowing what we know now....., but we are not, and that within itself is part of the adventure.
Here’s hoping that each of you, each of us, have more and more stress free moments that turn into hours, day, weeks, months, etc. etc. etc.
Love to all,
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