- Mental Health
Handling Stress in America
America is the land of opportunity they say. It is true that in the United States people have more opportunities to improve their economic status than in most parts of the world. American innovation has meant high productivity and economic development for millions of individuals and businesses.
Learn to handle your stress
Capitalism has helped built a strong society full of self-reliant people. But in spite of great progress, one phenomenon has emerged in the 20th century that is now regarded as a leading contributing factor for many diseases: stress. Indeed, life has become more and more hectic since the industrial revolution, and recently, with the dynamic business environment we live in and the arrival of technologies whose goal is to make our lives better and easier, like the cell phone or the explosion of social media, people are using the scarce free time they have to text, email, and chat with one another. Adding to this, even if the USA is the richest country in the world, there are millions of people in it living without access to healthcare because of an antiquated system that only works well for the rich and partially works for the shrinking middle class. Of course the debate over healthcare is a complex one, but the stress it causes is apparent to anyone that knows somebody without health insurance. Although we are a society prone to live under stress and there seems to be no escape from it, I submit that the power to lead better lives with healthy amounts of stress is reachable and within ourselves.
Achieving control over our tension is not an easy task. First, we need to understand what stress is. There is good and bad stress. Bad or negative stress occurs when we perceive a given situation as threatening rather than challenging (1). The key word in here is perceive. Stress is subjective because one person can see a situation as very stressful and another might see it as something without much importance. We need to learn to give situations the right amount of energy; in other words, we should strive for rational assessments of our problems. Otherwise, stress builds up and anxiety and depression will soon get hold of us.
Now, some people see stress as something that we cannot control because circumstances sometimes are too overwhelming. I contest this idea. I think we can control our stress to a great degree, without saying that we can eliminate it completely. It is a good point that there are many incidents in life that are impossible for a human being to face without stress. It is part of our nature to feel pressure in certain circumstances so it would be illogical to say that we should simply try not to feel the stress. What we can do is learn how to better react after we begin to feel it. We cannot change the past. If a situation is out of our hands then we must accept it and focus on what we can change: our assessment of the situation and our inner dialogue. Also, it is essential that we find ways to avoid stressful situations when anxiety or worry begins to affect our lives to a great extent.
In the U.S.A. there is a culture of productivity and continuous improving of economic status that has led many individuals to work more than they should to get material things that they can’t afford. It is in human nature really, to want what others have; life in a country with great material wealth just makes it easier for that instinct to surface. The constant development of new technologies creates the necessity of learning new stuff all the time to remain competitive and able to get good jobs. Innovation is the name of the game. Electronics and software are constantly revised or upgraded to meet our needs better and specially to increase productivity. The truth is we are becoming more and more productive not only in our jobs but also in the art of doing irrelevant things. “The faster we go, the more we take on; and the more we take on, the more there is for us to do. Labor-saving devices thus create more labor” (2). It is not surprising though that we now have to pay for quiet time; isn’t that what we are doing when we enroll on a yoga, tai chi, or meditation class? For most people, the economic commitment is part of the activity, for sure.
The reason so many people suffer from stress in America is that there is not enough value placed on relaxation and recreation in the culture. In other countries people believe it is very important to allocate family time, for example. In many Latin American nations, it’s a given that relatives get together periodically, usually monthly and often times weekly. Also, we must take into account the American laws regarding time off. Most Europeans enjoy at least double the time off we do in this country. The lack of knowledge of other countries and the pride we take in doing things better make us complacent with the status quo.
So for people dealing with high levels of stress in America, the solution lies within themselves. These individuals should strive for good habits every day. It is not enough to do yoga twice a week if the rest of the time they are overbooked and overworked. The best approach is to tackle things day by day, good habit by good habit. The answer to stress sounds so easy: spend more time doing recreational activities as well as with loved ones, be rational about the obstacles in life and seek help if you need it. Take time for yourself, meditate, stretch, do yoga, eat healthier. The bad news is none of these things will get done if we don’t make time for them. The ultimate truth is this: in the U.S.A. we have to make a conscious decision and sacrifice some important activities in order to invest time on stress reduction and by consequence be healthier beings. Some of us can sacrifice less, like reducing the time spent on on-line social networks, but sadly some might have to cut a vital income stream, perhaps abandoning that second job or the freelance consulting. This is something most of us are not prepared to do. One of the best practices to be able to tame our minds regarding our wrong views on material wealth is meditation. We can meditate on one simple truth: excessive worrying does not serve any good purpose. There are things we cannot change in life and we must accept them as they come. Only with discipline and commitment we can begin to transform our mind.
Being happy with what we have is an old realization. Many cultures have sayings that point to this and yet every human being has to struggle internally to realize it. When we can improve our way of life without sacrificing peace of mind, we should go for it. But if circumstances ask too much of us, we should pick wisely what things we are capable of doing and what things we truly need to achieve or have. The ultimate prize is our health and happiness.
Stress Relief Items
(1) Hallowell, Edward, Chapter 14. Crazy Busy. Ballantine Books 2006. 61.
(2) O’Hanlon, Brenda, Chapter 2. Stress Reduction. The Crossing Press Fredom, California 1998. 9.