Thursday, October 22, 2015

Taking The Sting Out Of Stress

Raise your hand if you have ever felt the debilitating pressures of stress. Raise your hand if you know the feeling of having so many concerns weighing down on you that you don’t believe you can successfully tackle any of them. Raise your hand if you have ever had so many things to do that the only thing you managed to do was to sit around and count how many things you had to do. If your hand is not at least figuratively in the air, I have a feeling that you’re not being entirely honest with yourself.

Stress is a part of being alive. There may be a few people who have managed to make it go away completely, but they are a statistical anomaly, the exception that proves the rule. They are not the standard case. For most of us, the act of being alive means that we will face stress, and sometimes we will face stress that seems overwhelming. It rarely is overwhelming - if that weren’t true, the human race would have long since gone extinct - but stress has a tendency of making things seem to be more than they are, and we have a tendency of believing it. Stress is often a liar, but we are often gullible. There are some things that we can do about that, though, if we take the time and remember to do them.

Knowing that stress is a liar, the first helpful trick to to just remember that stress is a liar. We often forget. When things are going well, we tell ourselves that we know better, we know what stress does and how it makes us feel, and we have these grand plans about how we’re not going to let stress get to us this time. Then stress comes calling with that lopsided grin and a bouquet of wildflowers, and we’re falling for the same old stories all over again. Living with stress is the ultimate bad relationship that we keep running back to no matter how many times we get burned.

We know that stress is a liar, so treat it like a liar. Look for the truth. Remember the times that this same thing has happened before, and remember how you got through them before. Look at the facts of the situation and realize that the molehill, after all, really is not a mountain. Listen to your friends, and understand that you have support from people who have often felt the same stress in the same situations. Whatever you do, do not take the word of a known liar. Get a second opinion, and even a third. Get the facts.

Don’t borrow trouble. So much of the time, the things we stress about aren’t even real. They are imagined maybes and predicted possibilities. We have cast ahead and come up with a list of things that might happen, then we picked the worst choices from that list and built a life around them. Let me tell you a secret: We are lousy fortunetellers. I’m still waiting for my flying car and self-lacing sneakers. Sure we get it right sometimes, but we get it wrong at least as often.

Worry is the worst use of imagination ever. It doesn’t add anything useful to your life, it doesn’t solve problems, and it doesn’t make things better. The only thing that worrying does is to prevent you from enjoying now while you’re stressing over a tomorrow that may never come. Then, if it does come, you can’t enjoy tomorrow either because you’re stressing over all of the things you left undone while you were worrying. It’s a snake eating its own tail until it devours the universe.

That isn’t to say that you don’t plan for tomorrow. In fact, planning can be an exceptional trick for alleviating stress, but you have to understand the difference between planning and worrying. One is constructive while the other is destructive. One helps you to put things into place for enjoying and appreciating life, while the other takes away everything that makes life worth living. One finds solutions while the other obsesses over problems. That is probably the easiest way to tell the difference. If you’re not exploring solutions, you’re not planning.

Remember again that stress is a liar. Stress will tell you that there are no solutions, or that these solutions will never work. That’s worrying. Toss it out and replace it with planning. Can it work? How has it worked in the past? What are the pieces that need to line up, and how can I help to make sure that happens? What has changed, and what can I do to accommodate that change? Planning acknowledges that there are answers and then goes looking for them.

When there aren’t answers, though, you can work with that too. One of the leading causes of stress is the refusal to accept the universe as it is. If you are experiencing stress because of your desire to have rain fall upward then you are being your own problem. Just as it is necessary to recognize the difference between planning and worrying, we must also be able to tell the difference between what is and what can be changed. It is also helpful to know whether or not I can change it. While it may be possible to build a hot rod that can break land speed records, I can’t do it. I don’t have the knowledge or skills. We have to know ourselves, and we have to know the universe, and we have to be honest about both.

May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We have all seen it a million times in various forms, but we rarely remember to apply it. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to let go, and it is imperative to our own health and well-being that we learn that and put it into practice, each to the best of our own abilities. Change what you can and let go of what you can’t, and the stress will melt away. Even better, after the stress has melted away, you will often find that you have changed things you didn’t think could be changed. Once again, we are reminded that stress is a liar, and sometimes the best way to find something is to stop looking.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, there are two physical activities that are the bane of a stressful existence: laughter and dancing. Give it a try and you’ll see that I’m right. If you’re dancing and laughing, you’re not stressed. It just works that way. These two activities are the best of life, distilled into its purest form. It’s like sunlight to a vampire, which is a pretty accurate description all around. Turn the music up and dance like noone is watching, even if they are. It might be even better if they are watching. If you dance as poorly as I do, that could lead to the laughing, and you have the One-Two punch to take stress out of the picture. Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. You need it, and it’s often not as serious as you think. If you can’t laugh at yourself, I bet you have a friend who would be happy to help. Call that friend. It will be good for you.

Stress is a part of living. You’re not going to get around that, but you can mitigate it. Your life is made up of many parts, so don’t let stress take more than its fair share. Keep it in its place, and live a good life. Live, laugh, love. That’s what it’s all about, after all, so make sure you’re not missing out. If you need help, ask for it. We all do sometimes. Do what you have to do to get the most out of life, and then make sure you live it.

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