The risk of stress on our well-being is not only intuitive but a reality. Elevated blood pressure and cortisol not withstanding, when under stressed, we make poor choices that then could impact our physical and mental health, our relationships and possibly even our finances.
I used to deal with stress by just trying to suck it up. I’d hold it in until I couldn’t stand the pressure, and then the smallest thing would set me off. It made me, and others, feel like I was a big byotchsky. And rightly so.
When I wasn’t taking it out on others, I was taking it out on myself by getting depressed and probably eating or spending too much. Other types of self-destructive behavior may be extra-marital affairs, watching too much TV, spending too much time on the computer, or drinking.
Now, I feel like I’m much better at handling stress. Yes I feel stressed sometimes but it’s not very often that stress gets out of hand. The past year, though glorious in many ways, was extremely intense and had the potential for unbelievable stress given my full time job which included launching a major new initiative, a full time degree program, a move, a marriage, a major birthday, an empty nest, and a death in the family, all at the same time. But I feel like I was able to manage the stress pretty well. I feel quite proud of just managing the stress levels with some grace.
I’m not completely sure of the reasons for the change in me but here’s what I have been working on:
- Not living in the past – Stress comes in part from harboring resentment or regret about the past. I feel the past has helped me to be who I am now even if I didn’t realize it at the time, so I’ve abandoned all my regrets and disappointments.
- Not worrying about the future – I have really very little control over the future. Accepting this reality means I can let go of my expectations about the future and stop worrying. I haven’t mastered this one but I’m much better at it. For the most part, I worry about the future when I decide to spend time considering the future, as opposed to letting that worry drive the mental agenda all day.
- Being present – This is the result of letting go of the past and not worrying about the future. Meditation has helped me tremendously to train my brain to be in the present. My monkey mind is vastly improved. That monkey mind just creates unhappiness for me, so I work on keeping it at bay.
- Judging people – I used to sometimes assume the worst about people, which would make me very upset, especially if that person I was judging was me. I’ve accepted my humanity and imperfection while continuing to try my best. Others are also trying their best. And that’s good enough for me.
- Judging situations – Situations are only bad if we can’t find the opportunity hidden within them. I find the silver lining in every situation so they’re all good. The situations that seem the worst have the largest opportunity for growth.
- Accepting what is – So if you’re living in the present and accepting the present moment, you’re basically accepting life as it is. Fighting it in any way just creates stress. That doesn’t mean you make no effort to change unacceptable situations. It just means that you don’t fight the reality of a situation or judge it. Instead you choose your response rather than reacting from a place of anger, fear or sadness. In other words, I can create a boundary, a consequence or make a change either from a place of resentment or a sense of trying to do the right thing.
I realize I’m making it sound easier than it is. It has taken me years to get to this point, and I still have a long way to go. However, I think the effort is well worthwhile because I am now happier and more peaceful. In addition, I feel like I’m more productive and effective since I’m spending less time and energy on counterproductive feelings and actions and more on finding solutions and opportunities.
Failing to manage my stress is akin to spending all my energy bailing out a sinking boat instead of just stopping, putting the boat in dry dock and fixing the holes. If you’re stressed right now, then stop and consider whether you’re bailing or repairing. If you’re bailing, then go find your dry dock and make yourself whole. Then chart a course and sail away. Your health, well-being and peace of mind will thank you.