“One person’s poison is another person’s paradise. One person’s negative stressor is another person’s positive challenge.”
As many of the erudite researchers point out, stress and its effects are part of a continuum. Some authors divide that continuum into first-degree burns, second-degree burns, third-degree burns, first-degree stress, second-degree stress, and third-degree stress. First-degree is reasonably typical for every individual. It is reflected by occasional bouts that we deal with successfully. They are typically weak reactions that we can sleep off, work off, or exercise off, either that night or during the weekend. Second-degree stress or second-degree burns are periodic bouts not easily resolved by a night’s sleep, a weekend, or a short vacation. Finally, third-degree stress or third-degree burns refers to severe stress where there is no relief in sight. One becomes chronically depressed, frustrated, and unable to cope. Third-degree is characterized by recognizable red flags, including social problems, psychological problems, and concurrent health problems. Before I get into more detailed solutions to stress, I’d like to share three generic types of distress solutions that will be further discussed later. They include:
Changing the situation by avoiding it; by taking necessary action on removing oneself from the stressful environment.
Changing one’s perception of attitude about the situation; turning it around, negating its reality, looking at it differently, or resolving it by making definitive decisions.
Changing one’s state of psychological or physiological arousal (fight/flight syndrome) through relaxation techniques, biofeedback, physical exercise, deep breathing, etc.
Experts agree the source of psychological stress is from the neck up. Life is a ball of energy. Our energy needs to be directed into proper harmony and balance—the Chinese call this Ying and Yang, a careful balance of personal energy. Stress can turn harmony into disharmony by draining your mental and physical energy. By dipping deep into your energy reserves, you are rendered physically and mentally exhausted. In an attempt to avoid disharmony, you deplete your reserves, becoming truly disharmonic. Both physicists and psychologists clearly understand this equation. As you encounter continued disharmony, you become highly susceptible to disease. If you are confident, in control of your emotions, and fully responsible for your behavior, your energy sources are at peak levels, and your ability to cope serves you well. If so, your face may flush with radiant pink color, allowing you to enjoy music, art, humor, laughing because of your extra reserve of positive energy. Coping with stress allows your immune system to stay in balance so that any alien attacks, such as free radicals to your cells, can be quickly grabbed and destroyed like Pac-Man.
“Fatigue is often caused, not by work, but by worry, frustration, and resentment. We rarely get tired when we are doing something interesting and exciting.”—Dale Carnegie
As in the laws of physics, for every force, there is an equal and opposite force. Ying and Yang create a homeostatic balance. Optimally, the healthiest individuals can maximize their energy by turning danger into opportunity. Using that opportunistic energy, we equalize the danger of stress and create a harmonious balance. An engineering friend suggested that the equation is rather simplistic. He said, “Force equals mass times acceleration. Force is dependent upon our mass.” He suggested that we simply need to get our mass moving! To do this, you must have confidence in yourself, faith that life will go on regardless, and trust that you can cope with stress. Be keenly aware that you are very capable of managing and defusing it.
In my studies and my book, it has been suggested that almost 90 percent of daily stress is the “stress of stress”. The definition of “stress of stress” is simply the events that precede or follow any stressful event. For example, it can be a preceding event that you might be of concern. The event could be an upcoming event, such as a birth, a test, a marriage, a divorce, a death, a job evaluation, etc. Or the “stress of stress” may occur after a stressful event; marital separation, birth or adoption of an expected child, anger after a heated argument, an unwarranted comment or disparaging remark, serious injury, death, etc. The event itself is the trigger, but one’s preceding or aftermath perception of the event causes the majority of distress.
Secondly, stress is both situational and attitudinal. How you react and perceive an event either ameliorate or deteriorates the event. The preceding event and your reaction can either energize you or cause discomfort and pain. How you assess the situation determines the positive or negative effect of stressors because stress is first and foremost a perception. Regardless of whether your perceptions are real or imaginary, your reaction activates your bodily emergency defense system either positively or negatively.
My original research concluded that there are seven deadly and several less deadly but toxic causes of distress. Although mentioned in the stress chapter, here is a more detailed explanation:
Communication problems are the root of most stress difficulties. A person’s inability to send and receive messages is the culprit. Poor listening and lack of emotional sensitivity are even more devastating than sending incongruous messages.
Secondly, another major villain, and perhaps the prime cause of stress, lacks personal control. Simply put, individuals who have control over their lives are healthier, live longer, and have a sense of predictability over the elements of their lives. These include finances, work, time, general behavior, and relationships. Conversely, those that feel powerless or helpless experience significantly more stress live shorter lives have more health problems and have a less predictable existence. The euphemism “nervous breakdown” is a period when life is perceived to be out of control. Conversely, for this very reason, the healthiest Americans have a strong sense of control over their chosen work. Researchers have found that the following occupations are the healthiest and have the highest longevity of all occupations: college professors, researchers, business executives, symphony conductors, high-ranking officials, and most VIPs.
Thirdly, a major cause of stress is the inability to deal with contact overload. Contact overload refers to the necessity for frequent encounters with other people. It can be in school, on the job, meeting new people, making business contacts, joining a new organization, etc. Every day you will meet people quite different from yourself, each demanding an individualistic response. You have no choice but to learn to cope with individual differences or succumb to significant stress. It should not be any surprise that helping professionals, especially those involving pain or difficulty such as dentists, counselors, police officers, or teachers, tend to be more stressed than most other professions.
The fourth major cause is work overload. Jobs and activities that are incredibly intense occupy many hours per week or have huge volumes of tasks, including menial jobs or those with high degrees of responsibility, which can cause severe wear and tear on one’s mind and body. The nature of your work, such as responsibility for people, makes work more demanding than the blame for things. Indeed, the personalities that compose the workplace can add even more stress. Working with difficult people can be extremely painful. The most challenging feature of all work is unpredictability. It is characterized by periods of calm and then unpredictable and unexpected major crises. Being chronically anxious is the overriding symptom of those not knowing when the next critical situation might occur. It keeps one in a constant state of arousal. Thus, police officers, firefighters, dentists, and teachers face unpredictable conditions regularly. They tend to have more anxiety than those that have predictable environments. You react better when you can predict pain, difficulty, or crisis—the more predictable, the less stressful the job.
The fifth major cause of stress is role conflict, sometimes called role ambiguity. No person can be all things to all people at all times. Because of societal demands and increased technology, today's typical role is far more complicated than ever before. Role conflicts cause the push and pull of opposing forces. Being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea causes undue stress. Opposing expectations by yourself and the whims of others increases your stress load. Role ambiguity is essentially the personal and external expectations and conflicts that force you to wear multiple hats to accomplish various roles. Being able to change roles in a flash can be overwhelming. It’s like expecting a baseball player to play every position, including pitching and catching. You can’t be a single parent, be a mother, hold a full-time job, cook, housekeeper, taxi driver, tutor, den mother, look for a partner, and not experience intense stress. I remember reading “1984” by George Orwell and then flashing on a cartoon character who said, “I spent my whole life preparing for a world that no longer exists.”
The sixth cause is personality differences. Various personality types are either more or less susceptible to distress. The introverted nerd is far more vulnerable to distress than the extroverted, fun person. Flexible individuals cope better than rigid personalities. The status-oriented are more stressed than the security-oriented. Unmarried, single, or divorced are more stress-prone than married individuals. Highly dependent personalities are far more easily stressed than independent thinking personalities. Females tend to live longer and deal with many stressors than their male counterparts. Certainly, super conscientious and neurotic persons are more vulnerable than less rigid and more emotionally stable individuals. This list is far from exhaustive, but it defines many of the more vulnerable personalities you will undoubtedly encounter. Learning to cope with your personality type and those of others will be highly beneficial on your journey.
Finally, the demand and continued need for personal education is the seventh major stressor. Lack of adequate personal or occupational knowledge can create intense job handicaps. Learning as much about yourself, about other people, your body, and its reactions should give you a head start on life and its magical journey. Life, jobs, and relationships require continual learning. Courses and brush-ups are needed to be part of your continuing education. Knowledge is a primary coping tool necessary to survive and successfully manage your journey.
It is imperative to point out that educational researchers have concluded the following data: Shockingly, only two percent (2%) of what you hear in a class, lecture, or the newspaper is retained for an average of 16 days, at the end of a single year that percentage drops to 1%. However, with repetition, that 2% retention can be increased to as high as 16% in one year. I implore you to learn, train, review, reread, and save critical information that will be needed in your future. Stay current with information and high-tech advances. The accumulation of knowledge will save you time, health, energy, money, and stress and further extend your life. The purpose of writing this book was to provide a form of personal education. It is intended to be preventive and cautionary of the obstacles you will be facing on your journey.
In summary, learn how to be stress-resistant by dealing with difficult people, develop good communication skills, and establish a clear understanding of your personality, role, and workload. Exercise your mind and body, relax, and enjoy life. Be happy!
INDECISION and CHANGE
“Indecision is like a slow poison. It is the father of worry and the mother of unhappiness. Indirectly it may cause the tensions that help to produce ulcers, hypertension, or an overactive thyroid. It breeds loss of confidence. It inspires disdain in the onlooker and loss of faith in business and professional associates.”—Dr. Peter Crosteincrohn
If you intend to relieve your stress, you will need to make a decision. Indecision is indeed passive inaction. You can only change those things for which you take planned action. However, it is also crucial that you determine whether the problem is soluble or insoluble. You cannot slay all the dragons because all problems are not soluble. You must learn to live with some of them. Likewise, not all situations are under our direct control. You can only change those that are real and controllable. You can’t change those that are unreal or that you have no control over. You can’t change the Sun or the weather. You can’t eliminate time. You can’t stop death. You can’t change others. You can only change things, situations, and especially yourself.
There are essentially three major means of combating stress:
You can change a stressful situation or a stressful environment.
You can change your reaction to stress through meditation, biofeedback, relaxation exercises, and imagery, etc. or
You can change your perceptions or attitudes by restructuring how you see things and by reprogramming your database.
STRESS CONTAINMENT—COPING SKILLS NEEDED
ATTITUDE: As you are aware, attitude is the single most crucial factor in personal success. Numerous research studies have verified this. For instance, 94 percent of all personnel managers say the most critical factor in a person’s success is his attitude; 91 percent of individuals surveyed indicated that the single most crucial aspect of their success and happiness was their attitude about life.
“Most people suffer from hardening of the attitudes. They need a checkup from the neck up to see if they’re suffering from stinking thinking.”—Zig Zigler
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes.”—William James
“Each morning, we wake up with a new set of paints, brushes, and a canvas. On that canvas, you can choose to paint a gorgeous picture using pastels of various shapes and sizes, or you can choose to paint an ugly two-dimensional black and gray picture filled with gloom and doom.”—Leo Buscaglia
As mentioned previously, changing one’s attitude is more than merely choosing to do so. It involves identifying unresolved problems and actively changing your dysfunctional programming. Finally, it requires practice, hard work, and planning. There are several means of changing your attitudes. It can be assisted by support systems, humor, learning how to correct your mistakes, and understanding and dealing with worry. Change is comprehensively covered in another chapter.
SUPPORT SYSTEMS: Of all the various change agents, a support system is the single most important stress reducer. It is the best available stress lifeline. In almost every research article, one finds recommendations for support systems to assist us in combating stress. The research suggests that one needs at least three sets of support systems. The first is a family support system; the second is a technical work support system; and the third, a social support system (friends). It’s important that you not bottle up your feelings and frustrations but talk about them with trusted others who act as your faithful and credible support. You will need different supporters for each of the three systems.
Dr. Lewis Terman, professor emeritus of Stanford University, at the beginning of the 20th Century, began what has now become the most extended longitudinal study in history. It has been more than 70 years of duration. The study involved the brightest individuals of that era. His research concluded that the single most important factor in a person’s happiness is his strong family life. Those people who are now in their eighties and nineties can attest to the fact that the critical factor in their happiness was the ability to maintain strong family ties. There is no doubt that we need to put the time and energy into establishing our ancestry's perpetuity. This can only be accomplished by spending the necessary time to love, discipline, care, and share ourselves with the most important human beings that we will ever know, our children, parents, spouse, siblings, grandchildren, great-grandchildren
Families can and do provide an excellent source of emotional support. They can be counted on to assist you when you are down and out, sick, tired, fatigued, and in need of tender loving care. They cannot be expected to understand the workplace or the technical aspects of your job, but they can assist you in your everyday vexations. Families often become a refuge when things are disappointing and depressing. A family support system is a critical lifeline in dealing with the emotional stressors of your daily life. They will assist you in further developing your emotional intelligence.
In our workplace, you will need a technical support system. It should include colleagues who experience what you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis. They can understand your current job pressures and will be able to provide you with understanding and supportive assistance.
A social support system is your best ally in dealing with your leisure and social activities, whether it be a bridge group, a cooking club, a fishing party, an old friend, an exercise buddy, a church group, etc. They are the friends you can socialize with, and they provide opportunities to get away from both work and family pressures. Social support provides additional feedback and guidance that will improve your social intelligence. If you are alone or lonely, consider connecting with others. Perhaps, having a brief conversation while waiting in line at a store, doctor’s office, theater or restaurant, can be an ‘ice breaker’. Being a volunteer, attending church services, meeting neighbors, visiting the library, or attending community events, can be catalysts to new social relationships.
Support systems provide trust, confidence, and understanding. Everybody needs somebody they can trust and with whom they can discuss things yet maintain confidentiality. They also need someone who can truly understand your specific situation. Support systems provide empathy and guidance. Once understood, they can truly share feelings and provide necessary feedback. Finally, support persons can assist in problem-solving by being a coach or guide who listens, suggests alternatives, and resolves identified problems. They can walk you through a problem by monitoring your progress and ensure that you are headed in the right direction. It’s important to understand that no one person can wear all three support hats. Your spouse can be emotional support but probably knows very little about what’s occurring in the workplace. Friends can provide social support and some degree of emotional support but are best suited to providing an outlet of social intercourse than the full spectrum of life. These three-dimensional levels of support will soon prove invaluable on life’s journey.
HUMOR: Exactly what makes humor and belly laughing so beneficial in arresting stress is not clear. Researchers have found significant changes in hormone levels after a good laugh. It appears to be the reverse emergency response. Drs. Stanley Berk and Lee Tan, and other researchers found that the “positive stress” of laughter increases antithetic hormones that bathe the mind and body with calm while increasing the immune system’s natural killer cells. Specifically, laughter turns on interferon-gamma (IFN), which actively fights viruses and regulates cell growth. Regardless, humor is recommended as the top defense to sudden stressors and is often referred to as the “humor Rx”. Humor has been proven to be one of the finest antidotes to highly charged situations. Humor is both contagious and infectious. Laughter may not be a cure-all or panacea, but it is therapeutic in dealing with distress. Resolve to add the spice of humor today and every day!
All of us have experienced very tense situations. Suddenly, someone in the group, recognizing the intensity of the situation, shared their wit, breaking the tension with hysterical laughter. It is always more fun to look at adversity humorously and not too seriously. There is no better icebreaker. There is a myriad of schools, classes, seminars, medical school curricula, and books solely devoted to the health benefits of humor and laughter. When you need a quick fix of humor, go out and rent some funny flicks, go to a comedy play or humor club, subscribe to a daily joke club, or hunker down to a book of wit. The chapter in this book on humor deals in detail with its benefits and means of counteracting stress. Humor is certainly the best company to keep when undergoing distress. Humor allows you the freedom to remove yourself from the ‘scorching heat’ that can cause ‘second and third-degree burns’.
“In prehistoric times, humankind often had only two choices in crisis situations: fight or flee. In modern times, humor offers us a third alternative: fight, flee, or laugh.”—Robert Orben
“I have nothing against death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”—Woody Allen
MISTAKES: Another significant means of stress abatement is understanding that making mistakes are the building blocks of success. Again, research data is replete with information that suggests that people who excel are not only the most famous, but they make more mistakes than others. Some of the most notable personalities are famous because they had the persistence to go on rather than be frozen by fear of failure. Thomas Edison made over 14,000 attempts before he succeeded in creating a workable lightbulb. Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, but very few people remember that for 40 years, he held the major-league strikeout record. Leon Uris, the famous author of “Trinity” and “Exodus”, failed English three times in school and quipped, “It’s a good thing that English has nothing to do with writing.” Baron von Richthofen, also known as the Red Baron, crashed during his solo flight and almost washed out in flight school on two other occasions. He had to implore his instructors to be reinstated. Lucille Ball, supposedly the founder of “Don’t call us we’ll call you,” became one of the finest of all comedians. After having been told that she had absolutely no talent, at age 40, she became a humor icon.
Abraham Lincoln lost 13 elections before he was finally elected to the Senate and later the presidency. Most presidents of major corporations have been fired at least once previously. Interestingly, these individuals not only learned from their mistakes; they were further energized to succeed. Dangerous dead ends to them were simply speedways to success. Perceiving the firing as positive feedback rather than a negative roadblock allowed them to grow and become even better people. They celebrated their mistakes, not as permanent roadblocks, but only temporary stalls on the road to success and happiness. It’s like looking forward to the butterfly instead of stepping on the caterpillar. Mistakes are opportunities to energize stepping-stones to success, rather than being a significant depletion of energy.
“Remember, the lowest ebb is also the turn of the tide.”—Longfellow
“Good people are good because they have come to wisdom through failure.”—William Soroyan
“The quickest way to success is a double your failure rate.”—Thomas Watson, founder of IBM
DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE: Another major means of dealing with stress is learning how to cope with difficult people. One can’t possibly imagine a world without different types of personalities. Our daily lives are continually involved with difficult people. If your approach is the same each time, you will have great difficulty dealing with the various personality types you encounter each day. Abraham Maslow felt, “If your only tool is a hammer, you’ll go about treating everything as a nail.” You need additional tools to deal with the variety of individual differences effectively. The supplement on Difficult People will provide you the necessary coping strategies you will need. Numerous national and international speakers have created seminars that teach how to deal with difficult people. Dr. Bob Bramson from the University of California, Berkeley, wrote the book “Coping with Difficult People”.
I strongly recommend it if you have an interest in understanding and effectively working with difficult people. There are a number of other books and seminars available to teach you how to deal differently with each variety of personalities. It’s impossible to relate effectively when we treat all people in the same manner. One should not deal with an authoritarian “bulldozer” the same way you deal with a “passive-resistant personality”. Likewise, one should not deal with the person who wants to please the same way as someone who is outwardly obnoxious and directly hostile. Each of us needs to develop and practice strategies, listen to feedback from our support systems, and sharpen our skills to deal with varied personality types effectively. An additional significant benefit in learning to cope with difficult people is that you learn to understand yourself better.
DETACHED CONCERN-GUIDANCE-RESCUING: In addition to coping with difficult people, very few individuals or professionals study or comprehend the concept of detached concern. Certainly, it is one of the most critical areas of those who regularly work with problematic and challenging individuals. You must learn to detach yourself by not get getting so emotionally involved that you lose yourself within the difficult person. Detached concern allows you to bring into a situation only that emotionality, empathy, and genuine concern necessary to assist the client rationally. Adding your sympathy, anger, or other biasing emotions only muddies the waters. Emotions frequently hook the helping person into becoming part of their problem. Becoming emotionally involved with someone else’s problems lowers the client’s self-esteem and does not allow him/her to own and solve those problems fully. Perhaps the most exemplary role you can play is to provide a combination of listening, feedback, and guidance. Always be you, but refrain from taking on someone else’s problems.
Certainly, the golden rule is a very relevant moral tenet. Detaching yourself does not mean being insensitive or hostile to other people. When helping others, you will need to be very careful of your emotional sensitivities. By being enabling, over-concerned, over-indulgent, or angry can corrupt your attempts to help another individual. You will learn that you can help them get what they want by guiding others, not doing for them. By adding your sunshine, you will, in turn, get what you want by achieving win-win situations.
“Those that bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”—Sir James Barrie
In any type of service profession or parenting, we discover that it is easy to move from the edge of assistance to rescuing. It is easy to take responsibility for somebody else’s problems by owning their problem. By doing so, you tell them what to do rather than give appropriate feedback through coaching and guidance. You must allow others to make decisions and feel good about their solutions rather than micromanaging their actions. In particular, helping professionals are trained to assist others; yet one ceases to help when rescuing. It takes away the responsibility of the problem from your client and transfers it to you. This is done by the therapist becoming so emotionally involved in the situation, thinking that he/she has the solution. It implies that they could not possibly have understood or employed this solution on their own. Rescuing, instead, breeds contempt, dependency, irresponsibility, and low self-esteem (a common problem with teenagers). It also drains the rescuer by creating unnecessary backaches, neck aches, and undue worry. When rescuing occurs, the other person can’t possibly feel responsible for his/her outcome. Instead, guidance and coaching provide tools for the individual to fix his/her problems. In turn, you and they can grow and learn to use these acquired tools in future problem resolution. The tremendous success and high self-esteem for solving one’s problems are inestimable. As Galileo said, “You can’t teach man anything. You can only help him to discover it for himself.” Likewise, if you see others as incapable of change and lacking skills or tools, you do not allow them to change. I particularly find Goethe’s quote both pithy and fitting, “Treat people as they are, and they remain that way. Treat people as though they were what they can be, and we help them to become what they’re capable of becoming.”
RELINQUISH YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW: Please remember that yesterday should be seen as ancient history and tomorrow as a promissory note. Why? Because if you see them in any other way, you are going to worry or have regrets. Remember, 90 percent of your stress is the stress of stress, and frequently it is caused by looking backward or forward rather than focusing on today. Someone once said, “Live for today like you’ll die tomorrow and plan for tomorrow like you’ll live forever.” I particularly like the Sanskrit quote, “Yesterday is already a dream. Tomorrow is only a vision. But today, well-lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.” Today, the gift of another 86,400 seconds should be rejoiced. It is the present where your attention should be focused. You can’t be in two places at the same time. Today must be cherished because it is the here and now and not the thing that was or might never be.
“This art of resting the mind and the power of dismissing from it all care and worry is probably one of the secrets of energy in our great men.”—J. A. Hadfield
MEMORABILIA FILE: You should develop a collection of significant personal mementos. They might include diaries, personal notes, family foibles, family records, photo albums, audio and videotapes, records, newspaper clippings, awards, pictures, cards, stories, slides, etc. They can also be notes, thank you cards, personal correspondence, birthday cards, stories, and situations that made an impression in your life. Memorabilia can be both funny and true day makers. They might also include highlights of your career, jokes, job recommendations, personal statements, special parties, etc. There is no doubt that every individual in the world experiences at one time or another sadness and depression. It is at these very times that you will need to pull out your memorabilia file and have a chance to review these funny or significant events. A series of files or scrapbooks is highly recommended. Keeping and rotating these folders in your car or briefcase can provide necessary nostalgic breaks. Save them, and you can eventually keep them as part of your posterity and legacy.
MIND-BODY RELAXATION EXERCISES: There is an immense amount of literature available on mind-body relaxation techniques. All of this information can assist you when you have setbacks or emotionally traumatizing events. They include Deep Breathing, Meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga, Stretching, and others.
Ironically, the very breath of life is the simplest and easiest way to cope with current stressors. Breathing oxygen into your body fortifies your muscles and your mind. For example, learning how to do deep breathing helps mothers at childbirth and enables you to cope with difficult situations, such as test-taking or giving speeches. Deep breathing is basic to most other relaxation techniques. Breathing slowly and deeply is the inverse of the emergency response. Breathing slowly and deeply puts you in control and energizes you. Relaxing in this way shuts down your emergency reaction and turns on your counter relaxation response. It stimulates the vagus nerve triggering the calming chemicals that influence your brain and vital organs.
By placing your hands on your stomach, just below your navel, you can feel your abdomen expand to verify correct breathing. Slowly inhale as much air as you can, then hold it in for three seconds, then slowly exhale. Pause, count to three, and continue to repeat, expanding your breathing to 4 seconds, then 5 seconds, and finally 6 seconds. Allow your breathing to be slow and smooth while feeling your mind and body relax. Visualize each nourishing breath as though you had just walked outside after a refreshing spring rain shower. Within a minute or two, you should feel joyfully relaxed. This effective mindfulness technique is a healthful pause after or preceding any stressful event such as a contentious phone call, preparing to go on stage, or having just been assigned a challenging new project.
Meditation, often referred to as a ‘mental vacation’, has for millennia to suppress stress by providing a potent mind-body antidote. Start by selecting a ‘mantra’, a word that exudes relaxation: peace, love, calm, etc. Passively, yet mindfully focus your attention on it, allowing all of your muscles to relax and jaw to slowly fall open. Calmly do the same for your neck, shoulders, arms, fingers, chest, and belly. Uncross your legs and feel them get heavier and melt into space. If you wish, you could tighten and then relax in a similar sequence for each muscle group. When you finish, sit quietly with your eyes closed for at least five minutes. If you happen to fall asleep, you will know that you had reached a very deep state of meditative relaxation.
Many people experience periodic sleep disorders, where they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep or are unable to fall asleep at night. At these times, breathing, meditation, or other relaxation techniques will help you relax and fall into a deep sleep. Visualization is another effective means of coping with stress by reversing it through the power of positive energy. For example, say to yourself,” I saw this coming. I’ve been here before; everything will come out fine.” Once again, taking a few breaths and repeating your mantra, “I can handle this”. Visualize yourself handling the problem. Look up into the right until you see your self-image handling it. Once you have the picture, practice regularly by now looking to the left and visualizing your successful self-image until you resolve the problem.
“This true silence is to rest the mind; it is the spirit that sleep is to the body, nourishment, and refreshment.”—William Penn
If you prefer a more active mind-body exercise learning, Tai Chi and Yoga will be an excellent choice. Both activities were founded many centuries ago and have been sustained because they effectively ward off stress. They combine physical awareness, planned movement, and mindful attention. Both bolster mood, ease depression and anxiety, decrease blood pressure, reduce pain, and increase physical balance and coordination. They combine elements of physical workout, meditation, and dance. Typically both include slow, balanced, low impact actions that foster controlled breathing, mental concentration, stretching, muscle exercise, and ultimate relaxation. Tai Chi and Yoga teach your mind and body to be focused, absorbed, and in full control. Both provide valuable feedback that alters your posture, breathing, and movement. This can have lasting physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits.
Stretching is another means of reducing muscle tension by removing knots caused by misuse or overuse of tendons and muscles. They include exercises for upper-body, mid-body, arm, shoulder, neck, back, leg stretches. Sports and recreational trainers and athletic clubs, and exercise studios can assist you or direct you on each of the various stretch exercises.
“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted; no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares and which will not withdraw from us.”
JUDGING OTHERS: Judging others is a major cause of stress. It affects both senders and recipients. Unfortunately, it is a common means of fortifying one’s ego at the expense of offending others and serves no constructive purpose. Categorizing and judging others keeps them in pre-sized, pre-determined boxes. It does not allow them to expand to their fullest potential. Of course, this is also true of you when you begin to believe the judgments that assail you. You must recognize and maintain your confidence when undue criticism and stereotyping occur.
Unfair judging is simply the lesser sibling of gossip, and it speaks more of the sender than of the recipient. It may temporarily take away frustrations but leaves acid in its wake, and acid destroys. Judging not only releases frustration, but it places you in a position of controlling the destiny of others. This does not make for good friends or associates. By comparing ourselves to others, judging, either positively or negatively, is better left to a much higher source. Instead, accepting and understanding others is a more admirable approach than sending strongly biased judgments. This is not to suggest that one should not sit and judiciously discuss problematic behavior. However, to suspend judgment as both judge and jury is neither healthy nor progressive.
EXERCISE: The research literature regarding stress is replete with exercise's recommendation as an essential means to balance the effects of distress. The exercise research laboratory at the University of Southern California has concluded that a little regular aerobic exercise is as effective as any tranquilizer drug in controlling stress. And exercise is without the potential for adverse side effects. Regular exercise creates physically fit people who are more able to handle the rigors of everyday stress. Those who are physically fit can cope with stress more easily because they are more adaptable than unfit. A regular exercise program should include some form of aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise helps your body use oxygen more efficiently and strengthens your heart, muscles, and lungs. Running, walking, swimming, and bicycling are all excellent aerobic activities. Stretching also helps to relieve muscle tension and improves overall flexibility and balance. In my readings, I have found exercise to be recommended not only by psychologists and physiologists but also by almost all medical professionals. It is the first line of defense against physical health problems and psychological distress. I implore you to exercise regularly. After exercising, consider a massage, hot bath, sauna, or mindful meditation, or walk.
THANK YOU LIST: Thanksgiving Day is a day of rejoicing, expressing gratitude, and sharing salutations for life. Unfortunately, it is only one day a year. Here is one thing you can do to start each glorious morning. Before stepping out of bed, you first awake, take a minute to think about the people that have made you happy. While visualizing them, quietly give them a big smile and a hug of thanks. Everyone, especially those under significant stress, should have available a Thank You List. You need to thank others, whether they are your children, your spouse, your friends, your nieces or nephews, grandchildren, neighbors, representatives, or government, for all the things you enjoy. For example, the ability to live in a community, have good health, good friends, relatives, a great job, special interests, and hobbies, enjoy ideal weather, take a vacation, plan for the future, have special skills.
You should take time daily to give thanks for your existence. I once received a thank you from a participant in one of my seminars. In addition to thanking me, she shared the following: “I am thankful to my mother who had to support our family; she dedicated her life to rearing seven sons, a daughter, and cousins, nieces and nephews. Her inner strength, determination, and love provided us with such a fulfilled life that we did not realize we were poor. I’m thankful that I know that being rich has more to do with peace of mind and happiness than money and material things. I am thankful for good health and a quick mind. I’m thankful for five healthy, intelligent children. I am thankful for my friends who give me emotional support. It is enjoyable having them around me to share and enjoy the good times. I am thankful I have a job that I enjoy and find challenging. I am thankful for the bad experiences in my life that have only served to make me stronger.” There is seldom a day in my life that I don’t stop and thank at least one person who has enriched and brought joy to my life.
ALLOW FOR CHANGE: Striving for balance is your ultimate goal. Recognize that time is your ally. Balance your time by not working so many hours that you deprive yourself, your family, or your friends. Spend quality time with them. Balance work with recreation, play, and vacation. Times do change! Sometimes I feel as old as dirt. I can remember when chips were pieces of wood, and the grass was something you mowed; coke was something you could drink; fast food was eaten during Lent; AIDS were teachers’ assistants. Heck, at my age of 75, some 2000 years ago, I would be considered a very old man. Time changes and people change. You must allow for change to occur by maintaining a flexible and open mind. You must recognize that only you are capable of change and that it comes from your enthusiasm and optimism about life. As mentioned earlier, please don’t attempt to go out and try to change somebody else. Many people make it their challenge and social project to change others. Some people marry a spouse with the idea of rehabilitating him or her, whether it is an alcoholic, an abuser, someone blatantly dishonest, or on drugs, a repeat offender, an inadequate personality, or a cheater. I have the unfortunate distinction of having worked with people whose marriages and lives were devastated by their good intentions. Believe me; it is best to avoid walking in another person’s head with your dirty feet.
Your role in life should be coaching and guidance, not trying to take charge and control someone else’s destiny. If something needs to change, first think inward. There will always be something that you will need to do to change your life positively. It’s important to remember that enthusiasm assists in your change. Life requires change. Allow for it by seeing it as an opportunity rather than a danger. Take that positive energy and enthusiasm as seriously as your daily vitamin to success and happiness. Take charge of yourself; bend with the wind, don’t resist it; make change work for you.
“Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm. It is the real allegory of the tale of Orpheus. It moves stones and charms brutes. It is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.”—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Consider how hard it is to change yourself, and you’ll understand what little chance you have of trying to change others.”—Jacob M. Braude
A LOW-STRESS INDIVIDUAL
I have shared causes, symptoms, and tools for stress containment but have spent little time discussing the positive elements and characteristics of a low-stress individual. What’s a low-stress individual like? Well, they perceive stress as challenging and necessary. When appropriate, they detach themselves to the point where they can relax and shut off the world of work and other stressful issues. In that regard, they can recover quickly from stressful events. They can assert, negotiate, respect, and be in control of their daily existence. They are not immune to stress but are stress-resistant. They generally find intrinsic rewards in their work and have a positive attitude about life. They can balance overload situations with breathing periods.
Low-stress individuals work very hard, but they also know how to play very hard. They are generally physically fit and have a variety of activities in which they actively participate. Their attitude towards play and sex is healthy, and they are not deprived of either. They have a good sense of humor and can mostly laugh at themselves. They laugh with, and not, at others. They enjoy life by finding pleasure in most things and are not upset by little things. I remember my wise dad once saying, “Tony, there are two things in life you will need to remember to be happy and successful. One is don’t let the trivial things get you down.” There was a long pause, and I said, “What’s the second thing?” He said, “Almost everything is trivial.” Perhaps that was a rather simplistic way of looking at life. Yet, you often pay far too much attention to the little things when you think about them. As previously mentioned, the stress of stress, the things we worry or languish over, are usually trivial. As a famous general once said, “We need to pick our battles, making sure that they are strategically important ones, and not get hung up with the dogfights.”