There’s a wonderful gentleman in local AA that I greatly admire. He’s one of the kindest and most patient people I’ve ever known. He is an example to us all because he is grateful for the joy of being alive. He does this thing that is so remarkable – he will sit with those who are stressed, angry, or otherwise tied up in knots and really, really, listen as they pour out their troubles. Everything in his weathered face, every part of his broken body’s language radiates that he is present and that he really hears you.
I’ve watched him sit serenely and wait for the storm to pass. Then he smiles and simply asks, “Is there anything you can do about all that?” It’s hysterical to watch the look of astonishment come over the person he’s been listening to. “Um, no…” He smiles all the wider and explains, “Well then maybe you shouldn’t worry about it?” This usually results in the first person having an aneurism, but experiencing relief afterwards.
If only it were that simple…Good news! It is. Some of us have real problems and I’m not diminishing that. I’m saying that how we choose to manage stress and negative emotions will have an enormous impact on our quality of life. We have a fundamental choice every day regarding what to focus on and what our attitude will be but we tend to make these decisions subconsciously. When we devote time and energy to what we can’t change; we miss opportunities to invest in what we can achieve.
Stress is an inevitability most often caused by things we have no control over. Too many of us are so preoccupied with what others are saying, thinking, feeling, and doing that we lose sight of our inability to change them.
We are often intolerant and impatient with folks we don’t see as being on our level (especially true with those much younger or less experienced than ourselves). We go searching for ways to make our views more compelling instead of respecting and accepting where folks are at. I’ve learned that it’s not terribly important that I’m right and it took me a long time to accept that the louder I yell the less I am heard. There is a time and a place for everything and trying to make someone understand what they’re not ready or willing to is a fool’s errand.
Maintaining a healthy perspective (and regaining it when we lose it) is a vital part of our overall health. The old adage rings true that it really is “All in how you look at it.” Stress limits perspective and when it builds too high we become anxious, depressed, and/or angry.
We put pressure on ourselves by maintaining lofty expectations and we increase our stress by being impatient with ourselves. Our goals may be ultimately attainable but we’re in a hurry. We forget to break things down into manageable steps and instead we bull ahead. We set ourselves up by pursuing the impossibility of overachieving while coming in under budget and well ahead of the deadline.
Balance is achieved when we make our lives manageable. Living a truly satisfying life occurs when our actions and choices consistently match our priorities.
The most important aspect of stress management is the release of tension. Release is available in countless forms: Laughter, tears, exercise, sex, punching, screaming, venting, cutting, smoking, shooting fire arms, artistic expression, relaxation, yoga, meditation, massage, therapy, and anything else that provides a sense of, “There, blew off some steam and feeling better.”
I worked with a woman years ago who went bowling once a week to relieve stress. She hurled the balls toward pins she imagined as hardships and stressors. The key is to make a conscious choice to let something go and not continue to be burdened by it. This is easy to understand and hard to do. I encourage folks to notice how stress manifest in their bodies – muscle tension and G.I. distress most notably. We don’t always know just where we’re at mentally and emotionally, but any time you stop and check you might find that your shoulders are trying to eat your ear lobes.
Let it go. Identify it. Accept it. Express it. Release it. Repeat.