A Few Surprising Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Life
By: J. Marlando
I will not go into details but I will tell the reader without embarrassment or exaggeration I have been in some high stress situationS—once on the Burma border and many times over the years right here at home. Once in my early career I sat across from Hollywood’s most successful producer at the time, Aaron Spelling. When you think that is going to be your big break, you feel the stress! Stress of course comes in all kinds of packages and for all kinds of reasons. Money problems can cause mammoth feelings of hopelessness and fear which are both symptoms of stress. Being interviewed for a new job can be, well, nerve racking. And sometimes worse, anxieties during the day can nag at you after you go to bed; they can keep you awake rolling and tossing or wake you up in the middle of the night and play Devil’s Advocate with your mind for hours. The very worst kind of stress is when all you want to do is escape yourself, which of course is impossible but I’ve been there and done that too.
I share the above with you because I want you, the reader, to understand I am not just theorizing, I know all about worry and upset, fear and despair. Most of we human beings feel stress at least to one level or another but it isn’t very often that the primal scream works to reduce our anxieties. And the other serious negative about feeling stress is that we tend to take it out on those close to us. We get cranky, fast to temper and can treat even those we love with annoyance and bitter responses. Who among us haven’t been guilty of doing that a few times?
Okay, so we’ve established that stress is harmful and it is. It is not only harmful to our emotional and psychological wellbeing but it is pretty well established in the medical communities that stress can diminish our immune systems so, there is little doubt that stress can be the silent villain behind some pretty serious illnesses. Yes, that’s right, serious stress can be much more than a nerve-fraying experience of the psyche, stress can be physiologic!
So what the heck can we do to reduce our inner-torments of high anxiety?
We’ll start out with the easy stuff.
If you live under a lot of constant stress in your life, the odds are that your work is not physical. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule of thumb but my guess is that most people swimming in a constant stream of (heavy) stress are in business of some kind, in sales or some other white color profession. I say this only because blue-color labor has the advantage of keeping the worker physically busy and challenged. You basically don’t have time for stress when you’re pouring cement or pounding in nails all day. This is one reason why so many white color workers join health clubs and spend a few hours a week pushing iron and/or swimming and/or jogging. The physical exercise not only serves to keep the body in shape but releases a lot of inner-tension at the same time.
Women need the physical exercise ever as much as men and in some instances more than men. For one thing it is well known that women find more to worry about than men do and the more one worries the more stress one feels!
Not everyone is up to health clubs or jogging for a few blocks though. You know what they say, different strokes for different folks! Something physical that you can do, however, is to go to the local book store and buy a self-instruction book on yoga. It might be a little better to take a class but practicing yoga is not rocket science and you can do it in your living room, bedroom or out on the back yard lawn. If you do, I promise you within a couple of weeks you’ll start feeling better about your world and…you’ll start sleeping better if sound sleep is a challenge for you. All it takes is a little discipline and really no more than ten or fifteen minutes a day. Even if you are truly up to your neck in alligators, you can find ten to fifteen minutes a day to gift yourself with some peace of mind. You’ll be glad you did and…after yoga practice you will be more alert and able to see things more objectively.
If you happen to be one of those persons who works hard physically all day and are simply looking for a way to relax when you get home. Meditation is highly recommended. Well I recommend meditation to everyone because it truly evolves into peace of mind and far more control over your personal life than perhaps you ever imagined possible.
Meditation is primarily an Eastern, spiritual exercise leading the practitioner toward enlightenment, but you don’t have to have an interest in the spiritual for mediation to eventually vacuum the garbage out of your mind. If you’ve never meditated before an easy way to start is to sit silently in a straight back chair, do your best to relax and count your breaths. That is concentrate mindfully on each breath you take, meaning you think of nothing else so push all other thoughts out of your head. Do this for five minutes every evening to start with. Obviously in a week or so you will begin desiring a deeper meditation so you’ll need to read about how best to meditate which is the opposite of concentration or *find someone to instruct you. Meditation can turn your life around, I promise you that…as long as you are consistent in its practice.
If meditation is not your cup of relaxation and the weather permits—don’t come home., with all that anxiety of daily work stress, noise and traffic about to explode into a cranky spell, to pour a drink and sit in front of the TV set. There is a lot more to life than news, weather and sports. Take off your shoes and go walk around barefooted on the lawn or lean back in a patio chair and soak in nature for a change. I have always hypothesized that the further we moderns retreat from nature the more anxieties we endure. Go hug a tree and tell it you love it. This can Sound crazy I know but if you have the courage to try it sincerely, you’ll discover a peace of mind that you might not have felt for who knows how long—maybe since you were a kid? It is as Bernie Siegel told me in an interview once—you have to decide how you’re going to love the world.
One of the most effective ways to reduce the stress and anxiety in your life is to remember how to love the world. And this begins by loving you again. When people endure really terrible stress and anxiety in their lives, most commonly a lot of self-anger accompanies those self-imposed maladies. Self-anger is always a companion of regret. If I’d only have done this or hadn’t done that are typical self-condemning comments people under stress make. The verbiage is merely howling at the moon of course but when were filled with anxiety we tend to turn on ourselves and far too often take it out on others.
Beating the self over the head with regret only increases the stress and doesn’t do a thing to confront whatever it is that is actually causing it in the present. In fact, it’s kind of like closing the barn door after the horse has run away.
Remember we’ve all made mistakes and some of them have been doozies but it is essential to simply let it go as “water under the bridge.” On the other side of the self-blaming pendulum is blaming others. This amounts to the “poor me” syndrome and doesn’t reduce stress only changes the kind of anger and anxiety that you’re feeling. To say something like if it weren’t for so-in-so I’d be so much better off, happier, richer and so forth is so much self-deception unless whoever you’re blaming had you tied up or a gun to your head. Ultimately, we can trace our successes and failures back to ourselves but this doesn’t mean that we haven’t done our best all along our way.
I’ll explain the above as it is important for all of us to grasp: We are used to significant others in our lives telling us we could have/should have done better. And, when we wake up in some kind of unhappy and/or stressful situation we are apt to mirror ourselves as someone who should have/could have done better. But as I have always taught, we have NEVER done less than our best at the moment we’ve done anything. My challenge for years has been try to do something that isn’t your best. If you do, you’ll discover yourself doing your best to accomplish that particular goal. You can always do better in the future of course, that’s the major reward of experience!
The greatest of all remedies for reducing stress and anxiety in our lives is to make the conscious choice to love everyone that you have an association with—this includes the cranky clerk, the irritating customer, the demanding boss and so, if you will, the good, bad and ugly. Really, I have witnessed miracle changes in people’s lives who have dared to simply open their hearts to the world of others. Indeed, next time you are with anyone—a relative, lover or stranger—say silently to yourself “I love you” to that person and see what happens.
But what about the stuff that is or has gotten out of our control? The serious stuff like you’ve lost your job or can’t make your mortgage payment; they are repossessing your car and the bill collectors are hounding you day and night. How in the world do you keep positive and stress free under those conditions?
Well, unless you are a little goofy you can’t feel good in your situation under those kinds of conditions. On the other hand, you should not permit yourself to fall into frenzy either. What is…is!
The first thing to do is permit yourself to let loose. If you’ve done everything you know how to do and haven’t been able to better your situation or solve the problems at hand—there are some tough situations that only money can solve and when we don’t have the money, the world quickly reveals itself in its social-Darwinistic attitudes—we have to walk away. Every single day people lose their businesses, their cars, their homes, their jobs and most also lose their hopes and dreams along with them. It is essential then to give yourself a “good talking to.” It is important to understand that you are NOT your problems—you are NOT the bald tires on your car, your leaky sink, your wealth or your poverty; you are not what you own or what you owe. So when life seems to have pulled the rug out from under you, go to the nearest mirror and remind yourself that you are a loving and lovable human being. Do this often and you will soon enough begin to rekindle a positive outlook for the future, even facing the most challenging adversity.
No one is saying it is easy but what becomes essential is to be receptive to the adage that tells us all that every ending is a new beginning. Life after all is an adventure and a challenge and sometimes we simply need to become emotional entrepreneurs especially during the downside of our lives.
And speaking of emotion, the most difficult times for married couples to live through are times of serious stress. Husbands and wives tend to take out their fears and anxieties on each other—they will blame each other and often name call and belittle. And, as a result, the difficult situation is escalated into a terrible situation. My guess is that money problems lead more people to divorce court than anything else. The experts say that communication is the major culprit but I am convinced that at the root of most communication problems are financial difficulties. So how do married couples get along and remain loving during real rough times? You have to keep remembering to fight the problems and not each other. After all, during times of especially heavy stress is when men and women (husbands and wives) need encouragement and support the most.
For daily stress, however, and we all have our share of it, meditation and yoga are once again highly recommended. And, incidentally once you are practicing both (or either) you will begin sleeping sounder and waking up more rested. If however these practices do not appeal to you—then join a gym, jog, bicycle, golf, play tennis, swim but put your body into action. Sweating from healthy activities after all is a great antidote that makes stress go away. Healthy activities for a great many people, however, is something they are always going to start tomorrow or next Monday or after the first of the year. I have a friend of mine who was always going to become a more loving and philosophical human being, once he made his business a success. He used to say, I’m working too hard at making the business work to work on myself right now. You don’t have to hold a degree in psychology to see the folly in that statement but that is how a great many people deal with their stress. You know, as soon as the stress goes away, as soon as I solve the problems, as soon as I get out of this mess then I’ll start doing things to relax. Talk about putting the cart before the horse, eh?
We are all victims or victors of our own habits. Stress can be a habit also. We can be in the habit, for example, to come home after work in a crank, grab a beer from the fridge and leave me alone attitude. Lots of people even find a kind of pseudo comfort zone in their stress because they are in the habit of living with it. The point is, if you really want to reduce the stress in your life change your habits. Maybe you have to “force” yourself to start jogging or practicing your yoga or going to the gym in the beginning but soon enough those healthy activities will become your habit and will truly diminish your daily stress levels.
Stress kills, stress causes unhappiness, stress can keep our minds confused and stress can create false realities for us to live in. It is absolutely possible to greatly reduce the stress in your life if not abandon it altogether by making a conscious decision to relax your body/mind. Remember it is not the world that acts on you, it is quite the other way around.