Friday, September 23, 2011

How to (really) deal with stress.

Stress. We all suffer from stress at one time or another. There are books and medications and web-sites and even Dr. Phil on tv and all of this is meant to help us cope better with the stress of our lives. And how has it really helped us?  Well, we are more stressed than ever before.

We are stressed by just about every turn in life. Our jobs. Our kid's performance in school.  Our financial portfolio. The mess in our house. The endless to do list.

We don't have enough money. We aren't thin enough. We feel bad about our co-workers or boss. A loved one is sick. We have been diagnosed with something awful. We lost our job. Our dog died.  We cannot pay our bills.

The list goes on and on. And you cannot really rate stress. You cannot say that one stress is worse than another. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. And it all feels the same. Stress is, well, stress.

And we all feel it. No one is immune. Sometimes it is like a low electrical current that is just something we live with day to day.  Or maybe we have calm days and then explosive days.  Or sometimes we are under a cloud so thick we feel like we cannot breath. And we shut down. We wear our responsibilities like a noose around our necks. And it is hard to breath.

Stress is universal. I am not sure we could be living human beings without it. And many have pounced on this fact and there are books and CDs and professional counselors and gym memberships and massage therapy and anti-stress creams and what not all designed to eliminate the stress of our lives. Somewhere, someone is making a fortune from our stress. Mainly the pharmaceutical giants.

But we stay stressed anyway.

So, what is the answer? I wish I knew. I feel stressed at times as well. And I have tried all the things they say to do; walking, deep breathing, writing things down, yoga, putting things into perspective.  I have really done it all. And you know what works best?


But in the morning, there it is. Stress. Rearing it's ugly head once again.

To be honest, I have learned a lot about coping with stress from the people I work with who have a lot of it. My patients. They make most of my stress go away. Many times my stress just disappears because I am  just happy I am not them. I am happy that I have a healthy child. That I am still healthy. That my husband is still healthy. That I can still go and do ordinary things.

And therein lies the answer to stress.

Embracing the ordinary. Embracing yourself.

All these books and such that say to do this or that to control the stress of your lives is just, well, bullshit. You have to go into survival mode. You have to embrace what is truly important to you, what is your true essence. Then you have to build a wall to protect it, because everywhere you turn someone is trying to rip it away.

Becoming real is the best protection.  Facades in your life that you are trying to hold up becomes exhausting.  Why can't we be just who we are?

I think that is why people who are really sick and dying have little stress.  They have fear, but not stress. Why? All that has been stripped away from them.  They have discovered what was  important all along. And some people, if they get better, live by this new rule. But others don't and they return to their regular lives and everyday stress.

I think it is because most people are afraid of change.  They would rather live their stressed out lives than to face the fear of changing it. I understand that. But it is a shame. Because stress makes your life shorter.  It makes you sick, literally. It makes those around you want to run. So there you are, stressed, sick and alone.  Not a pretty picture at all.

So, what to do? Well, you could do like most people, just simply live with it.  Muster on. Perhaps take a slew of drugs to control your high blood pressure, your depression, your anxiety, your stomach ailments and your headaches. You can lose yourself each night to crappy TV. You can sleep a lot. You can drink. Or you can be one of those crazed people who never sit still because sitting still makes you think and thinking makes you even more stressed.

Or you can do this; make a list of the things that describe the true essence of who you are.  Not your family or your kids, just you. Who are you?  What makes you tick?  What makes your heart sing?  Figure that out and write it down. Now write down your real life on a list next to it.  All the external things that keep you apart from your true essence. Then make a choice. Decide how you can return to the real you. Or at least part of the real you. Even a little you is better than none.

And that is it. Start living for yourself. Stop trying to impress others.  No one is really keeping score, and if they are, so what. Start being real and tell others what you really think.  (Well, in a nice way.)  Start by saying no to the things you don't want to do and occasionally say yes to the things you need to do.

Fix yourself up. Feel good about how you look on the outside. Self image is really important. It arms you. It protects you a bit.

And protect your body, the inside, while you are dealing with all the turmoil in your life.  Take a vitamin pill daily.  Drink water. Get some sleep. Stretch. Walk. Take deep breaths.  I call them stress breaks.  They don't eliminate stress, but they help you cope. And they are good for your heart. And if you mess up your heart you are in big trouble.

And go out into nature. Most people do not do this. Not really. Remember when you were a kid and you delighted in playing outside?  Do you really think because we are adults we don't need that anymore?

So start liking yourself again. You are all you have. Take care of that and everything else may become a bit easier. And a bit easier really does make you smile. And smiling makes your heart sing. And isn't that the essence of life anyway?

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
 ~e.e. cummings, 1955

Before you put on a frown, make absolutely sure there are no smiles available.
~Jim Beggs

Everything great in the world is done by neurotics; they alone founded our religions and created our masterpieces.
~Marcel Proust

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
~Mark Twain


  1. I LOVE this and I love all you have to say.

  2. "Becoming real is the best protection." I love this. You are so very wise. I hope you write a book!