I recently saw a study that claimed more than 50 percent of Americans report having some kind of stress, anxiety or depression. It went on to mention that therapists are overwhelmed and booked out for months.
Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for the modern stress epidemic.
Certainly, the past few years have caused many to develop anxieties and health issues related to the disruptions and concerns of the pandemic. Isolation, job insecurity, changing schedules, shutdowns – you name it, every phase of our “normal” lives was affected. Lack of control over those situations left many feeling helpless. Is it any wonder that people are experiencing increased levels of stress?
But as we move back toward predictable schedules and returns to work and school, readapting has not necessarily reduced those stress levels.
My doctors tell me some level of stress is healthy. It’s how we deal with it that presents problems. We all face challenges large and small every day that can push our limits – if we let them.
A friend of mine shared a story about how he was treated very harshly by a vendor with whom he had been mostly cordial. I will always remember my friend’s pleasant response. He told me, “Why should I let his actions determine my behavior?”
My friend had lived a long, relatively stress-free life because he had placed the focus of control directly inside himself, instead of reacting as if others and external events caused him to think, feel and act in certain ways.
That response is one we should all aspire to. But it doesn’t come naturally to many of us. We need to reprogram our brains to consider the relative importance of the issue at hand. It takes discipline and practice.
Motivational author Leo Buscaglia suggests, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot, hang on and swing.”
If that doesn’t work for you, try some of these stress-management strategies:
• Get in the driver’s seat. Emotionally healthy people tend to maintain a high degree of control over their life. Feeling in control, as you do when driving a car, helps reduce feelings of stress.
• Pursue your purpose passionately. People who feel a sense of commitment and purpose aren’t affected by stress in a negative way. They view change as a challenge instead of a threat.
• Don’t procrastinate. Work your plan. Take one thing at a time. Choose how you spend your time.
• Put problems in perspective. Dr. Michael LeBoeuf said, “Most stress is caused by people who overestimate the importance of their problems.”
• Start your day with a good laugh. Scientific studies at Northwestern University and Fordham University concluded that laughter benefits the heart, lungs, stomach and other organs. It relaxes tensions, changes attitude, and increases the body’s natural painkillers. And, it has no harmful side effects.
• Don’t worry about it. A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work. People get so busy worrying about yesterday or tomorrow they forget about today. And today is what you have to work with. Recently I saw a survey that says 40 percent of the things we worry about never happen, 30 percent are in the past and can’t be helped, 12 percent concern the affairs of others that aren’t our business, 10 percent are about sickness – either real or imagined – and 8 percent are worth worrying about. I would submit that even the 8 percent aren’t really worth the energy of worry.
• Emphasize fun. Business and fun are not polar opposites. In fact, another piece of advice that I share frequently is “Do what you love, love what you do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” A positive work environment encourages fun.
• Develop strong relationships. True friends are always there, no matter how long or how many miles away they are. Harvard University did a fascinating study that tracked the physical and emotional health of 700 people for 75 years. The primary conclusion: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
• Keep things in perspective. Keep failure and mistakes in perspective. Concentrate on the positive. Develop enthusiasm. See something good in every experience you have. And remember, if handling stress by yourself is too much, work with a professional therapist who can help you develop a plan to take control of your life.
Mackay’s Moral: When life feels like a pressure cooker, it’s time to turn down the heat.