Why stress needn’t be your enemy
The world that we live in lends itself to stress. Simply by virtue of being a human being, we have needs that must be met if we are to survive – we have to have a place to live, we have to put food on the table, and we need clothes to wear. We have basic needs that we can’t simply sit back and watch take care of themselves. Stress is a normal part of life, and can’t be completely avoided – even if you’re a Buddhist monk!
However, in our society, due to money and material things being given such a high status, most of us are not content with mere survival or living a meagre life, but instead want a nice house, a nice car, fancy holidays or whatever else it is that floats our boats. This in turn often leads to greater stress than is healthy or required, as we put greater demands on ourselves to earn more money and end up comparing ourselves to others who seem to have more, or lead ‘better’ lives than we do. In this post I will talk not only about strategies for reducing everyday stress, but also how we can deal with the mental patterns that can cause it in the first place.
On the mental side, the first thing I want to say, is that the more we give ourselves to do – the more tasks we have or goals we have to accomplish – generally speaking, the greater our levels of stress will be. I myself have a strong tendency to give myself far too many things to accomplish in a fairly short space of time, and it’s no surprise that soon enough I begin to feel the effects of this – tiredness, emotional and physical burnout, getting irritated at little things. If you’re like me, you may have a tendency to underestimate how many things the brain can effectively focus on at any one given time, and how long it takes to effectively accomplish something. Reduce your schedule, lessen the demands placed upon you, and your stress will lessen. The key here is to prioritise what’s most important to you at the given time and give your focus to that, remembering to keep plenty of free time available for yourself.
The second area I’d like to mention is, I feel, at the heart of much of the stress that many people experience on a regular basis in today’s world. This is the stress that comes from doing something we don’t really want to do for the sake of something we think we want – namely, money, and probably more money than we actually need. It seems that many people in today’s society make a decision to sacrifice their own principles, integrity and personal happiness for a job or position that they care little for in return for financial rewards that they think will make them happy. Many of us don’t even realise we’re doing it – when the pound or dollar signs flash, the decision is often already made.
If we continuously occupy ourselves with something that drains us, tires us and doesn’t make us happy, the end result will almost inevitably be stress and misery. We have to take a step back and think about what we really want to do with our lives – what we love and where our natural talents lie – and assess the impact on our lives of doing something we don’t enjoy on a regular basis. Think about it – in the overall context of a person’s life, the bigger picture so to speak, what is more important – having lots of spare money, or being happy and fulfilled? Thinking in this way can be very radical for some people, but it’s crucial if we want to live a life we truly love.
Another source of stress can come from spending time with people who don’t support us, bring us down or simply don’t resonate with our personal beliefs and values. Our social circles are very important and as the saying goes, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. It’s important that we choose wisely who we spend our time with in order to feel more whole, balanced and positive. Being around people who support us and lift us up will not only boost our confidence and overall mood, but can be a great combatant of stress if we’re feeling under the cosh. I’ve often found that simply talking to a listening, non-judgmental ear about any difficulties I’m facing or stressful feelings aids significantly in their reduction and even disappearance.
If we don’t feel as if we can really talk to the people in our lives about our goals, our dreams and any difficulties we’re facing, these may not be the healthiest relationships to have. Either we aren’t being authentic because of a fear of a negative reaction, or we are being authentic and that authenticity isn’t being well-received. The former is fine so long as we’re willing to open up around our deepest dreams and fears to those close to us; the latter is most definitely cause to look into whether this is a person you really want to have in your life.
Before we continue, I do want to highlight that stress isn’t always a bad thing. As mentioned previously, a small amount of stress in our lives is not only normal, but actually quite healthy. It shows that we’re stretching ourselves, taking ourselves outside of our comfort zones and truly experiencing the ups and downs of life. It’s excessive stress that is the issue here.
Now, considering we aren’t overburdening ourselves, are doing something we enjoy (or can at least reasonably tolerate) and have a good circle of people around us, how can we further manage and eliminate stress in our everyday lives?
The first thing is, of course, meditation! If you’re a regular reader of the Morning Mind, you won’t be surprised to see the M-word popping up again, and for good reason. A regular meditation practise is a fantastic way to start the day, allows you to connect with yourself like little else does and is, of course, greatly relaxing if done properly! We have plenty of resources concerning meditation already, so if you’re interested in starting up or deepening your own practise, you’re in the right place.
The next thing is exercise. Many studies have shown the relation between physical exercise and mental well-being. On a personal level, I often find that after exercise I have a much reduced capacity for stress and anxiety, having tired out my body and released any tension I’d been holding onto. Exercise helps to release endorphins, as well as stimulating the brain to release more dopamine and serotonin (commonly known as feel-good chemicals!), resulting in a greater sense of calm and wellness. A regular, stimulating exercise practise will not only benefit your mind and emotions, but of course your body as well.
It’s also important to eat well and make sure we’re getting enough sleep. This is the foundation that we can put in place to ensure not only that we minimise stress, but that we feel at our optimum every single day. And for those of us who suffer from general anxiety, many of the strategies listed above will be very beneficial in reducing and eliminating such negative feelings.
If you feel like you’re at a bit of a crossroads in your life, then last week’s article may be of great use to you, especially in terms of helping to clarify what you’d really like to do in life. Excessive stress really isn’t something we have to keep in our lives, and neither is it healthy for us to do so. The consequences of living an overly-stressed life are clear for all to see – poor health, both physically and mentally, unhappiness and no joy in life, when that’s exactly what we’re meant to experience. If you currently experience an excess of stress in your life, know that it can be overcome, and reduced, if only you’re willing to alter a few key things in your life.
If you have any of your own strategies for dealing with stress, we’d love you to share them with us. And if you’d like to read more articles like this, and get all the latest news from The Morning Mind, just hit subscribe below to get an email reminder of our posts each week, as well as exclusive midweek content.