Is there another word in the English language that is used as often as the word stress? We use it to explain a bad hair day, physical pain, relationship problems, driving in traffic, a rotten day on the job, etc. Physicians often use that word to explain situations or conditions a patient may have when the doctor has no clue as to what is really going on. I hate it when that happens and always resent paying money when that is all I have when I leave the doctor’s office. Doesn’t happen to me very often now but it used to. We need a new word for all of life’s challenges, such as all those events that come along far more often than we would like, which interrupt what we had expected or planned. It is impossible to avoid stress in one’s life.
Stress has become the universal Snoopy Band-Aid for far too many areas of life. Well meaning friends and relatives coo it to us if we’re not feeling well, “Oh, you’re just stressed,” as if that will make our state of anxiety automatically disappear.
When true stress occurs, hormones are triggered by the hypothalamus after it is triggered by the brain. The stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline are released and we are ready to flee or fight. The heart then begins to pump more blood throughout the body. We can develop higher blood pressure, almost always a faster pulse rate and always, anxiety.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “We can no longer eliminate stress in our lives than we can eliminate tension from our muscles. If muscle tension dropped to zero, we would fall to the ground in a shapeless heap. If all stress disappeared, we would not be alive.”
Dr. Weil goes on to state the benefits of stress by saying, “Stress is inherent in our interactions with the world around us and unless it is overwhelming, it keeps us growing and developing.”
Conflict, also known as stress is what keeps us entertained in a good book, a film or any story. That’s the first rule of writing fiction. There has to be conflict to make it interesting.
For many of us, when we first became ill, we mentally beat ourselves black and blue, trying to find out why we are ill. “Why me? Was I too stressed? Was this somehow my fault?” However, if we accepted pain, change and suffering without question we would be most unusual, don’t you think? That kind of stoicism it seems to me, should be questioned. There might be a fuse burning deep within that kind of individual that may one day go BOOM! If stress is inevitable for all of us, we need to face it. We need to learn how to live with it and perhaps, even learn how to use if for our own welfare.
When attempting to understand stress in our lives with illness and pain, we need to agree each of us react differently but in some ways, the same. All of us expect too much from ourselves. As our lives descend into illness or wounds from an injury, we still try to fulfill all our usual roles in life. Sick or well, we still strive to be responsible parents, loving spouses and helpful and enjoyable friends.
We have suddenly been faced with change. We chafe against change which we did not request, seek or welcome. Many of us chatter away, verbally or in our thoughts, questions, questions and more questions. We attempt to grab the scattered fragments of our existence as our lives splinter like a slow-motion picture of a shattering window. There it is, life, falling away into tiny pieces while we watch from our pain filled perspective. It is as if we have become outsiders in our own lives. Blindsided by our own bodies, we are faced with a future which we can’t imagine, understand and also fear. Enough already, I’m getting stressed just talking about so much stress, time to move on.
A FEW IDEAS ON HOW TO LIVE WITH STRESS.
First of all, we need to avoid those factors which make this life even more filled with stress. This is different for each of us, but we can make a few generalizations. Caffeine and stimulants are contributors, not helpers. Most days we are surrounded by factors which are not peaceful, such as loud music, 24-hour news and often, our own negative behavior. We have to stop, look and listen to our own lives.
It helps to find your center. You can do this by standing tall, body aligned and breathing deeply. Reach up and try to touch the ceiling. Impossible at our house, with 14-foot ceilings but trying is the important part. Stretch, breathe, live. You can practice yoga, meditation or whatever works for you. You can escape to a hot sudsy bath. Lavender bath salts are very relaxing. A hot shower also works but is not quite as relaxing. Heat forces painful tensions to leave the body. You might have a favorite chair, view, porch or book that relaxes you. You might gain comfort by reading the Bible. The point is to relax, release your worries and let your troubled mind and body rest.
We have to get out of bed. I know and I understand. I like escaping under the covers as much as you do but…Movement is essential, whether it be stretches, exercise or just fiddling around your home with a chore or two. We can’t lie down all the time, even if we want to. The human body is made to move. As an RN, I have too often seen the effects of being too sedentary. Life piles up around us and it is still up to us to not give up and give in but to move whatever parts of our bodies we can move. Doing something productive, as small as it may be, is also rewarding. We need to feel that feeling of accomplishment in our lives every day. Some days it may be a small something but it is still rewarding. Those colored stretchy bands are great for stretching routines for those of us who can no longer be terribly active. Just remember, any muscles that are not used, will die. Muscles are like our minds and have to be used to fulfill their function and stay on the straight and narrow.Move. That also would include getting out of those stinky pajamas, washing a day’s worth of dirt away and brushing your teeth. Nobody is going to notice? Not true because you do. Nope. A squirt of perfume or aftershave doesn’t count if that’s all you do.
Try to rid your life of clutter. We live in a small Victorian home and it becomes cluttered very easily. When it reaches critical mess…well, it isn’t a pretty sight. Just imagine the last antique shop you were in but worse. I get just as ugly because it bothers me. At least during Halloween season we can pretend that swinging spider on that huge web in the hallway is meant to be there as decor. Clutter all around me causes me to become frustrated, bitchy and unpleasant. It often helps each of us just to take on one cluttered drawer or cupboard. Get rid of the clutter as much as you can. Maybe it’s time to throw away that stack of three years of Good Housekeeping, Classic Cars, etc. Find an organization that might like them, or a church or library. Trash them if nothing else will do. Get rid of them. It might be time to also get rid of those old paint cans in the basement. Oh, basements. I’d best not go there as ours is chaos. Is yours? Sometimes you have to be ruthless with yourself or your spouse. A cluttered house can lead to a cluttered mind. I know, you don’t have to get nuts about it but try it, okay?
I recently asked my thirteen-year-old granddaughter if she wanted to earn some extra cash by cleaning the surface dirt in my house. She comes over after school one day a week and does a fine job of cleaning things I can no longer manage, like mopping, etc. She’s learning, showing pride in her work and has some extra money to spend. It also is a wonderful diversion for me as I look forward to having at least one time each week to visit with one of my grandchildren, one on one. I love it.
As Judy Garland used to sing, “FORGET YOUR TROUBLES, COME ON GET HAPPY.” Don’t forget to have fun. It can be as simple as playing with a pet, a child or a game with your spouse. Watch a good movie, lose yourself in a book but do not brood over the state of your life. If you have pets, you know they are always up for a bit of play with a ball, yarn or whatever you both enjoy. There are opportunities for fun all around us but sometimes we are too engrossed, too tired or too ill to take the time. It doesn’t have to be much, but try. Joy, laughter and anything to make yourself smile, these are God’s most precious gifts to us. Yesterday I saw a Mama deer and her fawn calmly strolling by, a tiny hummingbird drinking out of a flowering bud on a tall bush outside the bathroom window and laughed at many items shared by FB friends. Simply look, joy is there for the finding.
Give yourself away to others in any way you can. Call a friend, bake a batch of cookies to be shared, go out of your way for your better half or just spend some time praying for someone in need. Give to a charity, even a small amount but give of what you have, who you are and share any talents you have been given.