A dominant fact of life for every living thing is that we encounter stress. This is true for the tiniest microbe, the mightiest redwood, preditory creatures, and humans. Every living thing has coping mechanisms that have evolved through the millions of years of life on Earth. These days, for better or worse, we are more aware of stress as a topic of study and clinical research. Stress is a popular topic because we are confronted by it in some form each day.
As humans, we are able to seek out techniques and utilize technology as ways to relieve stress. We can take advantage of therapy, confide to a close friend or family member, take up exercise, or meditation. It’s no longer a strong taboo to talk openly about our feelings and problems.
Personally, I appreciate clarity, philosophical meaning, rationality, and order to help keep stress at bay. I cultivate good habits such as paying bills as they arrive and addressing disagreements and obligations with other people in a mindful, timely manner. That said, there are circumstances and events out of my control. The national economy, the looming threat of fascism, and global climate change to name only a few. I communicate with my representative, senators, and local officials. I seek out practical ways that I can realistically help. In the end, I let go of what I cannot change and accept the day to day personal challenges that I can.
There are realistic steps to help alleviate stress, yet there will be a lingering angst or unsettling thoughts we may feel. Chronic health issues and unresolved conflicts intrude upon our well-being and good intentions. We are advised to make peace with our mortality, but this is easier said than done.
As a result of aging, I’m noticing a few mysterious aches and pains that the physician cannot explain. I accept and do what I can to minimize these common ailments; but they still trigger stress. Also, although winter is my favorite season, winter threatens us with severe cold and dangerous blizzards. I have an aversion to strong winds, yet I continue to live in the Great Plains of North America where such winds are common. These are stressors that cause discomfort and unease. Regardless of where one chooses to live, there are natural advantages and disadvantages to which we must accept. Again, this is easier said than done.
Meanwhile, we all have times when we get nervous, over-think, and worry about our lives. A small amount of doubt and discomfort is normal and helps to keep us more keenly aware of life as a whole. The components of anger, anxiety, and fear exist interdependently in the world. Ideally, we want to keep these under control and not become overwhelmed. In many instances, stress is our interpretation and reaction to real and imagined dangers. Hence, it is good to be aware of this fact.
I fall back on a couple of effective coping mechanisms to reduce mental stress: mindfulness meditation and auto-hypnosis audio (a form of guided meditation). Mindfulness meditation is all about paying attention to the breath and releasing skeletal muscle tension. Auto-hypnosis is a technique to ease the mind and mentally let go.
There are various forms of meditation–religious or secular–that one can explore. Their techniques can be found on the Web or in books and magazine articles. We can find scripts for auto-hypnosis on line, in books, or we can compose them ourselves. I still utilize analogue cassette tapes to record the words and music. However, there are other technologies available such as a smart phone or a personal computer. Generally speaking, I utilize meditation or walking in nature during the daytime and comforting auto-hypnosis tapes at bedtime.
At the end of the day, we have particular challenges and problems that create inner discord which leads to stress. We may choose to follow pithy sayings and memes such as, “problems are a chance for growth and renewal” or another similar phrase. Whatever works to equip and prepare us how to more effectively deal with life and leave us less vulnerable to dangerous stress is the way to go. The point is to practice that technique and remain open to fresh ways of thinking about your life. It is helpful not to deny stress but to address it similarly to mindful, effective approaches to exercise, food, and love.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Christian religious writer, Tullian Tchividjian. “The deepest fear we have, ‘the fear beneath all fears,’ is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment. It’s this fear that creates the stress and depression of everyday life.”