Stress is the trash of modern life; we all generate it, but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.
~ Danzae Pace
Do you ever have weeks where life seems to be a constant struggle? There are headaches followed by more headaches, with a healthy dose of nothing’s right? Even when you work through all the hassle, there’s a whopping big pile of hassle waiting for you the next week. No one said life was going to be easy, but when it seems like nothing is easy, a shot of perspective can be the medicine you need.
People are, for the most part, rational beings. We wouldn’t willingly make a trade without getting something desirable in return. We undergo stress for different reasons, but in the back of our minds, what we are going through is worth the struggle. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t.
The best things in life—the most important things—aren’t supposed to come easy. If they did, they would become everyday, they would lose what makes them special.
Anyone can pick up a martial arts catalog and order a black belt. Why don’t they? Because the struggle, and what we get in return, is more important than the belt, or even the rank. What we receive when we persevere is not only what we strive for—it’s the feeling of accomplishment, the feeling of fulfillment.
The next time we’re dealing with one of life’s many hurdles, we can make ourselves feel better by reminding ourselves why we are enduring, what we are trying to accomplish. We should also revisit our goals and reassess our struggles periodically and see whether we need to make course adjustments.
So great—here we are feeling better about the need for being stressed—but we are still stressed. All of us have stress. How we respond to that stress is extremely important to our success, to our happiness, and to our health. For some, stress feeds on itself. Something goes wrong, they get in a bad mood, their mood makes them more likely to see other things as wrong, or difficult, and the situation feeds back on itself in a “stress spiral.”
This is not a healthy way to live—on many levels. The body’s stress response activates parts of the brain related to mood and can affect our ability to sleep, lead to obesity, and affect our memory. Stress can deactivate our self-healing mechanisms, making us more likely to get sick.
It’s not good.
And it’s not good enough to just cope with stress—we have to find ways to ward off stress and minimize its intensity and duration. One thing we can do right upfront is make sure all the stress we are subjecting ourselves to is necessary. What are the causes of stress in our life? Can we get rid of them? Can we change them in some way so they’re not as stressful?
Step One is to make sure we are being the rational people we’re supposed to be. Don’t make a bad trade; don’t endure the stress without a clear understanding of what you are getting in return.
When we’re down to only the necessary stress, then it’s time to think about how we can battle our stress. We have to fire up our relaxation response to face down our stress response. Consider, very specifically, what we can do to relax. What activities make us happy?
This might be hardcore exercise. Strap on your shoes and go for an intense 10-miler. It might be taking a nap. It might be meditation, making music, laughing with your friends, sex, yard work, or baseball. Make a list for yourself and think about how much time you allow for these activities (hint, it should be significant).
So, to sum up:
- Struggle: necessary.
- Perspective: needed.
- Stress: bad.
- Relaxation: good.
Or, put more simply…
Live a good life, take the time to appreciate it, and do the things that make you happy.