Living with stress
Today’s topic comes from my reflection of 2022 as a whole so far. Has it really been the worse year ever, or does it feel that way to me only? It seems like after twiddling my thumbs in 2020, I find myself with everything that would normally happen in 3 years, all condensed in just one.
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Stress kills. "Literally," says a 2008 article from the Psychology department at the University of Malaysia.
The morbidity and mortality due to stress-related illness is alarming. Emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.
And a 2021 study, Stress, the autonomic nervous system, and sudden death, reiterates the issue.
If you die, your problems are over.
It's living with stress that sucks the life out of you daily.
And will you believe me if I tell you that a lot of this stress you cause yourself? Yes, you do. Stop arguing. It's stressing you out!
Yes, there's good stress. So, let's get this out of the way. A little bit of "good stress" goes a long way to achieving goals and making life fun. It motivates, excites, and keeps you going forward. There's no threat of danger or fear. Or, at least, not a real one, like when you ride a roller coaster or compete in a championship. It's a risk you take because you want a specific experience. You choose to live on the edge and enjoy the adrenaline and dopamine!
I am good at creating this kind of stress for myself. So are all the surfers, rock climbers, athletes, and people on a creative quest absorbed in a project. Even watching your favorite Netflix series, empathizing with the characters in dangerous situations and rejoicing in their victories can fall into this category. You, personally, do not stand a chance of getting devoured by a dragon or falling off an airplane.
Bad Stress. Life in the world in 2022. Let me count (some of) the ways.
War engulfing Ukraine caused by a nutjob threatening a nuclear attack.
High gas prices cause you to park your RV in storage indefinitely.
High inflation, eating up your paycheck and savings.
China still having supply chain issues, causing your project delays while your customers scream at you.
The stock market fell. The housing market is next.
Expensive housing. Lots of homeless everywhere.
Crazy politicians threaten to usurp the next election if it doesn't go their way.
Women's rights violated, to go with women getting violated.
Losers with guns are shooting people in random places. It could be your grocery store next.
Getting unhoused by a hurricane or a fire.
People are starving all over the world, and now cholera is erupting in places, plus Ebola, plus we're still chewing on Covid.
Ok. Sorry. These are just some of today's headlines, paraphrased. I didn't mean to ruin your day.
But in this environment, how is stress your responsibility, you ask? Circumstances as they are, you don't have to freak out. Most of your individual life is within your control. Your response to your particular circumstances is most definitely within your control. And there lies your individual responsibility for the personal stress you experience.
I'll explain further. No, I won't regurgitate some misquoted Buddhist wisdom. No worries.
Growing up, you've developed coping mechanisms. It's what we all do. Feeling your way in the world, with or without the support of your primary caretakers, with or without their guidance, with or without their love, you somehow end up testing different strategies to alleviate your personal stress – hungry, poopy, curious, too cold, too hot, scared. You cry, you yell, you ask, you point, touch, poke, and run away. Whatever works at that moment, regardless of whether it is the best or the worst strategy, you keep using it. You also model what you see from those around you. Why re-invent the strategy wheel when you can just copy?
This process continues as we grow. It never actually ends. This is why it is super important for the nation's and humanity's survival that those held criminally responsible for something get what they deserve. Otherwise, others will try the same thing hoping to get away with it. Case in point – one crazy dictator starts a war. All crazy dictators now want to try the same thing. One presidential candidate losing an election and contesting it regardless of the evidence. A bunch of politicians follow suit, refusing to honor the election if they lose. Democracy dies. We all lose.
Back to stress.
As adults, we continue to rely on the poor coping strategies we learned as kids and often add to them. Sadly, this only leads to more stress as they don't actually deal with its underlying environmental or mental causes, often making things worse.
Think, drinking. People drink to loosen up and feel better. If you drink too much, you may be late for work, causing you more stress getting there. The hangover could cause you to make mistakes, for which you may even lose your job. You could even lose your driver's license for DUI. All extra layers of stress and more stress.
Think, beating yourself up when you make a mistake. It prolongs the process of feeling bad. It may make you depressed, sad, or anxious. In turn, this can make you lose sleep, compromising your health. Beating yourself up could lead to overcompensating by doing things you otherwise wouldn't do and getting into deeper trouble you will have to stress over.
Think, trying to mitigate stress by living it up, taking that amazing vacation that you can't afford but you think will help you unwind and make you forget all your problems. Now, you have financial stress to worry about when you get back. Comfort eating, binge-watching TV, checking out by going out all the time, procrastination, and avoidance, fall in the same category of giving yourself a costly break. Your wallet, your body, relationships, and career will have to pay for in the form of more stress.
Think, lashing out at people around you to diffuse the pressure of Stress. Now you have no friends. Your family is falling apart, and you're going through a stressful divorce.
You get the picture…
Circumstances are not always in your control. I think of stress as a form of disliking how things are and resisting that reality. The very resistance is the experience of stress. But what if the circumstances are as they are, and we just deal with them, realizing that things won't change just because we resist them in our minds? The more we resist, the more stressed we feel, AND we become more likely to deploy a dysfunctional, knee-jerk strategy to the situation. Probably too late, too, since we also avoid dealing with things we dislike. We run out of time and options and magnify stress to a monstrous level.
We can deal with whatever comes without resisting it, likely remaining more objective, clear-headed, productive, and finding resources and creative solutions, thus ending that which we dislike much faster!
Sometimes, we cause ourselves stress by biting more than we can chew. Too many "yes" and not enough "no" can lead to "no go" – not wanting to get up in the morning because you're looking at a crazy schedule for the day, week, or month.
On overload, you can only function for so long before you burn out.
And this is just the regular stuff of life. For victims of trauma who already feel vulnerable and incapacitated under circumstances reminiscent of their trauma, stress truly disables every bit of resources they have within themselves. This is why it is even more important for them to mitigate stress and stay on top of as much of their lives as possible.
The saddest thing for me to see is how we've normalized stress. It's as American as apple pie. From traffic jams to demanding work environments, high cost of living, job uncertainty, and lame politics, we live under a lot of unnecessary demands on our time, energy, attention, and loyalty.
We're too busy to realize how busy we are. At the end of the day, we don't have the time or energy to do what most people know they need to do to counteract the effects of daily stress.
Eat healthy meals. Give up fast food. Limit eating out.
Exercise. Do yoga. Meditate.
Enjoy hobbies and leisurely interests.
Spent time in nature.
Make time for community, family, and friends.
Get regular checkups and keep track of your health.
Stop bad habits like smoking and excessive drinking.
Make and follow a budget. Financial planning.
Write your will. Plan and prepare for disasters and unforeseen events.
Defend your boundaries and your free time.
Give your pets more of your time and attention. (You kids will just take it.)
Simplify and minimize your lifestyle.
Appreciate planning and organizing your life.
Learn to communicate well. Stop arguing about things that don't matter.
Stop hanging out with people who stress you out or drag you into bad behavior.
Recognize your signs of stress, such as difficulty sleeping, weight changes, lack of energy, etc.
Often, under stress, we make an irrational decision to ruin our lives. Later we rationalize it by calling it "self-improvement." Like, we really wanted to do that exact thing and have that exact fallout on our heads because we felt "unhappy" with the status quo.
I get it. But that's missing an opportunity to learn from mistakes you call "reasons" and causing yourself more stress than you could've avoided. That's not "self-improvement." That's a failure to plan, resulting in an emergency to put out.
Sidenote here: I recently read a thoughtful piece by Alejandro Betancourt, called Cartesian Dualism: The Mind-Body Problem in Self-Improvement. Check it out if you feel philosophically inclined. All of his writing is like that.
Hopefully, you learned something here. Hit the subscribe button below, and you'll hear from me next week with the next installment of Life Intelligence! So little effort, such a huge reward 😊!
Watch a meteor shower Thursday night!!! It's awesome! Expect about 15 shooting stars per hour. https://news.yahoo.com/orionid-meteor-shower-peaks-thursday-194712690.html
Can you solve this? Halloween is around the corner… Let me know what spookiness you want me to write about next week. I might….
Quote of the day:
” did i understand correctly that ukraine attacked russia in ukraine, so russia declared martial law in ukraine to protect ukraine from ukraine in ukraine, which is not ukraine, but russia?”
Mikhail Khodorkovsky. If you do not know who he is, look him up.
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