“I think my life is trying to tell me something, but I don’t have time to listen.” — Ashleigh Brilliant.
As I mentioned in my March 20 column, “Spring Break,” among other monthly designations, April is “Stress Awareness Month.” So, on this last day of April, I offer the following:
Whether stress is produced by something environmental (the weather, noise, other people) or more commonly by our mental processes (frustration, hostility, achievement, excitement), the response is similar. Our bodies gear up for flight or fight, but it is up to us how upset we become and how we handle stress.
We can use the energy created by stress as a precursor to motivation and creativity, or as a heavy weight that can drag us into illness. We also have the choice of keeping the physical response to environmental stresses from becoming exaggerated. It depends on how we think about the situation, and how we think depends basically on our belief system. As William James once wrote: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Think about two types of people who have extreme belief systems that lead to severe chronic stress. They are those who think they have to be in control all of the time and those who let other people do their thinking for them. Both kinds of beliefs are based on extreme insecurity and a great lack of healthy self-esteem. Both operate from fear — the first, fear of losing control and the second, fear of being true to oneself. We can probably think of people we know who fit the following descriptions — often people who, if we were to ask them, have no clue as to why they are so stressed or what to do about it.
• People have bad intentions and are out to get me. I cannot trust anyone;
• I have to outdo others at work, in lifestyle, at games, etc;
• There is only one way to do things and no one can do them as well as I can;
• I must not recognize any feelings except anger — which I am entitled to;
• People and things must always be logical and consistent according to my standards;
• It is shameful to make mistakes, so I don’t admit to any;
• I have to keep control of myself and everything else;
• I must acquire authority at any cost — physical abuse, anger, intimidation, remoteness, charisma;
• People and events must meet my expectations or I get very upset; and
• None of this is my fault — it’s everyone else.
“It’s our fallibility and uncertainty that makes us human. Our constant challenge is not to seek perfection in ourselves and others; but to find ways to be happy in an imperfect world.” — Gordon Livingston, M.D., “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.”
• I must always look to others for approval;
• I must always put the needs of others before mine;
• I am not as good as other people;
• I must not express my feelings — in fact, it’s best if don’t recognize them;
• I don’t deserve to be happy;
• I must act nice all of the time no matter how I feel;
• I do not have a right to my own opinion even if I knew what it is;
• Since I can’t cope, I must rely on others to take care of me;
• I must never question authority from whatever direction it may come; and
• Even the thought of change makes me feel very insecure.
To deal with stress — to handle the pressures from inside and outside — we first have to recognize where it’s coming from and the way we view the world that may be contributing to it. Changing our belief system to alter how we think about and react to stress-producing situations is the first step to a more relaxed and fulfilling life.
As that wise quipster, Ashleigh Brilliant, would add: “The help I need most is help in admitting I need help.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.