The Way to Handle Stress (August 29, 2017)
If I may first recap from last time? Thank you.
Chronic stress forces many systems of your body to operate continuously at intensities that were meant to last for only a short time.The resulting wear-and-tear is a big contributor to illness and early death. Stress is a legitimate cause of disease, and it feels bad not because you are somehow lacking in toughness – it feels bad because it IS bad. So we’d really like to minimize it whenever possible.
The thing is, most of the sources you consult on stress reduction are, to put it gently, as tedious as they are unhelpful. Popular discussions of stress relief tend to glomph together several feel-good options (exercise, medication, supplements, deep breathing, and whatnot) into a bland, boring, stupefying mess, much like the stew my father once made in my mother’s new pressure cooker. I think that this is because they are leaving out a couple of steps.
To begin with, what is the precise nature of the stressful symptom that is causing the problem? Stress affects different body systems, like I said before, so it seems like any stress reduction technique that is tried should directly address the problem being experienced, rather than just flying off into the feel-good universe and hoping that we encounter the right pink unicorn.
Meditation is not going to help much if the problem is painful shoulder tension and headaches. It would be much better in that case to choose a stress reduction method that targets the muscles. Massage and exercise (particularly upper body resistance exercise of some sort) should be considered.
Or is the problem fatigue? The first thing to look at there is the amount of sleep the person is getting. Sorry if that sounds obvious. But I’ve had more than one person consult me for fatigue when their problem was doing everything else but get into bed at a proper time. It is the rare person that can get by on fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, and skimping on sleep is nothing to be proud of. (Trouble actually getting to sleep once you’re in bed, of course, is a different problem – but it is one that can also be specifically addressed, once you've zeroed in on it.)
You see my point. A problem can’t really be successfully addressed until it is specifically identified, and in the case of stress, a designation of "stress" alone isn't specific enough.
It often happens with these Dad Stew websites that they start off with the assumption that FEELINGS of stress (anxiety, depression, and the like) themselves are the problem. That’s why you get all the suggestions for meditation, aromatherapy, yada yada. What is happening here is twofold. They are assuming (1) that the real problem is the individual’s response to the stressor, and (2) that nothing can be done about the stressor itself.
There is kind of a blame-the-victim mentality here, because it is implied that the only problem is the individual’s coping mechanism. There is also a refusal to back up a couple of steps and consider the situation of the person who is feeling stressed. I strenuously object to both of those assumptions. All too often, websites (and people) start out with the assumption that “life is what it is” and it can’t be changed but only somehow endured. Well, I say “pooh” to that.
It is amazing how many things in one's life can be fixed. Or if not fixed, at least improved, and very often that is enough I rarely see this point made in discussions of stress. There is a helpless throw-up-your-hands I’m-already-doing-all-I-can assumption here that is just plain wrong.
The things that cause the most feelings of stress are the things that we think we have the least control over. If you're going to try to control stress, then, averting one's eyes from the problem and assuming that one is helpless to deal with it is exactly the wrong way to start.
So anyone suffering from stress needs to take a couple of steps back and take a sharp look at how they are living, and why they are living that way. Which is something we should all be doing from time to time anyway. After all, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, said Socrates, meaning that only in attempting to know and understand ourselves does life have any value or meaning.
If Socrates doesn't do it, maybe Glenn Frey would be better. To wit -- “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains And we never even know we have the key".
Be that as it may (and I do agree with it), an unexamined life these days means jumping through a lot of hoops that someone else has put up for you. Sometimes you have to change a circumstance. Sometimes you have to change yourself. Best to know which one it is from the get-go.
If you find your life too stressful to live gladly, there is something wrong and you need to find out what it is. Reducing stress is not really an option. If you feel stressed, it’s harming you. It’s something that you NEED to do something about, unless you are freely and willingly choosing disease and earlier death.
And if you feel a sense of rising panic at the thought of inspecting your life, that makes it even more important to do so. That thing that you are sure that you can’t get rid of that is causing all the trouble that scares you to even think about – you need to think about it, at least. Things that can’t be fixed can only be coped with successfully if we can figure out, and admit, what they are.
I know that this is all easier said than done. But it can be done. And should be, for yourself and for everyone around you, for your health and for your peace of mind. Best of luck!
--dr. diane holmes
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