Stress is pervasive in our lives. Therefore it is not a question of how to avoid stress, but rather how to deal with stress. Stress does not diminish as you grow older. It simply takes on different forms. Here are two examples. The high school juniors I teach are stressed because academically, this is the year that will determine which college they will enter in 2012. They also need to bolster their school resume and try to maintain and juggle impossible schedules of academics, sport, music, drama, publications and extra curricula clubs and activities with at least having one community service component. Stress cuts into their sleep, and downtime is fast becoming an endangered activity for teens, if it is not already one.
At the other end of the spectrum are the elderly. Some like my mother, in her mid-eighties suffered a stroke, has been fortunate to receive excellent medical care and lived in an assisted living facility where she was well cared for. Her stress was caused by her inability to communicate, as she would like to, due to her stroke-induced brain damage. Her frailty (she was in a wheel chair), the loss of control of every aspect of her life, as well as her sense of impending death all added to her increasing stress.
The vast majority of elderly people are not so fortunate and spend their last years in poverty, deprivation and with a frustrated acceptance of their reduced quality of life. This causes them and their loved ones enormous stress.
We live in stressful times. Recent college graduates, as well as middle-aged workers who have been laid off struggle to find jobs and some way to fulfill their responsibilities to their families. We are stressed about war in Afghanistan, upheavals in the Middle East, climate change, and how and when will the struggling world economy recover.
On the personal level relationships of all kinds (and loneliness) can be stressful, as well as coping with chronic illnesses, such as obesity, resisting the lure of body image promotions, and living with changing life expectations as the American pie shrinks. And the list goes on.
There are proven and effective ways to deal with stress and incorporating them into your day can make a huge difference in your ability to function.
Physical – eat right, exercise, try to get enough sleep, build in recreation and downtime. Take a yoga class, and learn how to meditate. Breathe deeply. Try to bring your full awareness—mind and body—to each part of your life.
Emotional – make the effort to stay connected with family and friends. If you live alone consider acquiring a pet. Prioritize a list of what satisfies you emotionally—music, movies, bowling, carpentry—and make the time to treat yourself and indulge in what gives you pleasure. Be alive to the moment and in the moment. Challenge yourself by joining a community center or taking that saxophone or sky diving lesson you have always wanted.
Psychological—don’t try to push through the commitments you have regardless of your health. Take a day off when you feel sick, learn that tomorrow is another day and you will have time to complete your tasks. Seek a balance between home life, work or school life, and your time for your private self, life. Balance, harmony, temperance are keys to finding and sharing happiness and lessening stress.
Remind yourself that this is the one life you have to live. Be passionate. Your life is happening now; this is not a rehearsal. As the American poet Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Tell yourself, and tell me too.
Stress comes too, as the years flow on, from knowing what opportunities you have let slip away. Wake up now to your life. Wake up to your self. Be open enough to embrace life, brave enough to deal with stress, and recover some of the magic in life you enjoyed as a child before the strains of living slowly drain your life force.
An accomplished author, teacher and presenter, Janet Levine is an expert on applying spiritual practices to practical purposes for everyday life such as coping with stress, achieving balance and happiness, and parenting. Some of these ideas are given fictional form in her latest book, “Leela’s Gift.” Learn more about her work at www.janetlevine.com.