On my way to the US recently, an airline stewardess offered me a national newspaper. The heading on the front page caught my eye: “All Stressed Out,” it screamed.
“We’re entering the dawn of the super-stress era,” said Ann Mack, former global director of trend spotting at JWT, an ad agency that picked “super-stress” as one of the year’s most highly charged trends. “Since it’s become a cost issue and serious medical concern, you’ll see more efforts to prevent or reduce it.”
According to the American Psychological Association, some seven in 10 Americans said they regularly suffer physical symptoms due to stress, and two in every three say they regularly experience psychological symptoms because of it.
The top three causes of stress are related to money, work and the economy. “We’re just not very good at dealing with stress,” says Dr David W. Ballard, the group’s assistant executive director for organizational excellence.
Like the rest of us, doctors all experience stress during their day’s work. There is good stress and bad stress. The good stress can help motivate some of us to become world champions, but harmful stress can drive others to despair. When people talk of stress, they are normally talking of bad stress – the invisible disease.
The three kinds of stress that cause a reaction in the body are:
Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or sugar.
Physical inactivity or over-activity, lack of sleep or dehydration.
Fear, anger, guilt, sorrow, jealousy, hurt and anxiety.
The effects are addictive. For example, one sip of coffee may not cause a stress reaction but one sip of coffee, plus one puff of a cigarette, plus one heated argument, plus inadequate sleep, plus a day of sitting at a computer can cause a physiological change in the body’s chemistry. It all adds up. So what can we do about stress? Here are three things:
Exercise & Water
Take exercise and lots of it. Vary it. Run, walk, swim, jog, cycle or do yoga or Pilates and keep hydrated. Then rest and recover.
We live in a kind of shallow, fast breathing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) culture. Daily meditation is a great antidote to this lifestyle.
“You can’t buy un-stress just like you can’t buy love,” says anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff, managing partner of Context-Based Research Group in Baltimore, USA. “Unstressing is easy and inexpensive. Sit still for 10 minutes every day and breathe deeply, breath slowly and follow your breath. It will do wonders.”
Alternative-medicine advocate Deepak Chopra says: “Simple meditation can be the best way to de-stress and to chill out.”
How do you meditate? Sit down. Relax. Breathe deeply. Breathe slowly, breathe deeply and simply follow the breath. Any thought, or feeling … just acknowledge them, put them aside and follow your breath. Back to the breath. That’s all. Soon you’ll feel the inner peace.
There are a number of scientific studies that show the benefits of meditation:
Blood pressure comes down.
Stress is alleviated.
There is increased brain wave coherence that improves attention span, creativity, learning ability and memory retrieval and the immune system is boosted.
Change The Way You Look At Things
Studies have shown that it is not reality that causes us stress but rather our perception or our story about reality. People are not disturbed by things but rather by the views they take of things, the stories or interpretations they make up in their minds about things. These, however, we can control.
What one person sees as a problem, the other sees as an opportunity. We don’t need new landscapes, but we do need new eyes to see the landscapes that are already there. Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. Are we looking at life with eyes of misery or with eyes of joy?
Stress is very similar to the strings of a violin. If the strings are too loose, they will not play properly. If they are too tight, they will snap. It’s the same with the human body.
We have to get the stress balance right.
Stress is like the wind. Like a yacht sailing on the high seas we can ignore the wind, fight it, or channel it positively to achieve our goals or sail to our destination.
For me, nothing eliminates stress like a good laugh with good friends by the shores of Lough Sheelin. I spent a day there recently at John (my nephew) and Maggie’s wedding. Mixing with old friends, meeting new ones and seeing old faces and places were all a real tonic for the body, mind and spirit. Laughter is indeed the best medicine to de-stress.