Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m stressed out and it’s awesome”?
We don’t usually connect awesomeness with stress. Some seem to live in a perpetual state of feeling out of control and enduring more pressure than they should. When they talk about stress it’s usually negative.
How often do you describe your state of mind that way?
Some say stress isn’t always bad. Researchers have identified something they call Eustress, a good stress coming from being excited about positive things, being happy, and having purpose in life. And some stress is deemed necessary for survival and accomplishing important jobs.
That said, results from the 2010 American Psychological Association “Stress in America” survey found that “the majority of Americans are living with moderate or high levels of stress, and while they understand that this is not healthy, they’re stymied in their efforts to make changes.”
Dr. Bruce S. McEwen, director of the neuroendocrinology laboratory at the Rockefeller University suggests that “prolonged or severe stress has been shown to weaken the immune system, strain the heart, and damage memory cells in the brain. Stress has been implicated in aging, depression, heart disease, among other illnesses.
What is stress anyway? It is a result of one’s interpretation of and reaction to events in life as opposed to the events themselves. For example, tax season is reported to be a major stressor. So much so that April has been designated stress awareness month, and April 16th, the day after taxes are due, is stress awareness day.
I’ve definitely experienced times in my life where I didn’t pay attention to how I was reacting to events that seemed to be “too much”. My tendency, like some, has been to put my head down and charge ahead like a bulldozer whatever way I could in order to get through the stressful situation. This seemed to work pretty well, except for the toll it took on my mental well-being and health, and on my relationships. Others react oppositely by shutting down and doing nothing. Still others develop self-destructive habits.
Being aware of stress per se and what causes us to feel this way is fine, but it doesn’t go far enough. Positive steps to reduce chronic stress is an important key. It’s certainly no laughing matter for those who suffer chronic stress.
Or perhaps it is.
Researchers are finding clear clinical evidence that humor and laughing cause biological changes that reduce stress and improve one’s immune system. There are several reasons why this happens. Little did I know that listening to Bill Cosby records as a kid would be healthy for me. I thought it was just good fun!
There are many activities that can reduce stress and give one a positive outlook such as writing for pleasure, talking with friends and family about what’s on your mind, spending time with pets, exercising, hobbies, volunteering, and perhaps participating in humorous activities.
Organizing one’s life to include stress reducing activities might include not only a good laugh but also some quiet moments of contemplation.
An article by the Mayo clinic suggests meditation or prayer as a stress-modulating activity.
“When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. The emotional benefits of meditation include:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions”
Like meditation, prayer and contemplation of holy texts can be an effective way to experience calm in one’s thought. As the prophet Isaiah in the Bible puts it:
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (Isa 26:3)
I have found this to be true in my own experience. As I learn to enter into the calming atmosphere of prayer, that place where I affirm all that I know to be good and experience a Divine presence, I am more productive, more relaxed, and at peace. This equips me to put the challenges of life into their proper perspective and to develop reasonable solutions. It gives me a more positive outlook on life.
A daily dose of meditation or prayer, and a good hearty laugh is a good step to getting a handle on stress.