JUST SAY "NO" TO STRESS
Holidays are often stressful times, so I wanted to give you encouragement
to "Just say NO to stress" now and forever. Stress is
an inconvenience at best, and a killer at worst, so please read
on for some unfortunate facts, some educational anecdotes and some
All of us experience stress from time to time. It's a natural component
of our biology. When we perceive a threat (like consequences from
not getting our overwhelming job completed), our bodies release
the hormones adrenalin and cortisol (and a host of others), which
allow our minds and bodies to go into overload, the evolved response
to our ancestors' need for "fight or flight." In small,
intermittent doses, the hormones triggered by stress can help us
to survive, increase productivity, and escape danger. In those small
doses, stress is part of our natural, biological programming.
However, with longer, more continuous exposure, stress can cause
great discomfort or even damage. We can develop tight muscles. We
can get chest pain. Breathing becomes labored. We can develop dry
mouth, which can lead to periodontal disease. We can become befuddled,
as our memory is impacted. And this is just the beginning.
Cortisol is the hormone that seems to cause the most problems.
A great online resource is http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/cortisol.htm.
In small, infrequent doses, cortisol is part of our bodies' regular
functioning. But when stress becomes chronic, the ongoing flood
of cortisol wreaks havoc. Our blood sugar levels go out of whack.
Our muscle mass can be reduced. Our bone density can be decreased.
Our blood pressure can increase. And our abdominal fat can increase,
which increases not only weight, but also the probability of heart
Clearly, we need to do what we can to avoid chronic stress. There
are many mechanisms to avoid or minimize stress. Some are less than
healthy. Many people turn to smoking, drinking and drugs to escape
stress. Without regard for legality, these substances in small amounts
can provide a temporary fix. But, when stress is chronic, individuals
who take these routes can end up with an addiction they didn't desire.
Whether we're talking about nicotine, alcohol or illegal substances,
virtually no one grows up thinking, "I want to become an addict,"
but it happens anyway. The title of this year's series of Sensational
Living® columns, "Just say NO!" started as an anti-drug
(and therefore, anti-addiction) slogan. I've avoided addressing
addiction up until this point because the issue is so much more
complex than just a simple (minded) slogan. People turn to using
and abusing various substances because of so many varied psychological
issues (childhood pain, peer pressure, sexual compatibility/attractiveness,
dealing with stress, and more). The original "Just say NO!"
was a short-sighted, ill-informed slogan. But, it does provide a
focus on substance abuse so that individuals can choose to seek
true professional counseling and to leave substance abuse behind.
Counseling in general can be the single best solution to dealing
with stress, whether substance use/abuse is involved or not. Counseling
allows one to investigate the core psychological issues that interact
with one's daily environment that have led to chronic stress. Once
these core issues are explored, they can be healed, and chronic
stress will begin to diminish, and then disappear. I speak from
personal experience here. Once I worked through my own core issues
with the aid of a primo counselor (after several failed starts with
less-than-primo counselors), my healing gave me an entirely new
perspective on my daily environment, and I found I could deal with
issues without creating stress.
I have been able to adopt what could be described as a "laissez
faire" attitude to issues that would have once caused me great
stress. That stress was fueled by unrealistic desires for and expectations
of "perfection." I have written previously about "perfection"
(see especially http://www.god-dess.com/services_lifestyleJune05.html
for my opinions on "perfection"). Using the tools and
understanding that I have gained, I no longer respond with stress;
instead, I respond with empathy, sympathy and compassion.
A prime example of avoiding stress is my recent travel to Miami.
My client prepaid my hotel expenses by check, but when I checked
in advance to confirm that the check, sent by FedEx, had been posted
against my account, it hadn't been. At the time, the billing/accounting
department of the hotel was closed. I had no choice but to show
up with my FedEx delivery confirmation receipt. That didn't help
much; the hotel wanted to charge $600 to my credit card, but I stood
my ground and explained that was not appropriate, and I would only
allow them to put a hold on enough for "incidentals."
The first day that the accounting department was open, I returned
to the front desk with my issue, and asked if a resolution had been
found. It hadn't, and after three more visits to the front desk,
still with no resolution, I realized that I had to take charge of
the situation after being given the run-around
I calmly insisted
on speaking personally with the accounting department, and that
initiated more detailed work by the front desk, and suddenly my
account was fully credited with the cost of my stay. Yes, I had
to be confident and forceful, but I didn't allow myself to become
stressed. I "knew" a resolution could be found, and simply
and was rewarded with a complete resolution (and
a fully paid hotel bill!).
Most of the issues that cause stress ultimately relate to being
scared or fearful. Afraid of not having enough money to pay the
bills. Fearful of losing one's job. Terrified of being alone. The
list goes on. The counseling that I describe above will help one
deal with these issues, but in the meantime, you may gain some insight
from another column I wrote, http://www.soulfulliving.com/logic_letting_go.htm
... let go of the fear. Remember that letting go of fear is a process,
one that take times, so be patient with yourself, and don't stress
when (not "if") the fear doesn't go away immediately.
Consider it a goal to work toward, not immediate gratification.
Learning to prioritize is another tool that can help minimize stress.
As an entrepreneur, I have many irons in the fire all of the time.
Ordinarily, I have enough foresight to be able to schedule everything
that needs to be done. But, sometimes unexpected tasks cluster,
and I have to adjust my schedule. Such an example of adjustment
is this combined November-December column. In November, I was traveling
a lot, planning workshops, preparing for a Thanksgiving guest to
Casa Beall, and helping lots of clients. I could have stressed myself
by forcing myself to lose sleep and write new columns and newsletters
for both November and December, or I could combine them and eliminate
stress. I think the results speak for themselves. I know I'm not
Earlier I mentioned traveling to Florida for client business. I
have traveled for work for years, and have always taken the opportunity
of being in a new region to take mini-vacations for pleasure and
as research for the travel planning part of Global Organic Designs
Lifestyle Services (first-hand research is the best source of advice
and information for my travel clients). This time, after my business
in Miami, I planned a vacation on Key Largo (and, in fact, during
my visit to Miami itself, I knew I wanted to explore South Beach
and its Art Deco architecture during my downtimes). However, my
usually detailed planning of even the vacation part of this trip
would have been stressful given my other obligations, so I intentionally
chose to do very little planning. I just went with the Flow. I had
done some basic research on Miami and Key Largo, but decided I would
make do with whatever manifested. Was it a perfect trip? No. Was
it relaxing? Yes. Did I gain lots of knowledge to share with future
clients? You bet!
If you are not yet ready to pursue the hard work of counseling,
what else can you do to deal with stress? There are many "temporary
fixes" that you can employ. Meditation is good. Take some mini-vacations.
Take some "just for me" evenings (dining out, going to
the theater, attending a sports event, shaking your "groove
thang" at a dancing venue, or whatever else suits your fancy).
Enjoy a long bath. Go for a leisurely walk (or a run, or a workout,
or other physical activity). Allow yourself to go to bed earlier
and/or awake later. Take a "mental health day" from work.
Treat yourself to a message. Sniff some lavender. And though I've
warned about the dangers of substance abuse, if you are inclined
to use any of these potentially addictive substances (caffeine,
nicotine, alcohol, etc.), use them in moderation rather than habitually;
enjoy a cup of excellent coffee, or a good cigar, or a fine glass
of wine or whiskey, or whatever makes you smile, but enjoy them
with intention, with purpose, in MODERATION.
Many take a spiritual approach to reducing stress. Consider the
opening words of Reinhold Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer":
"God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can; and Wisdom to know the difference."
These are profound words that every human being can embrace regardless
of one's personal spiritual tradition. Speaking from my own Path,
implementing these profound words is less straight-forward, but
worth pursuing. In fact, I cannot imagine "not" pursuing
the goal of these words, as low-stress has been the fruit that I've
reaped so far.
The final technique that I want to suggest is focusing on something
positive. This time of year, so many of us are focusing on everything
we need to do. I want to encourage all of you to focus on fun, Fun,
FUN! One example I can offer from my own history is my traditional
Yule letter, sent to friends to update them on the "Life of
Bret" during the previous twelve months. Well, a few years
ago, I had so many projects in the works that writing my Yule letter
seemed intimidating, but a forced myself to do it. During the entire
experience, which in previous years had been absolutely fun and
joyful, I was annoyed and frustrated. I decided then and there that
the tradition of writing a Yule letter would end; life is too short
to spend time doing things that aren't required and also don't bring
pleasure. My compensation is that almost everyone who would have
received the Yule letter receives the Global Organic Designs newsletter,
so we all remain in touch anyway.
I hope this overview has been helpful in illuminating the problems
of, and solutions to, stress. Just say "No" to stress
and all of its negativity. Work to take charge of the situation.
Make every effort to take control of your life. Realize that excitement
is different from stress, so appreciate the excitement from fun
and pleasure while eschewing stress. Understand that if something
doesn't work, it can usually be fixed.
I recognize that it was very useful for me to have experienced
considerable stress in the past so that I can appreciate how mellow
I am today, after having made great progress with healing. We are
all works in progress. We need to make every effort to learn from
our past experiences. By seeking healing, we can achieve a calmer,
more accepting way of life, and that helps us achieve even more
progress in our lives.
While I'm not qualified to provide "true" healing for
stress (ie, psychological counseling), I CAN help you with stop-gap
measures. I can provide techniques for calming down, for dealing
with everyday stress, with prioritization and all aspects of your
lifestyle. If you want this kind of assistance, just call me at
773.508.920, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just say "NO" to stress today!