Stress – a single word that can pack a punch, rendering us weak and powerless.
However one defines and experiences it, stress too easily becomes a handy scapegoat for much that ails us. We recite our hectic schedules and point fingers at people who harass us and situations that cause us to rearrange schedules while attempting to juggle a dozen chainsaws at once. If it weren’t for all this pressure and tension, we say, life would be a dream.
With stress such a major player in virtually everything we do, it seemed an appropriate, timely topic for an in-service workshop held recently at my workplace.
I confess to not wanting to attend, in part because I shy away from events that require a lot of sitting (and fidgeting) and because I felt too many tasks tugging for attention at my elbow.
In retrospect, I’m glad I attended. It was time well spent and what I learned is proving helpful to my daily walk (or sprint) in trying to seek a balance among work, home and church commitments.
The input person, Janice M. (Jan) Jenner spoke from personal experience as director of the Practice and Training Institute of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU. She has a master’s degree in conflict transformation from EMU.
The top five stressors, especially in the midst of wobbly economic structures and personal fiscal uncertainty, Jan identified as:
– Trying to do too much on a regular, ongoing basis.
– Worrying about retirement funds that are rapidly dissipating and the effect on me and my family.
– Other peoples’ lack of planning that is “dumped” on me.
– Physical/wellness concerns as I age.
– Being “technically challenged,” especially rough on those like myself who spent many years in the manual, vinyl, typewriter age.
Stress can have horrible effect on a person, but at the same time a lot of stress has positive aspects. It can keep us from injuring ourselves, motivate us to perform better (anticipating a public speaking engagement or athletic event competition, for example), or giving “warning signs” that a decision we’re about to make is not in our best interests.
Chronic stress, Jan noted, is the kind that, if left untreated, can be fatal. Sufferers become so accustomed to constant pressures of stress that it wears down physical and mental resources over time, possibly leading to stroke, heart attack, violent behavior, even suicide.
I periodically examine my lifestyle and operating patterns because much of what I do, especially work-related activities, is deadline-oriented. If I fail to get articles written – including this column – or photographs taken or radio programs recorded by a certain date or time, they become useless (of course, you might say that about everything I do).
Jan gave the group a set of questions to help us assess our stress levels.
I took the exercise seriously – something I don’t always do in these situations – and was surprised to find that I only checked three questions as areas affecting me most keenly:
– Are you having trouble concentrating and remembering?
– Are you having more accidents than usual?
– Do you have an increased sense of wishing people would leave you alone?
In reflecting on these queries, they all seemed to relate to age – being more forgetful (I’ve always had difficulty focusing; my wife believes I have Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), asking myself “what’s next” and not being certain, dropping things more frequently, wanting more solitude amid a fairly frenzied daily schedule.
In an open discussion period, I told the group that everyone should regularly engage in some activity that offers pure, unadulterated, guilt-free – but legal – fun.
For me, it’s country-western dancing – taking weekly lessons and then joining with fellow Leather and Lace members every two weeks for three hours of boot-scootin’ rhythmic activity on the dance floor. It’s pleasurable, inexpensive, provides a cardiovascular semi-workout and good fellowship in a smoke- and alcohol-free environment.
I realize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea (although sipping a hot mug of freshly-brewed “Grandma Tummy Mint” is another marvelous stress-reducer), but I feel strongly that everyone needs to actively pursue some extracurricular activity that nurtures and nourishes the body, mind and soul.
Jan identified several practical, cost-free activities that anyone can do to help manage and lower stress levels.
1. Make regular exercise a priority in one’s schedule.
I identified with this even before Jan commended the practice, a fresh resolve to incorporate exercise into my regular schedule – brisk walking for about 45 minutes three times a week being first and foremost. It becomes easier to get out the door as the weather starts to warm up and as body parts adjust to the shock of moving more rapidly on a track or pavement rather than racing from the living room sofa to the refrigerator during commercial breaks. And, general feelings of well-being will slowly envelope your personage.
2. Share more with your spouse or a small group. Those “little things” can become major tension points. I’m privileged to be part of a church small group where I can talk openly about anything without being judged and know that what I say will be held in confidence.
3. Affirm and encourage others on a regular basis. I try to offer a verbal or written note of encouragement to someone else, near at hand or farther away, at least once a week. We can all motor for miles on a gallon of praise.
Our stress levels may not diminish overnight, but the more we work at identifying stress in our lives – constantly asking how realistic are our schedules and reordering priorities for whatever stage of life we’re in – the more able we are to manage stress and allow it to work in more beneficial ways.
So, wake me, shake me, ’til I get ‘er done.
– Column by Jim Bishop