Since the only cure for stress is death, we need to try to understand:
What is stress? What are the forces that operate on us? How do we limit our exposure to unhealthy levels of stress?
In engineering terminology, stress is the force exerted when one body or a part of a body presses, pulls, pushes or twists another. As in engineering, the right balance of stress must be struck to achieve the desired creative tension. Too little and nothing happens; too much and everything falls apart. The operative word in this statement is “balance.” Achieving that sense of balance, between unhealthy levels of stress and healthy levels of stress is the goal of the health and wellness oriented individual.
My definition of stress, which I have adopted from Dr. Hans Selye, the ‘father’ of stress, is that stress is the accumulation of generally minor irritants, over a period of time, each one of which requires some kind of adaptation or response. Our ability to handle subsequent stress is diminished by what has preceded, for stressors will diminish our ability to respond to subsequent events. All of our ability to fight stress is finite.
Unhealthy and prolonged exposure to stress will lead to what we call diseases of adaptation, or failures of adaptation. The body will go through different stages or phases. The exposure to chronic stress will yield unhealthy stress, or what we call distress. Diseases of adaptation will result in steady damage to the heart and kidneys, increased blood pressure and blood sugar levels, decreased white blood cell count and therefore increased vulnerability to disease, increased stomach acidity and gastrointestinal distress and inflammation of the joints and tachycardia, including tearing of arterial walls and clotting elements in the bloodstream. Eventually this leads to organ failure, exhaustion and burnout. Therefore, the goal of any person seeking to move towards wellness and health is to achieve a level of healthy balance between the kite that is pulling with the wind in one direction, and the controller in the other direction. Remember, a kite flies best when the wind pulls one way and the string pulls it back. Based on this analogy, you need to say to yourself, “I can do well in the midst of tension and conflict.”
Change Your Life With These Strategies
Occasionally it is important to put life in neutral – to be able to regulate your tempo and to take a pause.
Strategy I includes development of good personal management skills. Are you good at choosing what is important? Are you good at goal setting? Are you good at committing to your goals? Are you able to set priorities and categorize your time based on what your priorities are? How would you evaluate your ability to regulate your tempo and your pace?
Developing healthy relationship skills and healthy relationships is a huge part of staying healthy and maintaining wellness. Take a look at how good you are at reaching out to friends and new acquaintances. Are you a pushover? Are you able to say “no,” when it is appropriate? The art of persisting and outlasting your opponent is also an important aspect in achieving your personal goals. Persistence, from my point of view, is one of the key characteristics of a successful individual, whether it is persisting at exercise, persisting at your diet, or persisting toward a goal that you find is valuable. However, the art of being able to retreat is equally as important. In other words, building in your life, your home, and your relationships a nest – a psychological and physical nest where you can retreat to your hobbies, your daydreaming, to restorative relationships.
Of course, most of the stress in our lives is self-imposed. Learning to view and look at our lives in positive terms, re-labeling challenges, learning to surrender what we can’t control – whether it is a horrible marriage, a bad job, acceptance of a disease diagnosis. Learning to develop a sense of humor and incorporating humor into dealing with the challenges of life. Always have an element of being a child in your life.
Exercise & Nutrition
Are you serious about your exercise program? My recommendation is exercise six days a week. Cross train. Have training buddies. Train inside and outside. Vary routines to combat boredom. If you are just beginning, start small – 15 to 30 minutes per week. Incorporate, aerobics, stretching and strength building into your routine. After 40, you will be losing muscle mass so push back. Are you eating well? If not, you need to look at what value is food serving in your life? Are you eating out of boredom? Are you eating to medicate yourself? Are you eating to be healthy? Pick a diet and keep to it. I like Weight Watchers. Dieting is not living. Allow yourself to “sin” occasionally. Eventually, once you have achieved your weight goal switch to something like the Mediterranean Diet- whole grain, fewer red meats, high fiber, low carbohydrates, more fish.