by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, October 2013
For some of us, being "stressed out" has become a normal way of living. When that cortisol is racing through our body we feel we have a distinct, competitive edge. We may believe (and others may assume) that if we are presenting ourselves as "super stressed" then we are more busy, more productive, more engaged, more important than people who appear to be less so (dare I say "relaxed"?)
The truth is, that when we are experiencing significant stress over long periods of time, without a chance for our body and our mind to recover, we indeed do have a competitive edge but it is in the realm of HURTING rather than ENHANCING our health. Living in a constant, heightened state of stress does NOT make our life easier. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that living in such a state contributes to making our lives harder.
It is up to each of us to assess what would happen to our "sense of self" if we did NOT walk around like a tight knot. We need to consider that a person who walks around all wound up is often someone who is unpleasant to be around. When we live our lives in this way, we can be people who others are afraid of "crossing" because of fear of getting blasted. Think about what would happen if we examined and compared our thinking, feeling, and behavior when we are stressed and when we are not. By examining ourselves, we may come to understand that we can be in control of our attitudes as well as our responses. Our relationships (with ourselves and with others) can be markedly improved.
How about if we REALLY looked at our lives and planned for how to get through the more trying times, deadlines, illnesses, family gatherings, and those days where there is just no "wiggle room"? We can each examine what it takes for to approach challenging times with a FULL reservoir we can go to when we need so we can rely on ourselves to get through.
As we do this self-examination, we can also listen to the language we use (in our mind as well as aloud) to describe how we feel, the kind of person we are, and whether or not we are likely to get through our challenges. Language impacts the way we think about ourselves and our situation. Some common repetitions may be: "I am so stressed. I am crazy. I am a mess. I can't think straight. I am an idiot. I am making myself sick. I could shoot myself. I could jump off a cliff. I am a basket case. I have no time to eat."
Listen to yourself. Consider how what you say affects you AND those around you (who if they are children, are likely looking to you as a role model). Rather than spend time and energy circling the same block of how intensely awful things are, step out of that cycle of negativity and stress by altering just one thing -- it can be your language, your pace, or doing one thing at a time.
When you finish one thing, pause, say to yourself, "I DID IT. GOOD FOR ME. I CAN DO THIS." Stand up. Swing your arms. Move your body. Breathe deeply. Find your "center." Laugh. Then begin what's next, with a clearer mind (and un-hunched shoulders).
There is no doubt that some stress keeps us on our toes and fires us up to perform well. There is also no doubt that too much stress can have the opposite, deleterious effect. The result is exactly the opposite of what we hope will be a benefit.