Stress affects all of us. Studies show that 90% of all doctor visits are at least indirectly related to stress. We cannot completely eliminate stress from our lives but we CAN proactively create more peace. Here’s how…
1. Creating Peace
The opposite of peace is stress and, since stress makes up the reason of about 75-90% of all doctor visits every year (at least indirectly), let’s talk a little about stress first.
Stress is not good or bad in and of itself. If it’s long term stress that a person experiences generally that’s bad because it can lead to autoimmune problems, weight gain, osteoporosis, cancer, and a variety of lifestyle diseases.
Here’s an example of a good stress response: We’re walking down the jungle and all of a sudden a sabre-toothed tiger jumps out of the woods and attacks us. We don’t even have to think about it and our bodies undergo a series of chemical reactions which causes our pupils to constrict, the blood to rush out to our extremities, our heart rate goes up and all of a sudden we are able to take flight from that tiger or fight the tiger which is known as the “flight or fight” response. I would personally lie down and play dead, but that’s just me.
Above is a short term stress response which allows the organism to adapt so that there’s a long-term preservation. This is a survival instinct.
Here’s an example of another stress response. Imagine that it’s late at night and you hear a noise and your dog hears that same noise, barks a couple of times and then goes back to sleep. You lie awake, thinking “Hmm, I wonder if that was a raccoon knocking over the trash can? Was that the wind? Was it the boogie man? Did I forget to put the leftovers away? And your mind just keeps on racing about what could be, and should be, etc.
That’s an example of a bad response. We tend to think that that noise was the boogie man and our dog just goes back to sleep and, as they say, “sleeps like a dog”.
The definition of stress is “a specific response by the body to a stimulus as fear or pain that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.” Again those first few words were “a specific response”. Now if I were to ask you to have a seat at the edge of a table with your legs hanging over the side and I had a rubber reflex hammer and asked you relax your legs and I was going to go and tap the tendon right under the kneecap. What’s going to happen to about 90% of the population is the quadriceps muscle will contract and the lower leg will extend outward. But if I then asked you to contract your quadriceps and hamstrings muscle as I tapped your patellar tendon, you could most likely control that reflex and barely respond to the reflex hammer. And what I want to submit to you is that stress doesn’t happen to us but stress is the result of us not adapting correctly.
And so the key question is “how can we increase our adaptability?” To answer a question with a question “how can we create peace?”
Now, the human mind is very interesting to study and it’s even more complicated than the entire internet, but we can really only focus on one thing at a time. So it’s really a losing battle to think about decreasing stress or preventing stress, just like trying to think of anything but a pink elephant. No matter how much you try, you’re not going to eliminate that thought of the pink elephant as long as you keep telling yourself “I don’t want to think of the pink elephant.” And not only that, it’s pretty much impossible to have no stress in our lives. Everything is a process and, overall, we are either on the “peace” side or the good side of the mud pit that you don’t want to fall into or you’re on the side of too much stress. But to be as peaceful as possible and to build up our resilience which is what this is all about, we’re going to focus on creating peace.
Here are six checkpoints you can use to regularly to examine yourselves in terms of how much peace are you creating in your life: focus, faith, organization, planning, execution, and time management.
Focus. I had a psychology teacher in high school one time who said that boredom is due to the lack of concentration. And if that is true, well, then the opposite of that must be true as well. In other words, no matter how boring something may seem at the time, if we choose to really really really –I mean really focus on it and engage as many of our senses as possible then we can actually make it exciting. If you can somehow make watching paint dry an exciting experience –if, that is -then you are being very resourceful.
Faith. Some definitions of health not only include the mental, physical and social aspects, but will also include a spiritual aspect as well. It’s very difficult to move ahead in life or be constructive and have a sense of purpose and fulfillment if we’re constantly looking at our rear-view mirror. Many people are depressed. Although I can’t prove it, I am lead to believe that a lot of the depression in society is rooted in guilt which comes from unforgiven sin. I’m not talking about wronging a person from our past where we can ask forgiveness and they say “It’s okay” and that relationship is restored and we move on with our lives…there’s a real offense toward God when we sin and unless we restore that relationship with our creator then that is something we will carry with us.
We didn’t create ourselves and we cannot solve the purpose for all of our feelings so it’s important look outside for Godly instruction in order to get that remedied. So, the burden of unconfessed and unforgiven sin can cause guilt which can affect our health mentally, emotionally, as well as physically and socially.
Organization. In the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire” Robin Williams, while playing the role of Dad says to his son “You’re the man of the house now. Don’t be messy.” How we establish or maintain a special place for our ideas and notes and things for our personal development has so much to do with our mental health.
A cluttered life is going to give us a cluttered mind and if you’re like me, the most cluttering thing is paper. Receipts, invoices, warranties, owner’s manuals, kids’ report
cards, the list goes on and on. The best solution to that problem is finding a home system for inputting that information into your computer or your laptop. They sell them online –you can go to Best Buy or Staples now and get a scanning unit for your home that puts that paper information into your computer and you can store it in separate files without much additional hardware or software. And then you would just take that information and you would have it backed up offsite in case you every have a problem with your computer. The backup system is secure and it can be stored in three separate physical locations offsite via satellite. The best system that I can think of –and that I use –is Carbonite.
Next is planning. Planning, or setting goals, developing strategies, and outlining tasks of an objective is important not only because we need to be prepared for certain things but also because it’s useful in managing our physiology.
Imagine that you’re a head coach in professional football and you have staff review game film of your own team and the next opponent for the game next week so that you can go and develop a strategy to beat this team. You know that your own best players are worth a lot to the franchise and they have a lot of talent but, for whatever reason, they just haven’t been playing up to par lately. They do a good job in practice; they’re committed to the team, they embrace their role on the team and they’re on board with the coaches’ philosophy, but maybe they’re just not playing well under pressure and during actual game time.
Above is a perfect example of planning by physiology. This is a strategy taken from sports psychology book but you can relate it to any area of your own life. So you can think of a situation that you commonly encounter that makes you uneasy or fearful, maybe it’s certain social situations, maybe it’s family gatherings, maybe it’s seeing a clown at a parade or public speaking.
Think of that situation and all the negative things that could come out of it. For example, if it’s public speaking then maybe it’s the possibility of the audience not understanding a joke or forgetting what you were going to say. And you just let your mind wander and drift toward all of these negative things to the point that you can feel the changes in your own physiology –maybe it’s your blood pressure, your heart pounding, maybe you’re sweating a little bit. But once you have that physical response you know that you’re putting yourself into “state” and that you have been real with yourself. Now, maybe these aren’t rational fears but nevertheless they probably feel like a movie that you have run in your head over and over and over already in the past in the theater of your mind.
Write all of these fears down and then next to it you write the exact opposite of that. Maybe it’s everybody accepting what you’re saying or people laughing and just having a good time…whatever it takes to put yourself at ease in that situation. And you meditate on that until your own physiology slows down. Maybe you’re breathing through your nose and using your diaphragm while lying alone in dark room for 12-15 minutes and you eventually notice your heart rate slowing down. Therefore, in a couple of hours or next week, or in a couple minutes when you’re ready to “take that stage” you’re more likely to have that calm and relaxed response as opposed to the uneasy and stressed out and fearful state.
Execution. How many times have you sat around a pool and heard a small child yell, “Mommy, Daddy, watch me!” Then they race over to the pool and they jump in the deep end and as soon as they get out they ask if their parents saw what they did and Mom and Dad proudly say “Yep”. Just because that child’s parents acknowledged what they did they get a tremendous sense of accomplishment, confidence and esteem because they were maybe afraid to jump in at one point and now they’re ready to take it up a notch next time and maybe try it without floaties or a tube around their waist and they have a powerful sense of momentum.
Momentum is important for us adults as well for creating peace and practicing good execution of our goals. One of the best and easiest ways to practice good execution and experience a sense of momentum in your life is to have a prioritized and time-blocked list of things to do. When we accomplish those bullet points on our list and we cross if off that gives us a sense of momentum and accomplishment just like the swimming child and that’s important because, in terms of productivity –and assuming that we’re doing what we love to do and doing it with a sense of purpose –the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is what gets done.
Last but not least is time management. How we redeem our individual minutes will ultimately determine our level of success in the various roles that we play in life. I’d highly recommend reading a book on time management, and I think that most books and seminars on the subject will say pretty much the same thing overall or at least have a couple lessons in common, that being procrastination is really bad and have a list of goals for the day. But I recommend the time management book by Dan Kennedy because he has a great view on eliminating two types of distractions –ones that we have control over and ones that we don’t have control over.
Most time management lessons don’t take into consideration that nobody is perfectly efficient because there are distractions out there that are beyond our control and Kennedy teaches a realistic way to handle those distractions gracefully and budget them into your time bank which makes for less frustration when those distractions do happen.
It’s also important to keep a journal once in a while to log how you’re using your time. All you have to do is for a week at random times set your cell phone to chime at various times during what you consider to be your “peek productive hours”, stop and write down what you’re doing and then go back and evaluate after a week or so how you’re doing in terms of being focused and moving toward the goal line. You may be interested to find out at the end of your study that you may not be as focused as you thought you were and this is problem because what it means is that inevitably you would need to work even harder with the fewer hours that you have left in order to reach your goal. And this of course creates stress which is the opposite of peace.
In conclusion, just remember that you are in control of how your body responds to any given situation. Stress is the result of not adapting appropriately and calmly and you are in charge of your perceptions and paradigms from which you view things. What you think might be a barrier or speed bump or obstacle very well may be a springboard and an opportunity.